In 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) published that about 1 out of every 12 adults in the United States, or 21.5 million Americans aged 12 and older, suffered from a substance use disorder stemming from alcohol or drug abuse. There exists a massive treatment gap in America, as the NSDUH stated in 2013, only around 10 percent of those who needed treatment for issues involving alcohol or drug abuse actually got help in a specialized facility.
Denial that a problem exists is often a barrier to treatment. One of the ways that families can get a loved one into treatment is to stage an intervention. An intervention is a process that usually culminates in a meeting with loved ones and the affected individual, with the goal of helping the person make the choice to seek out treatment for addiction or substance abuse. Mayo Clinic defines an intervention as a method to help someone recognize the need for treatment through a structured opportunity that can hopefully allow the person to find inner motivation and recognize the need for specialized treatment.
Oftentimes, a trained professional will walk families through an intervention. An interventionist is someone who is trained in helping loved ones to plan and implement an intervention, and who offers continued support and professional advice throughout the entire process.
Planning and Carrying out an Intervention
An intervention usually includes several important people in the subject’s life, particularly those who have been affected by the individual’s substance abuse or subsequent behaviors. Addiction is a disease that impacts pretty much all aspects of life, including the person’s work environment, peers, home life, and social circles.
When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, there may be significant personality and behavioral changes that occur. The person may deny or refuse to recognize that a problem exists. An intervention can then help the person to see how the disease and related behaviors have impacted others. Family members, coworkers, friends, a pastor or church members, and anyone else affected by the person’s addiction may be included as part of an intervention team. It is generally beneficial to have an impartial party present as well, such as a professional interventionist or family mediator.
Almost 40 percent of those who battled a substance use disorder in the year leading up to the 2014 NSDUH suffered from a mental illness as well. When a mental health disorder and addiction are both present in a person at the same time, which is relatively common, the disorders are said to be co-occurring. When mental illness is also a factor in someone’s substance abuse, it may be beneficial to have a mental health professional on hand for an intervention as well. Also, if the person has a history of aggression, hostility, violence, or self-harming behaviors, it may be necessary to have trained professionals onsite during an intervention to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Once an intervention team has been established, a plan can be devised. It is important for an intervention to be highly structured, with everyone knowing their role ahead of time. Families and loved ones may be ready with specific examples, or incidents, of how and when the individual’s substance abuse had directly impacted them. The intervention team may meet with an interventionist one or more times leading up to the intervention to prepare and take notes.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that one of the main goals of an intervention is help loved ones become better educated on the disease of addiction and treatment options, and for everyone affected by someone’s substance abuse to be able to support each other going forward. Families and loved ones should have an end goal in mind already at the time of the actual intervention, such as referrals for treatment and a plan for what happens after the intervention. Loved ones also should prepare specific consequences, and be prepared to carry them out, if the person refuses to accept treatment after an intervention.
The intervention meeting should be nonjudgmental. An interventionist can keep the proceedings running smoothly and keep the event focused. The family may choose to keep the reason for the meeting from the individual a secret until the intervention is in process. An interventionist can decide if this is the best course of action. An intervention should preferably be performed when the person is sober. If the person is high or drunk, participants may have to wait hours for the person to sober up before starting.
Finding and Choosing an Interventionist: What to Look For
Substance abuse treatment programs may offer the services of an interventionist or referrals for interventionists, as may primary care providers or mental health professionals. Families should do their homework and look for programs that will suit their needs and specific circumstances for treatment. They should ask prospective programs if they provide an interventionist or information on where and how to find one.
Just as with any professional, not all interventionists are exactly the same, and one might be a better fit for a family than another. Some of the following questions may be helpful in choosing an interventionist:
- Are you certified? There are certifications available for interventionists, although not everyone will actually have one. The National Association of Drug and Alcohol Interventionists (N.A.D.A.I.) offers the Certified National Drug and Alcohol Interventionist (C.N.D.A.I) to professionals who meet specific criteria including a set amount of education and hours of training, for example.
- Are you a member of a professional association? The Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS) is a group of professional interventionists that provides training, continuing education, certification as a Certified Intervention Specialist, a code of ethics members are expected to follow, and opportunities for an interventionist to grow in their field.
- How much experience do you have? Interventionists may have educational degrees and certifications, but ask about actual case history and number of interventions they have handled as well.
- What are your references and can they be contacted? Just as with many other fields, it can be helpful to talk to references to get a better idea of the person’s skillset.
- Is this professional a good fit with the family? Certifications, training, education, and experience are all important things to have; however, an interventionalist needs to mesh with the members of the intervention team personally, so everyone can be on the same page.
- Do the interventionist’s goals match up with the goals of the intervention team and loved ones? Again, as with the personal connection, the methods and goals of the interventionist should also be in line with those of the family and loved ones.
The right interventionist can be extremely beneficial for families and loved ones who want to help someone struggling with an addiction. It’s worth the time to find the right fit for your loved one and your family.