Addiction Intervention: How To Help Someone Who Doesn’t Want Help

Addiction is a brain disease.  Science has determined this by a variety of clinical studies, laboratory experiments, and brain scans.  The brain of an addicted person processes addictive chemicals and behaviors differently than a non-addicted brain.  Further, the addicted brain processes the chemical/s or behavior/s of choice at a survival level.  So, biologically an addict’s brain interprets using as surviving; not using as not surviving.

This explains a lot.  It explains why addicts continue to use despite a slew of negative consequences.  When they lose their jobs, marriages, dignity, respect; when they go to jails and hospitals they often still don’t stop using.

It also explains why an Intervention is necessary to help an addict accept treatment for addiction.  An addicted person is ill equipped to take rational action against addiction.  He is deluded by a malfunctioning brain.  Intervention gets his attention, it raises consequences.  Intervention can be a formal meeting of loved ones expressing their love and concern and offering a chance at a new way of life or it can be an intervention in the form of an arrest, a divorce, or getting fired from a job.  A formal Intervention meeting is the gentler way, it can occur prior to more serious consequences.

Intervention offers hope in an otherwise hopeless appearing situation.  Most of the time the addict goes to treatment following an Intervention.  And most of the time they stay in treatment, and some of the time they don’t.  Some of the time they go on to live clean & sober lives and some of the time they relapse back in to addiction after treatment.  Some of the time they eventually get clean and sober after a relapse and some of the time they die in active addiction.  Those are the facts of addiction.  Those are the facts of any chronic, progressive, fatal disease.

If the goal of Intervention is only to get an addict from point A (active addiction) to point B (the treatment center) then Intervention is successful most of the time.  I, however, do not believe that is enough.  I believe the goal of Intervention is healthy change for everyone involved.  It is an opportunity for all affected by addiction to recover; to recover their freedom, their dignity, and their lives.  Even if an addict does not recover from addiction, Intervention teaches family members how to recover.  Improved health for every member of an Intervention process is equally important.

When deciding to Intervene, an initial question to resolve is “to surprise or not to surprise”?  When I present both the surprise and invitational Family Intervention Workshop approaches, most families I work with tell me that if they were to invite their addicted love one to an Intervention “they would never show up”.  This is a logical response.  But when presented properly to an addicted person, the invitation is most always accepted, because they truly do want to be a part of the solution.  In fact, I encourage people to begin to look at addiction not so much as “the problem” but as an attempt to resolve the problem.  An addicted person is using because they need to numb some pain.  When he hears that we all want to meet to see if we can come up with a workable solution for everyone, it inspires dignity and respect.  And that gets results.

When you surprise someone with an intervention they are not typically grateful for it.  Sometimes the addict is quite angry at the intervention team members, especially me.  Sometimes no matter how much you may try to express your love and concern, what the addict hears the loudest is that you “tricked me, lied to me”.   That can create a big barrier and distraction to the addict accepting the gift of recovery.

This is the best argument for the invitational model of Intervention.  Believe it or not, most addicts do show up for a scheduled family meeting to talk about the problems facing all of its members.  The addict will sometimes initially resist, and try to get out of it; convince the family it is not necessary.  But we stick to the plan, the meeting happens, and the addict shows up.  The invitational model works!

The recovery success rate is the same among all people attempting recovery.  Whether motivated by a professional intervention meeting (surprise or invitational), court order, homelessness, divorce, losing your children, hospital admissions, suicide attempts, etc. the rate of recovery is about 66%.  This is broken down in to the law of thirds.  One third of those attempting recovery get it the first time and go on to live free from active addiction for the rest of their lives.  The second third relapse for a period of time and then eventually get it.  The last third do not ever get it, they die in active addiction.   The difference when motivated by a professional intervention is that people get in to recovery sooner – before they have lost more and experienced graver consequences.  Additionally the family members and intervention team members receive help, which improves the health of the entire family system.  This leads to improved health outcomes for the addict as well as the family members.

Whether you choose to invite or not invite an addict to an Intervention is a personal choice.  Either method works, the best choice will depend on the circumstances of your unique situation.  We will make this decision together in our first meeting.  The most important thing is to take action, to learn how to step out of the problem and into the solution.

The last thought I will share is this; If nothing else, Intervention is so addicts don’t have to die not knowing that there is a better way to live and family members and friends don’t have to go to funerals not knowing that they did all that they could.

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