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Popularized by various TV shows, films, and other aspects of the popular media, the notion of an intervention has been somewhat misconstrued. An intervention often takes place when a person who is engaging in a specific type of self-destructive behavior, or a behavior that is potentially damaging to others, is confronted in a nonthreatening manner by friends, family members, and other individuals who are close to the person, with the goal of assisting the person in seeking some sort of professional help.
For individuals with substance use disorders, an intervention is primarily designed to get the person into some type of a treatment program. This goal is accomplished by pointing out how the individual’s behaviors related to the substance use disorder affect not only them, but other people who are concerned about them.
Because of the many different presentations of interventions presented in the media, there is a misconception of what interventions are supposed to accomplish and how they are supposed to achieve their goals. A formal intervention is not:
The overall goal of intervention is to foster awareness in the person in need regarding a substance use disorder, help the individual understand how their behavior is affecting them and those around them, and get the individual to consider seeking formal treatment for the substance use disorder. There are some instances where the substance use disorder may be so severe that imposing specific demands and contingencies may be the only way to resolve a potentially harmful situation. The general approach should be founded on honesty, concern, and love for the person.
Because of their goals and the nature of the processes that should occur during an intervention, only people who are very close to the individual should be involved in the intervention. There should be no casual acquaintances, friends of friends, or other onlookers. This point cannot be stressed strongly enough. The participants in the intervention should consist of only close family members, close friends, close coworkers, and other individuals who are extremely close to the target person. It is probably best not to include very young children or other very young relatives in the process of the intervention, although this is a decision that can be made on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, interventions have a greater chance of being successful if at least one professional, such as an intervention specialist, professional healthcare worker specializing in substance use disorders, or even a senior member of a social support organization such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, is included in the planning, organizing, and overall process of the intervention.
The professional guidance person should be the only person who is not involved in a close relationship with the person who is the focus of the intervention. If a professional interventionist or addiction specialist who is closely involved with the person can be included, this is the preferable course of action.
Interventions should be reserved for instances when it is clear that the person’s substance use is leading to severe negative consequences that affect both the person, the person’s family, and the person’s close friends and other associates. Just intervening because someone is drinking too much, or someone in the family feels that someone should not be using alcohol or other drugs, may not be sufficient grounds to confront the person in this manner. Even though intervention should be designed to be as nonconfrontational and non-accusatory as possible, it may be perceived that way by the individual. Initially the individual will feel a little overwhelmed and defensive. Not having a sufficient basis of factual instances that indicate that the person is engaging in extreme self-destructive behavior will only make the intervention less effective. Information provided by the National Institute of Drug Abuse for deciding what criteria to use for planning an intervention include:
The goal of the intervention is to make the person aware of the negative ramifications of the substance abuse and to get them to realize that they need to engage in treatment.
The basic types of interventions include:
There are some formal approaches to an intervention that deserve mentioning:
While the notion of intervention has received quite a bit of popularity in the media and in lay circles, there are quite a few unanswered questions regarding the effectiveness of interventions in actually achieving the goal of getting someone with a substance use disorder off drugs or alcohol. One study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse examined the effects of the Johnson Model and found that individuals exposed to this intervention actually had higher relapse rates than other methods of outpatient treatment for substance use disorders. The number of current independent research studies regarding the effectiveness of interventions in helping individuals to successfully engage in treatment is quite limited. This may be due to the private nature of these interventions and the lack of a formalized approach to them. Thus, the empirical evidence for the effectiveness of interventions remains scant at best. Nonetheless, interventions do provide an opportunity for concerned family members and friends to try and assist someone suffering from the effects of substance abuse.
An intervention is a formal approach used by concerned family members, friends, relatives, and other individuals who have close personal relationships with someone who is suffering from serious issues related to substance abuse. Interventions should not be confrontational. The goal is to try and get the individual in need into a formal treatment program.
Interventions cannot diagnose, treat, or otherwise attempt to change the person. Interventions that are focused on the goal of assisting the individual in seeking treatment should be nonconfrontational, well-organized, and recruit the assistance of a qualified professional, such as a intervention specialist or a licensed mental health professional who specializes in addiction and substance abuse.