“I can stop anytime I want.”
This is a common refrain of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Denial is one of the biggest challenges of addiction – a distorted perception of reality can give addicts a powerful conviction that they do not have a problem, that it is the rest of the world that needs to be fixed. For this reason, it is hard for loved ones to challenge them on their addictions and ask them to seek help.
This doesn’t stop friends and family members from trying, though. It can be excruciatingly painful to see a loved one turning into a stranger who lies, steals and behaves aggressively. But hope is part of the human condition; the family members of addicts are driven by the belief that they can get back the person they know and love, the person who is drowning in addiction and destructive behaviour.
The problem, of course, is that the addiction and destructive behaviour ruins relationships and destroys trust. These relationships can be damaged further by the family’s well-meaning attempts to help. The addict, not being of sound mind, can feel as if he or she is under attack. The friends and family members can feel that their concerns are not being heard. Even interactions that start well can degenerate into ugly confrontations between multiple people, ending in many hurt feelings and an addict who storms out and copes with the stress by getting more drugs or alcohol.
Professional interventions are typically used as a last resort, when the addict has repeatedly rejected help and when family relationships have reached a breaking point. They do appear to work: having a professionally run intervention increases the likelihood of the addict entering a treatment program.
At a professional intervention, close friends and family members take turns to tell the addict how his or her behaviour is impacting them. They might describe the effects on their finances, their children, their jobs, or their relationships with each other and with the addict. They usually end with a plea for the addict to seek help – in many cases, space in an addiction treatment program has already been reserved.
The intervention is mediated by a neutral professional, typically a therapist or an interventionist. This individual keeps the discussion under control and ensures that everyone – including the addict – has their say. Addicts who accept help usually enter treatment fairly quickly. Sometimes they are escorted to an addiction treatment centre by the mediator, immediately after the intervention.
There are several factors that contribute to the success of a professional intervention. One of them is simply the presence of a neutral third party. In an emotionally charged situation where relationships have deteriorated, a mediator can diffuse potential conflicts and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be heard.
Families on their own are less inhibited in how they express themselves. They speak more freely and impulsively, and their exchanges can become impassioned. There is potential for misunderstandings and hurt feelings. When a stranger is present, the dynamic is usually very different. People choose their words more carefully, they are more open to listening objectively, and there is a greater balance between reason and emotion.
All of this leads to great possibilities, not only for the person who has the addiction, but for his or her close friends and family members. A well-run intervention gives everyone involved the opportunity to communicate without putting further strain on relationships that may already be damaged. It opens the doors for healing: the addict can start the process of addiction recovery, the loved ones can start paying attention to their own needs which have been neglected, and everyone can begin the process of mending their relationships and looking ahead to a better future.