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Do Early Intervention for Substance Abuse the Right Way

early intervention

No matter where a person is on the continuum of drug and alcohol abuse, having solid plans for intervention in place are crucial in helping people all along the continuum either stay abstinent or find meaningful long-term recovery. Whether done as part of an educational program in the community or in the structured environment of drug treatment, early intervention for substance abuse follow a specific goal in helping all people identify the underlying issues and triggers that allow addiction to flourish and take measures to prevent its’ growth. By helping people to modify their behaviors, these early intervention measures help foster healthy coping skills and a sense of confidence and self-worth that minimizes the need to use substances.

What is an Intervention?

The use of interventions to convince individuals who are dependent on one or more substances of their need for rehabilitation has been in use since the 1960’s. In most cases, an intervention consists of a confrontation orchestrated by family, friends, and other loved ones in which the addict is presented with evidence of how their destructive habits have affected others, an assurance that the addict is loved and supported, and an attempt is made to convince the addict to enter a treatment program. While the term “confrontation” has offensive connotations, more often than not interventions aren’t aggressive, but rather are a last-ditch attempt in which loved ones invite the addict to begin a path to recovery, also called an invitational approach.

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The Intervention Process

An intervention typically begins with one or more friends and family members who are aware of the severity of an addict’s dependence—oftentimes due to being either directly or indirectly affected by it—and are concerned for their health, safety, and overall well-being. Addiction has a profound effect on an individual in physical and mental ways, even putting their lives in danger, and this often makes the people around them to be fearful of all the bad things that could happen. The goal of the intervention is to intervene before the addiction from which the afflicted individual suffers can be treated and managed before it’s too late. Many times the group of loved ones will seek assistance from an intervention specialist who can help guide and facilitate the intervention so that it is most effective.

The addict is usually unaware that an intervention will occur, which can sometimes give them the impression of being “ambushed”. It’s not uncommon for the addict to try to leave; however, it’s important not to be too aggressive with them. The best approach for this scenario is to urge them to stay and to assure them that all that is really expected is that the individual listens to what their friends, family, and other loved ones have to say.

During the intervention process, loved ones will take turns speaking, either directly to the individual suffering from addiction or just aloud to the group. Many people prefer to write what they intend to say on paper beforehand so they can read from the paper during the intervention. Since interventions are an emotional experience for everyone involved, this is a great way to ensure that a person says everything that he or she wanted to say.

Common topics that loved ones will talk about include how they feel about the addict’s substance abuse and dependence, how it has affected them personally, expressing worry for the addict’s well-being and life, talking about events that have occurred as a direct result of the addiction such as arrests for crimes, and other things of this nature. The goal of the intervention is to confront the addict with the profound effect their addiction has had not only on him or her as an individual but on everyone who cares about the addict as well. This also helps to overcome the denial that’s common among addicts and alcoholics, helping them to accept their dependence.

It’s important to remember that as each individual speaks to the addict during the intervention, a tone of love, support, and acceptance must be maintained at all times. It’s encouraged to show emotion, but not to direct feelings of anger or resentment toward the addict who has not been in control of their own actions.

Addiction is a disease that must be treated as such, but the addict must first accept that he or she has a problem and choose to receive professional help for the condition. Aggression, anger, and resentment will make an addict feel attacked and are counterproductive to what an intervention is hoped to achieve. Professional intervention specialists can help to prepare loved ones for what to expect during the intervention as well as what behaviors are acceptable or encouraged, what topics should be discussed, and so on.

Once each loved one has had a turn to speak, the addict is usually asked—sometimes even pleadingly—if he or she would accept help for their substance abuse by enrolling in a treatment program. The high level of emotion of the intervention is what makes them effective; confronted by the devastation that their addiction has wrought on their loved ones, this is often the point at which addicts are the most likely to accept their substance dependence and begin a treatment program. More often than not, the addict is taken to a recovery facility to begin treatment the same day.

Being Prepared for Resistance

Each intervention is unique, based on the individual who is experiencing active drug or alcohol addiction as well as the family, friends, and loved ones who are concerned and want to be involved. While interventions have shown to be one of the most effective ways to encourage an addict to accept his or her problem and join a recovery program, sometimes the addict resists. Being prepared for some of the responses the addict may give in order to continue with their substance abuse can help to make the intervention more effective.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), there are five responses that are common of addicts whose loved ones have staged an intervention. Of the individuals who resist treatment during an intervention, the five most common responses are the following:

  • “Not ready to stop using,” which comprises 38.8 percent of excuses to resist treatment.
  • “No health coverage”/”Couldn’t afford treatment” (32.1 percent).
  • “Don’t know where to go for treatment” (12.9 percent).
  • “Possible negative effect on job” (12.3 percent).
  • “Receiving treatment will result in being stigmatized or ostracized by the community” (11.8 percent).

Since an individual cannot be forced to enter a treatment program, the best response to an addict not being ready to stop using is to continue showing the individual how much their addiction is hurting others and to assure the addict that, if left untreated, addiction is a fatal disease. For those who don’t feel they could afford treatment, it’s important to inform them that there are many facilities who offer flexible payment options and some even accept personal and government health plans. When an individual doesn’t know where to go for treatment, provide them with literature about treatment facilities and put them into contact with Ocean Breeze Recovery today; however, many loved ones make tentative treatment arrangements for the addict as part of the intervention preparations.

If the individual feels that seeking treatment for addiction will result in a negative effect on their job, inform them that continued addiction can and will lead to an even worse effect on their job such as being terminated for failing a drug screen or for showing up to work intoxicated. Additionally, some employers will allow temporary leave for employees who need medical care.

For individuals who suggest treatment will ostracize them from the community, inform them that their addiction and the behaviors that come with addiction—aggression, reckless and risky behavior, committing crimes to support habit—foster a worse reputation than completing a rehabilitation could; additionally, completing a treatment program shows consideration for personal well-being and for others, making it a much more respectable and noble decision than continued substance abuse.

The Importance of Early Intervention in Substance Abuse

The basic goal for a client in early intervention setting is to reduce the risk of harm from the continued use of drugs and alcohol. The number one goal is abstinence, but the specific recovery goals for each person is dependent on factors such as their pattern of use, the amount they are consuming, the consequences of their use, and the setting in which early intervention measures are delivered. Focusing on these intermediate goals allows for more immediate successes in the intervention and treatment process. In the intensive and structured environment of drug treatment, goals might include quitting one substance, decreasing frequency of use, or attending a 12-step meeting or other sober support groups. Successes achieved during this phase are important to keep the client motivated as they progress in their recovery.

The Stages of Change And Its’ Role In Early Intervention for Substance Abuse

It is often the case that many people do not recognize the signs of substance abuse they slowly take over their lives. The signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse can often be subtle and will gradually develop over time. Addiction professionals who engage in early intervention measures for substance abuse understand there are stages of change those with substance abuse issues undergo, and in each stage, there are different motivations that can spark change.

The first stage is the pre-contemplation stage in which the individual is not even thinking about changing their drinking or drugging behavior. They may not see it as a problem, and if other express concern or point out instances in which their behavior is impacting their life the individual will think they are merely exaggerating the situation. In the next stage–often called the contemplation stage–those who are struggling with substance abuse are willing to consider the possibility that they have a problem, but are often highly ambivalent and are on the proverbial fence of whether they want to truly make a change or are content with their current behavior.

People in this contemplation stage are often quite interested in learning about alcoholism and treatment and are weighing the pros and cons of continued use of drugs and alcohol as well as the pros and cons of attending drug treatment. If they make a commitment to quit drugs, they enter the determination stage in which an individual is read and committed to taking action. The individual may still have a certain level of ambivalence and hesitancy in pursuing drug treatment, but the level of those feelings have been minimized to a degree that the desire to get better outweighs the desire to keep using drugs and alcohol.

The individual then makes a commitment to action in which they formulate a realistic plan which includes a comprehensive and realistic evaluation of the severity of their addiction and the obstacles that may impede recovery. After the individualized treatment plan has been created, the plan is put into action and the individual works in collaboration with treatment staff in addressing and overcoming their specific addiction issues. During the course of treatment, the plan is modified to meet their changing needs as they move towards recovery.

After treatment, they enter a maintenance phase in which the newly recovering person learn to adapt to a new way of life without the use of substances. Because addiction is seen as a complex disease, the threat of relapse is always present. To minimize the chances of relapse, those who are new in recovery are taught relapse prevention techniques and strategies they can incorporate into their daily routines. In the case of a relapse, people can utilize the help of addiction professionals and others in the recovery community to assess what went wrong and modify their individual plan of recovery.

Goals of Early Intervention Measures in Regards to Substance Abuse

Early intervention measures for substance abuse can be modified in regards to how far on the continuum a person is in their use of drugs and alcohol. For example, those who may be abstaining from use of substances on their own and haven’t reached out for help would benefit from a community-based education program about the dangers of substance abuse and the stages of development that lead to substance abuse. For those who may be light or moderate users, there may be educational measures focusing on the health risks and complications that can occur as a result of their drug use. Additionally, there would be more of a focus on the dangers of developing an abusive pattern of substance abuse.

For those who are seen as at-risk users, early intervention measures address the level of use, encourage moderation or abstinence, and educate about the consequences of risky behavior and the risks associated with increased use. For those who drug and alcohol use has reached abusive levels, any kind of brief interventions focus on moderating their intake or encouraging abstinence until they can get into a structured treatment environment that will provide medical detox, therapy, life and coping skills training aftercare programs which focus on relapse prevention education.

Don’t wait for your substance abuse to grow worse; call Ocean Breeze Recovery Center today and get the help and support you need to overcome your addiction and make recovery a reality–starting right now.


Stephanie T.

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