More than 2 million people in the U.S. have an addiction to opioids, which is also known as opioid use disorder. Yet only 10% of these individuals pursue treatment. When someone you care about is struggling with opioid addiction, an intervention is one way you can help.
What is an intervention?
Your encouragement and care in an intervention can help move your loved one toward accepting help. To achieve this goal, a group gathers to talk with a person about the risks, consequences and concerns related to drug addiction. After sharing these feelings, the group proposes addiction treatment as an option.
There are three key phases of an intervention — before, during and after.
How do you prepare for an intervention?
Ideally, an intervention is a planned and organized event, not a spontaneous discussion. An intervention can be a very emotional experience for all involved. When you have time to prepare, you can think through the factors that can help make the intervention a success.
Learn about opioid addiction and potential treatment options
Before participating in an intervention, it is helpful to research the problem (opioids) and the solution (treatment options). You might start by checking with reputable, national organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. You also can ask your health care provider or local clinic for suggestions.
Once you have identified possible treatment options, gather as much information as you can so that you are prepared to address potential questions or objections your loved one might have regarding treatment. You might consider:
- Inpatient and outpatient options.
- The duration of treatment and where it will take place.
- If your loved one has insurance benefits, and if the treatment will be covered.
- Whether a referral or other admission requirements are in place.
Determine who should be part of the intervention team and assign responsibilities
Think about inviting the people your loved one cares for, who they respect, who they depend on and who they might listen to. This list might include family members, friends, co-workers and clergy. If you worry that someone close to the person might create a problem during the intervention — for example, someone who has an unmanaged mental health issue or their own substance abuse problem — you might invite them to write a letter to be read at the intervention rather than having them attend.
You might consult with a professional to help plan or facilitate the intervention — especially if you are worried that your loved one might react to the intervention with extreme emotion or violence. Professionals who help with interventions include counselors, psychologists, social workers, addiction professionals and interventionists.
Once you know who will be involved, you will need to figure out who is going to lead planning and who will manage communication among the team, as well as what each person will say and do during the intervention.
Choose a time and place
Try to plan the intervention for a time when your loved one is least likely to be under the influence of opioids or illegal substances. Avoid planning it after a mentally or emotionally exhausting activity such as work or a counseling session.
Without sharing your plans of an intervention, invite your loved one to attend. If you need help, a professional can help you to think through the best environment.
Consider the whole intervention
Preparations should include notes and plans for what will happen during and after the intervention. For example, your group might:
- Make notes on what to say during the intervention.
- Practice facilitating the intervention.
- Consider the consequences you will maintain if your loved one doesn’t accept treatment.
What’s the best way to perform an intervention for opioid use?
When there is time to prepare and practice, your notes and plans can be helpful tools in keeping the conversation focused, factual and on track.
Express care and concern
The intervention is most likely happening because you want your loved one to be alive and well, so that you can have a future together. Telling someone with an addiction that you love them and care about them is a good place to start.
- Use “I” statements. Statements that start with “I” focus on how you feel and what you have experienced. This can be more effective than using statements that start with “you,” which can sometimes be perceived as accusatory.
- Be honest, open and compassionate in explaining the consequences. Getting a true, honest account from the group can help the person understand the far-reaching impacts of their addiction.
- Shout or spiral into confrontation. It is important that you remain in control and focused on sharing facts and feelings. If things get too heated, you can suggest a short break to cool down.
- Be surprised if you are blamed, or your loved one accuses you of things. If this happens, try to be patient, go back to the plan and stay focused on your talking points.
- Allow the conversation to veer off topic. It’s easy to get focused on details as opposed to the big-picture problem. Help everyone stay focused by sticking to the main talking points.
Propose treatment and share how you plan to make it possible
After sharing your thoughts and feelings as a group, it’s time to ask your loved one to pursue treatment. Using the information you gathered before the intervention, discuss treatment options and ask your loved one for an immediate decision. When the offer of treatment is accepted, move quickly to get your loved one to treatment.
If your loved one starts asking logistical questions or raises objections, be prepared to share your plans to help make treatment and recovery possible. For example, will you:
- Help financially to cover your loved one’s rent, utilities or expenses while they are in treatment?
- Care for your loved one’s child(ren) while they are in treatment?
- Transport your loved one to and from treatment?
- Join family therapy sessions as part of the treatment process?
If your loved one rejects treatment, be prepared to share how your behaviors will change. For example, if you plan to prioritize safety for you and your family members, share how that might impact your loved one going forward. If you have been participating in behaviors that have enabled your loved one’s addiction to continue, let them know how these circumstances will change.
How do you follow up after an intervention?
It’s important to uphold your promises made during an intervention — whether participating in treatment and recovery or holding firm on the boundaries and behavior changes you agreed to make.
Interventions don’t always go as planned, and sometimes it takes multiple attempts to get a loved one into lasting recovery. However, interventions are worth the effort. An intervention can be the catalyst that helps your loved one stay alive and even thrive.
Ending the Crisis
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