This week: Part two of my interview with a veteran professor, addiction therapist and former managing director of a chemical dependency treatment center located in Pennsylvania.
SUSAN BRITT: I know that because many addicted people are in complete denial about their substance abuse problem, whether it’s alcohol or drugs, and have little sense of the effect their behavior has on others, they refuse to admit they need help. Often, only an intervention will work to awaken them to the severity of their addiction problem. Can you explain exactly what an intervention is? ADDICTION THERAPIST: An intervention is basically a caring confrontation. A group of concerned people — family, spouse, friends, possibly employer — get together under the leadership of a therapist, having met with the therapist a number of times prior to the intervention, to confront a loved one about his or her addiction. They explain to the addicted person that the addiction is damaging him and others around him. They tell him that they love and care for him deeply, and that it hurts to see him abuse himself. In loving tones, they strongly suggest that he get counseling and treatment.
SB: Is it difficult for the family to force the issue of treatment?
AT: Yes, but we get the people involved to talk about what has happened to them and to their lives as a result of the addicted person’s behavior. We encourage them to talk about how the addictive behavior has hurt them and what they have done to cover up. We get them to mentally project into the future to visualize what will happen if they do nothing. This can be a revelation because often they haven’t talked about any of these feelings and fears.
Among the first words I say to people are: “I can see that you are here because you care about him.” It is important to stress that because it’s not easy for spouses or family members to force someone they love into accountability and treatment. But, I remind them that it is the caring thing to do. I ask them to say that to themselves over and over. Finally, they believe it and act on it.
SB: Where does an intervention usually take place?
AT: It works best in a structured setting, such as in an addiction treatment center or counseling office, but we have done them in the home.
SB: What happens after family members express their pain?
AT: They then tell the person that they want him to get treatment. If they have any leverage to bring that about, all the better. A wife may say, “If you don’t get help, I’m going to leave you.” There might be an employer who says, “If you don’t get treatment, I’m going to terminate your employment.” Intervention focuses the addict on his own negative behavior, the pain and consequences it has caused, and what he has to do to keep the people who care about him in his life. SB: Are interventions necessary?
AT: Yes. The fact is that most people are in treatment programs because of family insistence or employer mandate, not because they initiated it themselves. There’s an old saying that you can’t help alcoholics until they hit rock bottom. Because of that unfortunate belief, many alcoholics have died who could have been helped. What we do in an intervention is to raise the bottom. We force people to know the pain they’ve caused others. We have them face the stark reality of their addiction and their own and their family’s future if the addiction continues. In other words, interventions can save lives.
If they agree to it — and most do — they go immediately, right then, with family members and the therapist to pre-arranged admission for chemical addiction treatment in a recovery rehabilitation center.
Next week: what happens in a recovery center, and aftercare.
Based in Rockport, life and relationship coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., a psychotherapist and former university director of career and counseling services, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at email@example.com or by telephone at 978-546-9431.