In times of stress addiction prone people increase their consumption of alcohol, drugs (prescription and street drugs), food, or their gambling, compulsive sexual or work behaviors.  The addiction serves as an escape from stress and worry; it is a coping mechanism.

The problem is that coping with an addiction does not help in the long run.  Addiction is a chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal illness that creates more problems for the addict and the people close to him or her.  It is usually a family member or close friend who first recognizes the need for help because the addict will rationalize and justify his addiction, this is characteristic of the denial associated with addictive disease.

Intervention is the act of breaking denial and shedding the light of reality and hope on an addictive situation.  Because of the denial process, an intervention from outside the addict is always needed to facilitate help.  Prior to becoming an interventionist, I would have to tell concerned family members and friends that there was nothing they could do; they would have to wait for the addictive disease to run it’s course and for the addict to “hit bottom” before he would be willing to get help.  “Hopefully he will not die, or kill someone else first” I would think to myself.

I don’t tell people that anymore.  I tell people that if you love someone who has an addiction problem you owe it to him and to yourself to intervene on the addiction and make an offer of help.  Waiting around for someone to lose a career, or a marriage, or a home, or get arrested, or die is inhumane when you have a solution.

Intervention, when done right, is not an act of judgment and ultimatum.  Intervention is an act of love, dignity, and hope.  It provides a lifeline to a drowning person.  Quite simply, it saves lives.

Addiction is a treatable disease and there are many treatment options available. Treating the disease isn’t the biggest problem.  Getting people to accept treatment for addiction is the biggest challenge.  Interventionists are trained at just this process.  A professional intervention provides a high likelihood of someone agreeing to get help.  80% to 90% of the time, the addicted person accepts help at an intervention.

Further, an interventionist can provide support to the family members.  Family members need support understanding what they can and can’t do to help.  Many times it is precisely the well intentioned acts of family members that are keeping the addict sick.  Once family members and friends understand the addictive disease and the role they are playing in it, they are highly motivated to make changes that promote addiction recovery.

It is dangerous to put off addiction treatment because as the disease progresses, the consequences and despair increase.  The longer an addict stays in active addiction the worst off he becomes.  His physical and mental health plummet, and he loses more and more quality of life.  The addictive behavior itself becomes a slow form of suicide.

Without treatment addiction kills people.  It doesn’t say “Addiction” as the cause of death on the death certificate.  It says things like, “cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure, kidney failure, AIDS, motor vehicle accident, gun shot to the head, hanging”, but it is because of an untreated addiction that many of these people have died.

67% to 97% of those people who attempt addiction recovery make it.  The 97% is from a study of Navy Pilots treated at early onset with primary residential treatment followed by 3-5 years of monitoring, and a return to flying within the first year.  This is evidence that addiction is a very treatable disease once treatment is accepted by the addict.

I like to wrap up my conversations about Addiction Intervention with this message:
Intervention, if nothing else, 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.

Dr Karen Zazzera is a doctor of behavioral health and a licensed professional counselor who founded Scottsdale Intervention and Counseling  Scottsdale Intervention and Counseling is committed to helping people heal from addiction, codependency, trauma and other behavioral health problems.