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What is an Alcohol Intervention?

In the U.S., 7 percent of people ages 12 and over reportedly have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The number of people who have problems with alcohol may be even larger. Approximately 25 percent report binge drinking or have experience consuming four to five drinks within two hours.

Many people who use or misuse alcohol can reduce their intake without any professional treatment. However, many drinkers cannot do it alone.

Friends and family members may decide to stage an intervention to convince someone with alcohol use issues that they have a problem.

An intervention is a meeting in which you address your loved one and explain that you are worried about their substance use, physical and mental health, and wellbeing. By holding an intervention, you can try to direct your loved one toward a doctor, detox facility, or support group. These options can help them face the realities of addiction and put them on the path toward recovery.

Benefits of Alcohol Interventions

An intervention of alcohol addiction and substance use allows friends and family members to offer their loved ones the opportunity to accept their problem and heal from it. It can also present the chance for friends and relatives to give examples of how alcoholism has been destructive and has hurt the addicted person and the people around them.

A planned intervention can also give healthcare professionals and family members the chance to explain a treatment program they think will work best. Finally, it can present the addict with the consequences of their actions if they decide not to accept treatment.

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How Do You Structure an Intervention?

An intervention usually involves the following structure.

1. Planning

Interventions usually require planning, thought, and attention to the loved one’s needs and specific circumstances. It may be a good idea to contact a doctor, social worker, therapist, or professional interventionist to plan the meeting. For the best chances of a successful intervention, you may decide to invite them to participate so that they can give essential medical and treatment information and advice.

2. Preparing Others for the Intervention

The actual intervention can be an extremely dramatic and emotional experience. It can create feelings of betrayal, anger, or resentment from the person suffering from alcohol problems. Again, it may be best to speak to a healthcare professional to understand the best way to respond to these reactions.

3. Gathering a Team

Several people should be present during an intervention. First is the person with the addiction. When approached, understand that your loved one is likely to refuse to take part or may leave the meeting. More than one intervention may be required.

Friends and family members should also attend an intervention. If the addict is a child, usually a parent leads the intervention. If the person suffering from an alcohol or substance use disorder is married, their partner typically leads the meeting.

Facing an alcohol use disorder can be lonely and scary. Seeing how many close friends and relatives turn up to offer support may be an encouraging boost of support to help the addict begin to turn their life around.

4. Giving Consequences

In many cases, the first time an addict is approached with an intervention, they avoid statements and walk away. The intervention team should respond with consequences that prove how serious they are. 

Consequences depend on the individual’s circumstances but may include:

  • Losing visitation rights with children 
  • Asking them to move out of the home until they are ready to start treatment
  • Taking away their car

5. Sharing

During a friend and family intervention, each member of the team should speak. This helps the person suffering from alcohol and drug use understand each of the team members' concerns and feelings about their health and wellbeing.

6. Offer Treatment Options

Once every team member has spoken, the person suffering from alcohol and drug addiction should receive detailed suggestions for a treatment plan. The loved one can either accept the offer on the spot or the team may be willing to offer them a few days to come to a decision.

Consulting an Addiction Professional

Consulting an addiction specialist, like a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or interventionist, can help you arrange an effective intervention.

An addiction expert will consider your loved one’s particular circumstances, recommend the best approach, and help guide you in what type of treatment and plan will likely work best.

Interventions are typically conducted without a professional, but having expert help may be better.

Sometimes the intervention takes place at the professional’s office.

It is usually important for the professional to attend the intervention to help you remain on track if your loved one:

  • Has a history of severe mental illness
  • Has a history of violence
  • Has displayed suicidal behavior or recently spoken about suicide
  • May be taking various mood-altering substances

It is essential to consult an intervention professional if you suspect your loved one may react aggressively or self-destructively.

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Who Should Be On the Intervention Team?

An intervention team usually consists of four to six people who are important in the life of your loved one. They are people they love, respect, like, or depend on. This can include a best friend, relative, or member of your loved one’s faith.

If you hire an intervention professional, they can help you decide on appropriate members for the team.

Do not include anyone who:

  • Your loved one dislikes
  • Has a current mental health problem or substance abuse issue
  • May not be able to limit what they say to what you agreed on during the planning meeting
  • May sabotage the intervention

If you think it is essential to have someone involved, but worry that it may start a problem during the intervention, have that individual write a short letter that someone else can read out loud at the intervention.

How Do You Evaluate an Intervention?

A successful intervention process relies on your loved one’s specific circumstances.

Definitions of success can differ from complete abstinence to a significant reduction in use or merely showing up to a therapy or treatment appointment. Usually, success is based on anything that is a considerable improvement over the previous circumstances.

It all depends on who is being asked, their circumstances, and what is viewed as successful change. A family’s main goal for an intervention may be to stop their loved ones from drinking until they blackout every night rather than making them quit altogether. In this case, their evaluation of success may differ considerably from others.

What is the Success Rate of Interventions?

It is widely affirmed by the addiction treatment community and the medical industry that interventions are an impactful and effective method for encouraging people to seek help from alcohol and drug addiction.

Approximately 90 percent of people commit to seeking alcoholism treatment when the intervention is performed correctly.

Additionally, people who are approached about their alcohol use disorder (AUD) are more likely to attend a rehab or detox treatment facility and remain abstinent than those who were not.

If Your Loved One Refuses Help

Unfortunately, interventions are not always successful. In some circumstances, your loved one may reject the treatment plan. They may become angry or insist that help is not necessary.

Or, they may be resentful and accuse you of betrayal. It is best to emotionally prepare yourself for these situations while remaining calm and hopeful for positive change. If your loved one does not accept treatment, be ready to follow through with the changes you showed them.

Often, children, spouses, partners, siblings, and parents experience abuse, violence, threats, and emotional attacks due to alcohol and drug problems. You do not have control over the behavior of your loved one with an addiction.

However, you do have the chance to remove yourself and any children from a dangerous situation. Even if an intervention is unsuccessful, you and others involved in your loved one’s life can make adjustments that may help.

Ask other people involved to stop enabling the destructive cycle of behavior and take steps to encourage positive change.

Can Someone Stop Drinking On Their Own?

No matter how severe the alcohol addiction problem may seem, most people can benefit from some treatment type.

One-third of people who receive treatment for alcohol problems have no further symptoms one year later. Many others significantly reduce their alcohol consumption and report fewer alcohol-related issues. 

While only the individual can decide to stop drinking, someone who has an alcohol use disorder requires professional help to help them recover.

There are various types of alcohol treatment methods available. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. What may work for one person may not for another. Treatment options include:

Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments help change drinking behavior through counseling. They are led by health professionals and typically take place at treatment centers.

Medications

There are three medications approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce problem drinking and prevent relapse. They are prescribed by health professionals and can be used alone or in combination with other treatments such as detox or counseling.

Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other twelve-step programs offer peer support for people quitting or reducing their alcohol intake. When combined with other treatments led by health professionals, support groups can be beneficial. 

However, due to the anonymous nature of support groups, it is challenging for researchers to evaluate the success rates compared with healthcare professionals' treatments.

Resources

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Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Alcohol Facts and Statistics, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), October 2020

Liepman, M R et al. “Evaluation of a program designed to help family and significant others to motivate resistant alcoholics into recovery.” The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse vol. 15,2 (1989): 209-21

Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), 2014

Kaner, Eileen Fs et al. “Effectiveness of brief alcohol interventions in primary care populations.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews vol. 2,2 CD004148. 24 Feb. 2018

Moyer, Anne, and John W Finney. “Brief interventions for alcohol misuse.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne vol. 187,7 (2015): 502-506

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