INTERVENTION: Breaking the
cycle of chemical dependency. Learn how to motivate someone you
care about to stop using alcohol and drugs.
Call Serenity Lane if you would like us to assist you in arranging
an intervention. We can put you in touch with a trained interventionist
in your area. Call: 541-687-1110 or Toll-free: 1-800-543-9905.
Intervention: A Powerful Tool to Combat Alcoholism and Addiction
by Jerry Gjesvold, Counselor, Interventionist and Manager of Employer
Services at Serenity Lane.
A few years back, Jack, an area businessman, had just about lost
hope that he could ever reach his son, Justin. Addicted to alcohol
and other drugs, the 19-year-old had become manipulative, dishonest,
angry and disconnected from the family.
Jack decided to try one last approach. One afternoon, Justin came
home to find his parents, his grandmother, his brother and a drug
and alcohol counselor in the living room. The counselor explained
why they were all there and encouraged the young man to listen.
Referring to written lists, each family member talked about what
they appreciated about him. Then they reviewed specific instances
of how his disease had affected each of them. They talked about
their pain, fear and frustration.
Then came Jack's turn to talk. After only a few words, he was overcome
by emotion. Through the tears, though, he said what he had to say:
he deeply loved his son, but couldn't watch the abuse continue.
Justin had to accept treatment or leave the family, not to return
until he had gotten clean and sober. The family just wasn't going
to support his self- destruction anymore.
In 19 years, Justin had never seen his father cry. And while he
was shocked, he could see for the first time that the family was
serious about no longer tolerating his behavior. A few hours later,
the family drove him to Serenity Lane. He has been sober ever since.
This process is called intervention, and it's the way many people
begin long-term recovery. I've facilitated more than 100 of these
meetings over the years. More than 80 ended in the person accepting
Successful interventions generally have several common
They include a professional interventionist.
Professionals know what works, are familiar with the latest techniques
and can give anxious or frightened families a clear understanding
of what to expect before, during and after the intervention. This
perspective can be invaluable when strong emotions, many held under
the surface for years, come up. Interventionists also help families
listen to each other much more effectively than they have before
? crucial in this highly charged situation.
They're carefully prepared.
Thorough advance preparation is critical. This includes interviews
for family members with the interventionist to determine if a problem
actually exists and why each family member wants to participate.
Preparation also involves choosing a time of day when the addict
will be most receptive, developing written lists of specific events
that have affected each family member, and role playing to practice
staying focused when confronting the alcoholic or addict directly.
Finally, the team pre-arranges admission to a treatment facility,
taking care of insurance details and setting the date of the intervention
when space will be available.
They include non-negotiable bottom-line boundaries.
As master manipulators, alcoholics and addicts will almost always
try to confuse the issues at hand, deny reality, call a bluff when
their addiction is threatened, and try anger, threats and intimidation
as a last resort. That means family members and friends must be
very clear about their own "bottom line": the real consequences
that will occur if the abuse of drugs or alcohol continues. Sometimes
this means separation from spouse and children, or loss of a job.
Whatever it is, it must be clearly defined and more than an idle
threat. Nothing renders an intervention ineffective faster than
a spouse or employer giving the addict "just one more chance to
In one case, a wife of 22 years packed two bags prior to the intervention:
one for her husband to take to the treatment center and one for
herself – just in case. When he refused to go, to his total disbelief,
she picked up her suitcase and walked out the door. He hesitated,
then ran after her when he saw she was that serious. He entered
treatment the same day.
They're a surprise.
It is extremely important that no one "leak"information to the addict/alcoholic
that an intervention is being planned. This sometimes happens when
a family members feels guilty about going behind their loved one's
back. Preparing for an intervention is an extremely caring act;
it's often done as a last resort by people who are trying to save
someone?s life. While people being "intervened upon" often complain
about the deception at the time, later they see that being the last
to know was probably best. It also reduces the opportunity for the
alcoholic/addict to plan a defense.
They're done by people the addict/alcoholic respects.
The team should be made up of people who the addict respects. That
increases the chance that he or she will be able to hear difficult
information about the damage the disease has caused.
They're conducted by people prepared for "emotional retaliation."
The weeks following an intervention can be very difficult for everyone
concerned -- that's one reason why alcohol and drug abuse often
continues for as long as it does. Families and friends who intervene
should expect a period of sullen, withdrawn or angry behavior and
ask for extra support from those around them.
Interventions come from people who love the addict enough to face
him or her honestly about a very serious problem. While high levels
of fear, anger, frustration and resentment are part of any untreated
alcoholic or addicted family (and often come out during an intervention),
families intervene because they care. A professional interventionist
can help keep the group focused on this fact during every step of
These days, there can be fear that there may be some kind of violence
during an intervention -- especially true if the person typically
carries a weapon (as do many drug dealers). This can be averted
by choosing people that the addict or alcoholic respects and cares
about. In the interventions I've facilitated, I've been threatened,
but never injured. Certainly, this requires a judgment call on the
part of the interventionist and the others involved to determine
It is important to note that whether the addict or alcoholic enters
treatment or not, interventions always succeed to some extent. Abusers
can no longer deny that they have harmed those around them or to
say they didn't know there was a problem. Sometimes, the addict
will refuse treatment and leave -- generally finding someone else
who will support the addictive behavior but allowing the rest of
the family the opportunity to get on with their lives. Whatever
happens, an intervention breaks the silence. Hopefully, it's the
first step to healing the family.
The previous article, written by Jerry Gjesvold, was first published
in the Register Guard newspaper, Eugene, Oregon as part of "Straight
Stuff" a monthly newspaper column about substance abuse and related
topics. Serenity Lane, Inc. 1997