Addiction Intervention

Addiction intervention is the process in which a family meets with their addicted loved one, usually with the assistance of a professional, in an attempt to compel him or her to accept addiction treatment.

When addiction takes over the life of an individual, he or she can easily get lost in the psychological dependence, and believe a number of things that will ultimately keep him/her addicted for life, or until the day addiction claims his or her life. While these beliefs may seem logical to the addict, they may sound entirely asinine to others. Some examples of the types of reasons addicts may give for not wanting or needing addiction treatment are:

  • “I’m just not ready yet.”
  • “You’re just trying to get rid of me!”
  • “You’re all crazy. I don’t do drugs. I don’t have any problems.”
  • “I’m not going to stop. I like what I’m doing and you’re not going to make me change anything.”
  • “I can’t go away for 30, 60, 90, 120 days. I’ll lose my house, apartment, car, etc.”
  • “I do not have a problem with drugs. I use every once in a while, and I’ll stop when I’m good and ready.”
  • “I wouldn’t have to use if you would just…”
  • “I can’t leave my girl/boyfriend, husband, wife, cat, dog, fish, hamster, etc.”
  • “What about you? You drink, you smoke, you do…”

Any one or several of these excuses are often heard in interventions with addicts, and it can be very difficult for a family to hear and manage. This is one of the many reasons an interventionist can be a critically important element in addiction intervention.


Addiction Intervention Models


There are a number of intervention models that can be used, and while there are drastic differences between some, others incorporate very subtle differences. The main two categories of intervention are confrontational and non-confrontational, and most involve the assistance of an interventionist or addiction counselor.

  • Confrontational Intervention Models
Standard Intervention (Tough Love)
The standard intervention model comes from the book Toughlove written by David and Phyllis York in the 1980's. In this model, the family of an addict will meet with an interventionist and confront the addict with a message of the unacceptability of his or her behavior, and a demand that he/she enter treatment. Consequences are outlined in the event that the addict refuses to go to treatment, usually regarding their enabling of the addict in such ways as:

  • Providing a home for him or her to live

  • Financial assistance

  • Providing transportation for the addict

  • Legal assistance

  • Contact and invitations to family events and gatherings

  • Not reporting him or her to the authorities when known illegal activity is taking place (i.e. possession of illicit substances, driving under the influence, prostitution, etc.)

If the addict refuses treatment, the family is asked to stand firm on their expressed consequences, no matter what their addicted loved one says or does, until he or she accept treatment. The theory of this intervention model is that when faced with losing the resources to maintain addiction, an addict will eventually choose treatment.

Johnson Model
The Johnson model of intervention is the most commonly used form of intervention today. The Johnson model consists of confronting the addict, but focuses on doing so in a softer manner that is intended to uplift the individual and motivate him or her to accept the help that is being offered. First developed in the 1970′s by Dr. Vernon Johnson, this model has seven components:

  1. Team
    The team is organized by an interventionist, and includes family members, colleagues, loved ones, and friends of the addict.

  2. Planning
    The team plans the time and what will be said during the intervention. Loved ones are asked to write letters to the addict that they will read aloud during the intervention.

  3. Focused on care
    During the intervention, the focus must be on care. The message is one of "I love you, but I hate your addiction for the following reasons". The goal is not to chastise or blame, but rather to inspire and motivate the addict to return to the love of his or family over addiction

  4. Evidence
    During the intervention, loved ones of the addict must provide proof or evidence in their letters. All evidence should be discussed in detail and be relatable to the purpose of the intervention.

  5. Treatment is the Primary Goal
    Everyone should be agreed that the purpose of the intervention is to get the addict into treatment and get help, not to punish him or her.

  6. Treatment Options
    The team must have three options available and ready to engage for the addict to choose from for addiction treatment

If the addict continues to refuse to accept the help of treatment, the team is encouraged to hold boundaries of not enabling him or her in the same ways that are expressed in the standard model. The theory behind the Johnson intervention is that confrontation is acceptable when done in a loving manner, and ultimately, the addict will understand that he or she is loved unconditionally, and that addiction is hurting those he/she loves the most. This realization is the motivation for attending treatment.

  • Non-Confrontational Intervention Models
Family Systemic Model
Contrary to confrontational intervention models the family systemic model includes the addict every step of the process. This model involves four basic components.

  • There are no planned meetings without the addict, and in fact the addict is invited to the first and every meeting thereafter with the family and the interventionist or addiction counselor.

  • During the meetings, there is an open discussion between the addict and his or he loved ones with the interventionist or counselor moderating to maintain a controlled environment. The discussion is controlled and should relate only to the addict's behaviors and their effects on themselves and his or her loved ones.

  • Rather than one meeting, the family systemic model involves multiple meetings per week, and can go on for several months, if necessary. The addict is not excluded from any meeting

  • The systemic family model intervention only ends when both the addict and his or her family members commit to entering some type of counseling. Ideally, the addict will go to addiction treatment while the family members engage counseling for themselves. After addiction treatment, the addict joins in family counseling sessions to rebuild the family unit.

ARISE Intervention Model
The ARISE model is based around the healing of the whole family, and not just getting the addict into treatment. In this model, there are no surprise confrontations, and the addict is aware of meetings between the family and an interventionist. The addict may attend these meetings if he or she wishes to do so. During the meetings, the family learns and discusses:

  • How the addiction impacts the addict

  • How the addiction impacts the family as a whole and the individual members of the family

  • How addiction is typically treated

  • Why addiction treatment is so imperative

Once the initial meeting has taken place, the family plans out a series of sentences they will recite to the addict to try to persuade him or her to enter treatment. The meetings between the addict and his or her family, with the assistance of an interventionist continue until such time that the addict agrees to enter treatment. At no time is the addict kept in the dark about the discussions or plans in meetings with the interventionist.

If after several meetings, the addict is still unwilling to enter treatment, the family may be encouraged to set boundaries and consequences for the addict, very similar to those set in confrontational intervention models.

Whether or not the addict agrees to enter treatment, the family continues with counseling to overcome their own individual and collective struggles as a result of addiction in their lives. The premise of this model is for the family to heal, regardless of what the addict does and does not agree to, in the hopes that he or she will follow the lead of his/her loved ones seeking to improve their own lives.


Understanding Intervention


Intervention is intended to provide families with a resource to try to compel their addicted loved one to accept treatment and begin a path to recovery. While there are multiple variations of the basic intervention models, it is important to understand that no intervention can provide a guarantee that an addicted loved one will enter treatment at the time of the intervention. Interventions continue to be widely successful, and should be seriously considered as an effective means of getting an addicted loved one the help he or she so desperately needs. The bottom line is that no addict will truly accept treatment unless or until he or she is ready get help. The time at which an addict becomes ready to get help may not be at the time of an intervention. It is for this reason that all loved ones of addicts are strongly encouraged to find a way to move on with life while holding their boundaries in the event that their addicted loved one refuses treatment.

An intervention may not have ideal effects the first time it is performed, but it will have an impact that will likely result in an addict eventually accepting treatment. Many in the intervention profession stand firm behind the belief that the only failed intervention is one that does not take place.

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