Drug Interventions: How, When, Where, Why 

By The Fix staff 01/21/15

Drug Interventions: How, When, Where, Why 

Drug Intervention

The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that nearly 24 million Americans, ages 12 and older, have abused drugs within the last 30 days, according to the most recently gathered data. Many of these people are addicts and need help to stop. One way to help is by scheduling an intervention.

Effects of Drugs on the Body

If a loved one is suffering from substance abuse or dependency, it is important not to wait for long for an intervention. Drug abuse precipitates an array of problems in the body. The National Alliance on Mental Illness pinpoints six of the most common adverse effects of drug abuse:

  • Drug abuse weakens the immune system, which increases the potential for infections.
  • Illicit drug use affects the cardiovascular system; it has been shown to cause an irregular heart rate, myocardial infarction (heart attack), and problems or infections in veins when using intravenous drugs.
  • Drug abuse results in gastrointestinal problems, which include stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.
  • The ability of the liver to remove toxins from the body decreases due to drug abuse.
  • Drug abuse causes dramatic problems for the central nervous system, including brain damage, stroke, seizures, difficulty concentrating, problems with memory, and inability to make rational decisions.
  • Drug abuse influences the appetite, which rises or falls depending on the type of drug, and body temperature typically rises as well.

What Is an Intervention?

According to the Mayo Clinic, an intervention is a planned event by family, friends, and perhaps mental health professional interventionists to confront a person with a substance use disorder about his or her dependency on drugs.

Basic Principles of an Intervention

Every intervention includes three basic principles designed to encourage the person with the dependency to accept offered medical treatment:

  • Those involved in the intervention will provide detailed insight into how the behaviors of the person with the drug abuse problem affects their lives as well as other loved ones.
  • The intervention team arranges a treatment plan in advance.
  • Each person clearly defines the consequences of refusing substance use treatment.

Hiring a Professional Interventionist

Most expert resources, such as the Mayo Clinic, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse clearly promote the use of a trained interventionist to give the person with the substance abuse disorder the best chance at recovery. However, some people make the decision to hold an intervention for drug abuse on their own. Each situation warrants careful consideration when making the decision of when to use a trained interventionist or other addiction specialist.

An addiction specialist can be a licensed chemical dependency counselor, social worker, psychiatrist, interventionist, or psychologist depending upon the resources in your area. The addiction specialist can assist in the intervention process by providing insight into how to approach the problem with respect to the unique nature of your loved one's lifestyle. During the intervention, an addiction specialist can be of great benefit when your loved one has a history of serious mental health disorders, violence, suicidal thoughts or actions, or is under the influence of multiple mind-altering drugs.

Suicidal thoughts or actions are A MENTAL HEALTH AND MEDICAL EMERGENCY and require IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION. (An addiction specialist can assist in obtaining rapid hospitalization should the situation escalate to this point.)

The Process for a Drug Intervention

An intervention typically includes seven steps designed to make sure that every member of the intervention team is thoroughly prepared and ready to go through with the intervention. It's important to understand the urgency of ensuring accuracy and detail in each of these steps.

Creating a Plan for Intervention

Someone must propose the plan for an intervention and gather the members of the intervention group. During this aspect of an intervention, you will have the option of contacting an interventionist or addiction specialist for assistance throughout the process.

Gathering Information

The members of the intervention group collect information about the state of the person with the substance abuse disorder, which includes severity of the disorder, amount of the respective illicit substances used on a weekly, daily, or monthly basis, and how the disorder has affected the person's ability in relation to work, school, or personal responsibilities.

Forming an Intervention Team

The intervention team is the group of people who will actually be present during the intervention. In most cases, this will include immediate family members, close friends, members of the clergy, and the interventionist. The intervention team will need to rehearse the plans for the intervention with one another to ensure everyone delivers a "do this, or go home" message to the person with the substance use disorder.

Determining the Consequences of Refusal of Accepting Drug Treatment

One of the driving concepts behind an intervention is to give the person with a substance abuse disorder an ultimatum. Each member of the intervention team will come up with a list of specific consequences that will occur if your loved one refuses treatment. This can include divorce proceedings, removal of children from custody, eviction from the home, and more. However, each consequence must have a lasting impact, and the person defining the consequence must be willing to follow through with the actions if treatment is not accepted. Do not prepare a consequence if you do not plan to enforce it because this will give the person with the substance abuse disorder a belief that he or she will win in any future interventions.

Revisiting Your Previous Thoughts and Notes About What You Will Say

Throughout the course of planning the intervention, you should take notes on what you plan to say. Explain how the substance abuse disorder negatively affects your life as well as the individual's. Describe your confidence in your loved one when he or she makes the decision to go through with the treatment plan. During an intervention, you have a free pass to make the situation emotionally charged to drive your point home.

Go Through With the Intervention

This may seem like it goes without saying, but an intervention will never work unless you actually hold the intervention. Keep the details regarding the time, place, and intentions behind the intervention secret to anyone who may threaten the integrity of the intervention. Some consider this phase of the intervention to be when you will "ambush" the person with the substance abuse disorder. It's important to remember that your loved one may view this as betrayal, but reinforce your goal of getting him or her help with the substance abuse disorder.

Continue to Follow-Up After Release from Treatment

An intervention does not end when the person leaves for treatment. Even after discharge from a treatment facility, you have a responsibility to ensure that your loved one continues to receive treatment. You will need to follow up with your loved one's caregivers and medical professionals to ensure the intervention remains a success. Furthermore, failing to continue supporting the course of treatment after the intervention will almost inherently result in the planning of yet another intervention in the future.

An intervention remains an effective means of communicating your desire to help your loved one with his or her substance abuse disorder. However, you need to follow each step of the intervention carefully, or you risk causing the substance abuse disorder to become more severe. Through understanding the basics of substance abuse disorder, careful planning of the intervention, obtaining assistance from an addiction specialist, and going through with the intervention, you can get your loved one back from the emotional and physical constraints of substance abuse.

While each intervention changes slightly to meet the needs of each individual, only you know how to reach your loved one. Remember that even the worst-case scenario of damage caused by drug abuse is minimal when compared to the possibility of losing your loved entirely. Do you want him or her to become another victim within the crowd of 2.5 million drug-abuse-related deaths per year in the world?

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