What is an intervention, and how can you use this to help someone you love? Is it different for kids and teens than it is for adults? Those are the questions we aim to address here, but first, let’s cover the basics.
What is an Intervention?
An intervention is a process whereby a group of caregivers or family members intervenes in the life of an addict. The goal is to show them what damage they are doing to themselves and everyone around them and, hopefully, to stop them from continuing with their addiction.
As you can imagine, interventions aren’t always successful. There is a misconception that addicts don’t know they are addicted and are somehow in denial. For some, that is true. But most addicts know they have a problem. The reason they hide it is because they are ashamed, not because they are oblivious.
Still, an intervention could be what they need. If the family they have been hiding this secret from suddenly opens up to say that they know, they understand and they are there to help, it could be the kick up the backside that the addict needs to get their life in order.
So, now we know what an intervention is, how do you stage a successful intervention for teens and adults?
Intervention Advice from Addicts
There is a lot of advice out there with regards to intervention and helping drug addicts. Much of this seems to focus on teens. But can you really listen to advice given by parents and caregivers? After all, they don’t always have the best perspective. So, to change that POV a little we have asked addicts and former addicts about intervention.
They have told us how they would have liked to be approached when they were teens hooked on drugs, and what they felt their own parents and caregivers did wrong.
Intervention for Teens
Any parent of a teenager knows that they are basically just narcissistic, self-absorbed humans who believe they are always right. That sounds cruel, we know, but we’ve all been there and we all know it’s true. Sure, there are teens who don’t fit this mold 100%, but it’s a natural mindset to have for someone developing into an empathetic, independent adult.
Because of this teen mindset, intervention can feel like a hostile action. They know what’s right, they have their situation under control, and adults are just meddling and causing problems. A big intervention that involves several family members and caregivers can cause more problems than it solves.
One of the former addicts we spoke to, who we shall name Joe, went through something similar as a teen and it backfired. This is what he had to say:
“I was drinking a lot, taking a lot of drugs and generally being a nuisance. I also had some mental health issues and there was a shrink, a doctor and a social worker there dealing with that. One day, these guys got together along with my parents, some of my extended family and even a close friend and neighbor!
“They invited me into a room and then hit me with it. They told me I had an issue and needed to resolve it. They said they loved me, but let me tell you, having everyone sitting around you like that, directing pity at you and telling you you’re killing yourself, doesn’t help matters. It mad things much worse and set my progression back years.
The anxiety, the disbelief, and the sheer anger I felt that they had all of this misplaced empathy and that they didn’t really understand. It wasn’t helpful”
How to Approach a Teen About their Addiction
Joe’s story is not unique and this is why an early intervention for teens is probably not the best course of action. Instead, he believes that the “Softly, softly” approach is best. You want to have a strong figure there who the teen respects, otherwise they’ll just deny it and cause arguments.
So, invite one of their friends along, assuming they are sober and are a close friend of the family. If this is not possible, maybe a doctor can help. You then need to try and make it a natural process. You’re not there for an early intervention, you’re there for a chat, maybe a cup of coffee.
Just remember that the teen is probably oblivious to the damage they are doing to themselves and rather than trying to force them to believe otherwise, you need to present them with the facts. How many times have they arrived home drunk or high, how many times have they blacked out and what sort of risk are they posing to their health?
Saying things like, “We worry about you” over and over is not good enough, even though it seems to be the natural course of action for many parents. Instead, present them with cold, hard facts and let them know that if they are addicted you can help to find a solution and won’t ask them to go cold turkey.
How to Approach an Adult About their Addiction
As adult early intervention can be similar. You are there to stop themselves from wrecking their life, of becoming so addicted that there is no turning back. If they are hooked on strong painkillers like codeine, or even heroin, then this might be easier. There is enough stigma attached to these drugs for them to understand it’s not right, it’s not normal and it will cause problems.
If they are drinking a lot of alcohol, on the other hand, it’s not as easy. In such cases you just need to present them with the facts again. Focus on the health aspects, as this hits an adult more than a teen. If they insist everything is fine, ask them to prove it with a liver test. If they say that it’s not having an effect on their career or finances, show them how much they have spent on alcohol, how many days of work they have missed.
If they have kids then think twice about asking them to join the intervention. It’s not something they need to see. However, you can bring them into the conversation as this is likely to hit a loving father or mother hard, no matter how addicted they are.
Here are a few more intervention tips to help you prepare, whether it’s an early intervention or whether they are already addicted and doing serious harm to themselves and everyone around them. These apply as much to alcohol as it does to drugs like heroin and meth.
Plan: It will get heated and when it gets heated you will lose track of what you intend to say. It might even turn into an argument, at which point you will lose all hope of your message getting through.
So make sure you plan it out in advance. Know exactly what you are going to say and create a plan based around sentences and facts that you know will hit them hard. You may want to practice saying these things to someone who knows the addict and can respond as they expect the addict to respond.
Timing: You don’t want to hold an intervention when the addict is already high or drunk. The timing can make a huge difference, especially when you consider that someone who is addicted will start to feel emotional and agitated when they don’t have access to their drug of choice. This is true whether they are addicted to strong stimulants like cocaine or readily available pharmaceuticals like Tramadol.
So, get them in the morning when you know they haven’t had a chance to consume their drug of choice. They will be more receptive and more emotional, which means that your words have a better chance of getting through and hitting the target.
Be Calm: Whether you are dealing with a teen intervention or an adult intervention, it is important to stay calm. Avoiding shouting, avoid arguments and avoid listing any punishments. Don’t threaten teens that you will ground them or adults that you will take their kids away. Those kind of warnings will instantly make you the enemy and give them a reason to change the subject and to make you the bad guy.
When they do that it means they can avoid seeing themselves as the problem and can focus their anger and hatred on you instead.
Create a Plan B: A plan is important, but a Plan B is just as important. You can’t guarantee that they will sit and talk once they realize what is going on. And at the same time, you need a plan of action for if they start crying or if they suddenly agree to everything you say and admit that their life is a mess.
So, plan for the most likely scenario and then plan for several less likely ones as well. You may think that you know them, but addiction can change a person and they can hide those changes within. An intervention can bring those changes to the fore.