Watching a loved one lose their life to alcohol is tragic. It is even worse when the individual is in total denial about the seriousness of the alcohol addiction. An alcohol intervention helps a person face the truth and deal with the problem therapeutically.

Unlike many drugs, alcohol is legal and easy to purchase. There’s no need to find a “dealer” – an alcohol abuser can simply go to the local liquor store, or even order booze online in many states. That face makes alcohol intervention even more difficult in many respects than an intervention for drug users.

What is alcohol intervention?

An alcohol intervention is a pre-planned process wherein family members and other loved ones confronts a problem drinker and gives them one option: Go into rehab. They are not easy situations, but may play a difference in the literal life or death of the alcohol abuser or determine whether the family remains intact. It is the family taking control of a bad situation and trying to turn it around while helping their loved one receive the treatment he or she needs. Rather than think of it as an act of desperation, think of it as an act of love. No matter what has happened in the past, you care about this person and their future.

Why choose alcohol intervention

Alcoholics are masters of denial. Many don’t realize how their drinking is affecting their families, their health and their employment – until it is too late. Alcohol intervention shouldn’t wait until an alcoholic hits bottom. It’s best that an intervention is scheduled before the family becomes permanently fractured or estranged, or the alcoholic requires immediate hospitalization for their disease. Choose alcohol intervention while hope still prevails.

When to seek intervention

Loved ones of an alcoholic know when the situation has become untenable. If anyone in the family is subject to violence or put in dangerous situations because of a person’s drinking, it’s time to do something about it. Serious emotional abuse due to alcoholism is another reason to seek intervention, and that’s especially true when children are involved.

Perhaps one event in particular, such as an arrest for driving under the influence, brings the issue into focus. For other families, it’s a slower process, but the day dawns when they know they can’t live this way anymore. No more wondering where their loved one is, no more enduring the chaos and disruption drinking can bring, no more financial difficulties all due to excess alcohol consumption. No more lies, threats or intimidation.

Many families may stage “informal” interventions, although they don’t use that term. It’s simply a plea for the person to stop drinking and seek help. When the person ignores these admonitions, or makes an attempt to stop drinking but soon starts up again, it’s time for a formal intervention. The situation becomes that serious.

Steps for an interventionis

Educate all involved

Before the intervention, educate yourself and other family members and friends about alcoholism. Knowledge is power, and everyone involved must recognize the depth of the problem. Have those you want to attend the intervention do research on alcoholism and treatment options available. One caveat: Avoid having anyone the alcohol abuser doesn’t like on your intervention team. Even if that person means well, their presence is unlikely to prove helpful. You also don’t want someone who may sabotage the intervention by disagreeing with others’ motives or recommendations. When it comes to family, you probably have a good idea whom that may include.

Write letters

Ask those close to the person to write letters to the individual. Such letters should remain relatively brief and concise, but outline incidents in which the individual’s alcohol abuse caused problems. Many times, the alcoholic had no idea how deeply their actions had hurt family members. Perhaps a child was devastated when a parent showed up drunk at school or a sporting event. Even worse, perhaps a parent didn’t show up to an awards ceremony, birthday party or some other event of great importance to that child, and the child knew it was because the parent was drinking. Maybe a teenager can’t invite friends over because they never know what condition they may find the parent in, or a spouse has to cancel social outings or go alone because their husband or wife is drunk. A close friend may speak of making excuses for a person’s absence or misbehavior, when they know the reason was drinking. The writers should let the individual know they care about him or her and are concerned for the person’s well-being.

Follow-up plan

Simply holding an intervention without a follow-up plan generally does little good. That’s why those involved with the intervention must arrange for a treatment plan for their loved one beforehand. The idea behind intervention is that the person agrees to a treatment plan of some type at the meeting. A plan for consequences if the individual does not seek treatment is also needed. By the time an intervention is necessary, family and friends are generally at the end of their rope. Perhaps some have been guilty of enabling in the past, but that can no longer continue. While the specific consequences depend on personal circumstances, common repercussions for the alcohol abuser include being asked to leave the family home or having the family move elsewhere, or a spouse filing for divorce.

Countering objections to the intervention

Think about the objections the alcoholic may have to a treatment plan. Some of these may include practical problems, so address them ahead of time. If the alcoholic is a single parent, who will take care of the kids while they’re in rehab? Have a plan for that. Maybe the person has pets requiring care. Plan for that, as well. If they don’t have transportation, make arrangements. If they say they can’t afford to go through an intervention, come up with a financial support plan. The bottom line is that every objection should have a firm, feasible response.

How to find an interventionist

While an interventionist isn’t absolutely necessary in these situations, it is useful to seek the advice of a professional beforehand or have them attend the intervention. An interventionist can not only help you plan the intervention, but can answer questions you may have and also aid in determining who should and should not take part. A professional, third-party opinion on such delicate matters is often invaluable.

It is crucial to consult with a professional if the individual with the drinking problem exhibits any of the following behaviors:

  • Speaks of suicide
  • Suffers from mental illness
  • Has a history of violence
  • Is suspected of using other mood-altering substances in addition to alcohol

Find an interventionist by contacting the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) or a licensed psychotherapist or counselor specializing in alcoholism treatment and intervention. Investigate insurance options before committing to an interventionist or treatment program. There is little point in arranging for treatment that the alcohol abuser cannot pay for, whether they have their own health insurance or are covered by a spouse or parent’s plan. However, many interventionists can help a family find a treatment program they can afford or that is especially beneficial for their family member.

Stage a rehearsal

It’s best not to go into an intervention completely cold. A rehearsal is a good idea, with someone playing the role of the alcohol abuser. Anticipate as many scenarios as possible and be prepared for them. At the actual intervention, the alcoholic may become angry, appear defensive, make excuses or break down. The person playing that role should attempt every variation, so that participants can react.

Because it’s vital to keep strong emotions in check, that’s an issue to deal with during rehearsal. Of course, people are more likely to become emotional when confronting the alcoholic, but the rehearsal is a good place to see where problems may lie and head them off. If a participant’s behavior is out of line, tell them so. You don’t want them repeating it when the alcohol abuser is present.

The rehearsal isn’t a play, so the intervention will not go off as written. You could get lucky and the intervention isn’t nearly as dramatic as your rehearsal, but preparing for every eventuality is key.

How to prepare the day of an intervention

Always choose a time of day for the intervention when the person is most likely to be sober, or at least not very inebriated. Choose neutral territory, if possible, for the intervention itself. If you have hired a professional interventionist, this person’s office is often a good site. If you think getting the alcohol abuser to such an office will never work, hold the intervention at the home of a close friend or relative, but preferably not the place where the alcoholic resides or a location with strong memories, such as the parents’ house where they grew up.

An intervention is a big deal. The results may affect you permanently. It’s natural to feel nervous and worried. Don’t start second-guessing yourself. You know this has to be done. As the saying goes, “Stay calm and carry on.”

Everyone should meet at least 30 minutes before the alcohol abuser arrives. Review all your notes and letters. It’s always good to have food and beverages on hand, even if the intervention is not scheduled under the pretext of a meal. Obviously, the person is not told an intervention is scheduled. Instead, tell the person a meal or gathering is planned. That is not a lie.

Have everyone turn off phones and devices. You don’t want any interruptions during the intervention. Have a basic schedule ready, including bathroom breaks. Make sure you supply plenty of tissues, because emotions will come through.

An intervention isn’t meant to become an all-day event. Ideally, it doesn’t last more than an hour or so. Too long, and “compassion fatigue” may kick in, along with anger and personal insults or accusations. That is obviously not helpful.

The good news is that the majority of interventions do work. That’s the reason it has become such a mainstay of addiction therapy. An alcoholic may not care about themselves, but they do not want to harm their family. They may also realize just how loved they are.

However, not every intervention will work – at least not at that time. Prepare yourself for that possibility but stay hopeful – and follow through on consequences. The reality that loved ones really did mean what they said may jolt an alcoholic into seeking sobriety. Unfortunately, some alcohol abusers must hit absolute rock bottom before they agree to change. Family therapy may aid those dealing with the effects of alcoholism.

The best-case scenario

Remember that someday, your loved one may think of the intervention has the best thing the family ever did for them. In a best-case scenario, you will have that person back in life, clean and sober. A future that once seemed bleak will again appear bright.




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