Addiction interventions are designed to encourage an addict to get immediate professional help for their addiction by bringing together people directly affected by that person’s addiction.

In essence, recognising who needs an intervention is a question of identifying whether someone is behaving compulsively, and whether such compulsive behaviour is detrimental to that person or the people around them. The idea is to intervene as soon as the behaviour is recognised as an addiction, not to wait until there seems to be no alternative left or that person has nowhere else to turn.

Use Vs Abuse

While the use of certain substances or indulging in certain behaviour may be inadvisable, it’s not necessarily an indicator of emotional, mental or physical dependence. Use is defined by the medical community as being recreational, embarked upon through choice, and happens when a person is feeling generally content in his or her life. Abuse, in stark contrast, happens when a person is in a generally negative emotional state, where compulsive behaviour is a response to feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, fear, loneliness and sadness.

Recognising addiction

Addiction is abuse that’s now out of control. The negative emotions that led to abuse are intensified as the consequences of abuse take their toll, creating a downward spiral. So if work stresses and financial concerns lead to increased and more frequent consumption of alcohol, further strain can be placed on the finances and concentration levels and relationships at work may suffer; as the financial mire deepens and work problems worsen, the depression and fear may lead to further alcohol abuse.

This cyclical cause and effect can see abuse become compulsive, and the individual loses the ability to reason and react accordingly, for instance if the underperformance at work were to lead to dismissal and the drinking continues unabated. A break, intentional or otherwise, in the abuse may result in withdrawal symptoms.

Here are some clues that may reveal where abuse is becoming addiction:

  • Unpredictable behaviour and emotional reactions
  • Increased incidence of the abuse in question
  • Failing to reduce abuse, even when making a concerted effort
  • Trying to hide the extent of the abuse
  • Increasing debt
  • Relationships suffering, whether at home, between friends or at work
  • Getting into trouble with the police
  • Letting standards of cleanliness and appearance slide
  • Inability to complete typical obligations and responsibilities
  • Dangerous behaviour, including recklessness and violence
  • Inability to remember such events, or general marked decrease in memory recall.

When to intervene

As discussed in ‘what is an intervention’, if an intervention can take place earlier in the abuse spiral, before addiction takes hold, it may stand a greater chance of success. Of course an intervention is not without risk and demands delicacy and careful planning. The issues that will be discussed are, after all, the very reason for the person’s decline and the dynamo driving the continued abuse and negative feelings and emotions.

But if that person’s behaviour is having a constantly negative effect on his or herself or family, friends or colleagues, such as can be seen in the list above, or there are other clear signs of abuse, an intervention could be the best course of action.

Planning an intervention

An intervention requires careful planning. Emotions among those affected by the abuse or addiction are raw, the subject matter highly delicate, the abuser or addict will probably feel guilty, ashamed and perhaps angry, resentful and defensive. It would be all too easy, without structured forethought and control, for an intervention to become an aggressive confrontation.

Here are the steps that should be taken when planning an intervention:

Step 1:       Establish the extent of the abuse or addiction and research options for treatment. If the abuser or addict has been seeing a counsellor, therapist or psychologist, you may wish to invite them to take part in the intervention.

Step 2:       Investigate suitable treatment and rehabilitation centres, check availability and arrange a date for admission

Step 3:       Engage an interventionist if appropriate (see below)

Step 3:       Choose a time and place for the intervention (ideally the same date as the admission date at the rehabilitation facility)

Step 4:       Those taking part in the intervention need to openly and honestly discuss:

  • The ways they have enabled the abuse or addiction to continue (eg lending money, sharing in use or abuse etc)
  • The way they will respond to continued abuse or addiction (eg not providing finance, food or shelter, refusing to partake in substance abuse etc)

Step 5:       Each party composes a structured and detailed account of the negative ways in which the abuse or addiction has affected them, ready to use during the intervention. The script should stick to the facts, discussing emotional response without losing control or direction, and without coming across as a personal attack.

Engaging an interventionist

An interventionist is specifically trained in dealing with these delicate situations, and can be extremely useful in planning and advising on the intervention as well as maintaining direction and control during the intervention itself. The involvement of an interventionist is particularly advisable if the addict has any history of violence, mental illness or suicidal tendencies.

The outcome of an intervention

It’s important to recognise that there are no guarantees that an intervention will be successful. The person involved can refuse to seek help, or even refuse to participate. Even if they are admitted on a rehabilitation or treatment plan, it is a long, arduous process requiring the long-term, committed emotional support of family and friends.

If your intervention is ultimately unsuccessful, remember that you are not yourselves responsible for the decisions made by the person you are trying to help. There is a limit to what you can do, and your priority now should be trying to return to a stable, normal life. Depending on the nature of your relationship with the abuser or addict, you may find counselling useful in avoiding unnecessary feelings of guilt and managing your emotional reaction to the situation.