Here is what you need to know first in how to do an intervention for a drug addict.
First, if your loved one needs an intervention because they are a victim of addiction, please stop calling them an addict. The word, “addict”, is loaded with stigma. When you use it, you show contempt and it you make it clear that you believe you are in a position of superiority to your suffering loved one.
It is important to understand that the person you are trying to help is a human being who deserves the dignity and respect deserved by any human being suffering from illness. Drug and alcohol are used by many people to cope with psychological issues that may be traced back to childhood. Many people have various other ways to cope with similar issues.
When a person is going through an addiction problem, they are not broken or defective, they have simply found a different way than you have to handle the deep psychological pain that is a part of life. Unfortunately, active addiction can put a person, and others, in danger, so some kind of intervention is sometimes necessary.
Here is how to write an intervention letter.
You probably have a lot of strong feelings about what is happening to your loved one. You may feel helpless, angry, and betrayed. You may imagine that an ideal intervention will be an event where you can finally vent your feelings and let your suffering loved one know how they have hurt you by hurting themselves. You want to let them know of the damage they have done and the wreckage they have left behind.
We can learn a great lesson about writing effective letters from President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was known to write letters to people about how he felt, venting his anger and frustration. Then, after writing the letter, he would put it aside and discard it. He would write an angry letter to someone he was unhappy with and then not send the letter.
You can do the same with your intervention letter. Put all of your feelings into your letter and let your loved one know how you feel about the events that have transpired. Do not hold back at all. Put everything down on paper. When you are done, you can throw the letter away and never send it. You may even want to have some sort of ceremony around destroying the letter. While forgiveness is not easy and may take time, it will be best for own physical, emotional, and mental health to find it in your heart to forgive your loved one for what has happened as a result of their addiction to drugs.
Should I hire a drug intervention specialist?
How do you know when you are going to need a drug interventionist for a drug addiction intervention event? A substance abuse interventionist is a professional who gets involved in a family intervention as a moderator and educator. You may consider hiring a professional interventionist because you want them to take your side. You want an expert to tell your loved one the deep trouble they have gotten themselves into and you want someone to facilitate getting them into residential rehab. However, this is not necessarily the way it works and it is not the way it should work.
An interventionist may be a doctor, psychologist, or family therapist. Or, it may be a recovery coach or any person who has decided to call themselves an interventionist. In many cases, the interventionist will be a person who is in recovery from addiction themselves.
Hiring a non-credentialed interventionist for a heroin intervention, or even an intervention for alcoholics may not be the best idea. The issue is that opioid addiction, including heroin and fentanyl addiction, is a condition that is very treatable by medication-assisted treatment.
Unfortunately, there are many “experts” in the addiction recovery world who believe that what worked for them is the best solution for everyone. They do not understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to treating addiction.
Just because an interventionist had a spiritual awakening in a 12-step program does not mean that this is the one and only path for everyone who is struggling with addiction. In the case of opioid addiction, treatment with methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone) may be the best option.
When it comes to alcohol use disorder, naltrexone treatment may be best. This can be in the form of the monthly Vivitrol injection, or The Sinclair Method, using naltrexone tablets to help reduce alcohol intake.
In a family intervention, what should happen?
While all situations are different when it comes to addiction, ideally an intervention with the family should be characterized by love and support. You can let your loved one know that you are aware that they are going through a difficult time and that you love them and you are there for them to provide support.
Support can be given in a variety of ways. You can offer to drive them to support meetings and to doctor appointments. Harm reduction is also an important part of supporting a loved one. You may discuss the importance of having Narcan in the home as an emergency overdose reversal tool, if opioids are involved.
What you should avoid, if possible, is tough love ultimatums. In some cases, having your loved one leave your home is important if you feel that you and your property are in danger. However, if possible, keeping them at home may be the best way to provide emotional support and harm reduction. Kicking them out to live on the streets may be what is recommended in some circles, but the outcomes of tough love can be tragic.
Does intervention work?
If you are wondering about how to conduct an intervention and what to say at an intervention, you may want to first think about what your goals are in the first place. And, you should be completely honest with yourself.
Are you looking for a forum to get other family members together to beat up on your loved one? Do you want to express your frustration and anger with others present, so they can back you up? Do you imagine an intervention to be similar to a trial where you and the other judges can stand around the accused and declare them guilty of destroying the family with their addiction?
Imagine if your loved one was suffering from an incident of any other mental health issue. Using mental health illness as a comparison may not even be ideal because there are people out there who do not consider any functional person with a mental illness to have a real medical condition.
They have what I call a “snap out of it” mentality. If you feel this way, we should be clear that mental illness is real and patients who are suffering from mental illness are not faking it and cannot just stop acting the way you don’t want them to act.
A better comparison to make to addiction is physical illness. Addiction is not so different from HIV or cancer. It is a life-threatening condition that bypasses our natural defenses, making it difficult to treat. There is effective medical treatment for some types of addiction, specifically opioid addiction and alcohol addiction.
Would you tell someone with cancer to snap out of it? Can you imagine asking a cancer victim that they just need to stop behaving the way they are and just start behaving normally?
What kind of intervention would you stage for a cancer patient? Would you gather the family around to verbally attack them, or would you meet together to discuss treatment options and find out how you can provide support?
What help can I provide in an intervention for drug addiction?
If you want to have a productive intervention, it is a good idea to be prepared with some useful resources. For example, you may want to offer information on the SAMHSA treatment locator, or Treatment Match. These online programs can be very helpful in finding local treatment options, such as medication-assisted treatment doctors and rehab facilities.
Additionally, there are many other resources that are specific to the addiction problem your loved one is going through. For example, the C Three Foundation may be a good place to recommend for someone looking for a solution to quitting alcohol. And, when it comes to support meetings, there are new programs and groups that may be more up-to-date than the traditional, last-century 12-step programs. For example, there is Smart Recovery and LifeRing.
If you are in the US, harm reduction options may be more limited, though we can expect for harm reduction programs to expand in the near future. More hospitals are providing medical addiction treatment in the ER. There are some clean needle exchange programs in the US, and we may soon have some supervised consumption sites as well. Going forward, we must research new medical treatment options as well as expanding harm reduction programs that are proven to save lives and prevent the spread of disease.
What do I do if my loved one’s life is in danger because of drugs or alcohol?
When it comes to addiction and drug use, everyone is in a different situation. Where harm reduction and being supportive is usually a good way to go about handling an intervention, there are cases where you may have reason to believe that there is an immediate risk of severe injury, illness, or death.
In those cases, you do have options to intervene in a more forceful manner. Using legal means to stop your loved one from continuing drug or alcohol use should not be taken lightly. However, in some cases, it is the best decision.
In Florida, where I practice medicine, there is a law called The Marchman Act. This law allows for the family of a person using drugs to request that a judge order them to treatment for a period that may last from three to six months. There is even a lawyer here in South Florida who has a unique law practice, completely focused on helping families through Marchman Act cases, even if the family resides in a different state.
Is a Suboxone intervention or naltrexone intervention a good idea?
For most opioid users, getting them to a Suboxone doctor or methadone clinic may be enough. Suboxone maintenance is particularly effective and safe.
For alcohol users, they may do best seeing a doctor experienced in medication-assisted treatment with naltrexone. For other drug addictions, a combination of therapy and medical treatment can be effective. And, sometimes residential rehab is the best path.
Unfortunately, street drugs have taken a turn for the worse, now containing deadly synthetic designer opioids. Even drugs such as meth and cocaine may contain opioid analogs, such as fentanyl analogs, U-47700 (pink heroin), or gray death, a combination of various opiate-like substances.
Keep in mind that if you do take the legal route and do it correctly with an experienced lawyer, it is not the same as the tough love where a parent or spouse kicks their loved one out onto the street. If you are wondering if this path is right for your loved one, contact your doctor for more information about these options.
Why do they call it an intervention?
This is a good question. Is the word, “intervention”, appropriate for a formal meeting with a loved one to offer your full support in helping them to overcome the challenge of moving past active addiction? Looking at the Oxford dictionary, there are multiple definitions for the word.
One definition refers to a country interfering in the affairs of another country. Another definition, specific to an addiction intervention says this, “an occasion on which a person with an addiction or other behavioral problem is confronted by a group of friends or family members in an attempt to persuade them to address the issue.”
What stands out to you about the meanings associated with this word? Interfering? Behavioral problem? Confrontation? Persuade? How would you feel about your family surprising you with this sort of intervention?
Maybe it is time for us to rethink our use of words when it comes to addressing addiction. I understand that it does take some extra time and effort to stop ourselves from saying a word that carries stigma with it, but maybe we need that extra pause to reconsider our motives. Are we helping a loved one by bringing interference, confrontation, and unsolicited persuasion into their life, while they are already dealing with difficult challenge.
The important thing is that you are interested in supporting and helping your loved one to move past active addiction so that they can move forward in living a rewarding and fulfilling life. Maybe we can just call it a meeting of support where we bring to the table various options to help our loved one to stay safe and find new and more effective solutions to overcoming addiction.