Almost everyone knows someone who is addicted in some way. Unfortunately, many of us do not know why someone becomes addicted to drugs or the physiological effects of drugs and how they change the brain to foster compulsive drug addiction. Too many people view drug abuse and addiction as strictly a social problem characterizing those who take drugs as morally weak. One very common and very mistaken belief is that drug abusers can just stop taking drugs if they would just make the decision to change their behavior.
“They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, no, no, no.” – Amy Winehouse
Drug Abuse is a Complex Issue
Too often people underestimate the complexity of drug addiction and do not understand that addiction is a disease that impacts the brain. Stopping drug abuse is not simply a matter of willpower and the road to recovery can be littered with fear and pain. An addict who makes the decision to go into treatment will need the support and understanding of those around them.
Scientific advances have helped us to know much more about how drugs work in the brain, and how drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people who want to stop abusing drugs and resume productive lives.
Drug Addiction is a Chronic Issue
Drug addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug use, in spite of its harmful consequences to the user and to those around them. Long term drug addiction changes the structure and function of the brain. Although for most people the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary, over time changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse can impair a person’s self-control and ability to make sound decisions, and create an intense impulse to continue to take drugs.
Because the changes to the brain make it challenging for a person to stop abusing drugs, most often a person must find professional help to change the cycle. Drug Treatment can help to counteract drug and alcohol addiction’s powerful effects and they can regain control of their lives. Over the years of research, results show that combining addiction treatment medications with behavioral therapy is the best way to ensure success for most patients. Approaches in treatment are tailored to each individual’s drug abuse patterns and ongoing medical, psychiatric, and social issues which help achieve a sustained recovery and a life free of drugs.
Addiction Can Be Managed
Drug addiction is a chronic disease and can be managed as effectively as other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a person to relapse and begin abusing drugs again. However, relapse does not mean that the addiction treatment was a failure; rather, it indicates that treatments should be adjusted and alternate treatment is needed to help regain control and recover.
There are times when an intervention is needed to motivate someone to seek help for alcohol or drug abuse, compulsive eating, or other addictive behaviors. But an intervention can be challenging and it’s important to know exactly how to help a loved one struggling with any type of addiction. Sometimes all it takes is a direct, heart-to-heart conversation that can start an loved one on the road to recovery. But too often the person with the addictive behavior often struggles to see it clearly and can be in denial.
When the soft approach doesn’t work then a more focused approach is often needed and often you will need to join forces with other family members and professionals to take action through a formal intervention.
There are many types of addictions but here are some that may warrant an intervention if the behaviour is spiralling out of control:
- Prescription drug abuse
- Street drug abuse
- Compulsive eating
- Compulsive gambling
Because people who struggle with addiction are often in denial about their situation and unwilling to seek treatment, they cannot recognize the negative effects their behavior has on themselves and others. An intervention offers a structured opportunity for an addict to see how their life choices are affecting the people in their lives and help them to make changes before things get even worse. An intervention is intended to be a motivator for the individual to seek help not a bashing session about how bad they’ve made everyone else’s lives. It is meant to support, not condemn.
An intervention should be a carefully planned process that can be carried out by family and friends in consultation with a professional, i.e. a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. Sometime it will also involve co-workers, clergy members or others who care about the person struggling with addiction. An intervention is designed to help loved ones confront the person about the consequences of their addiction and encourage them to accept treatment.
During the intervention people involved should provide specific examples of destructive behavior and the impact it is having on the addicted person and their loved ones. It is important to have a prearranged treatment plan with clear steps, goals and guidelines to be ready to offer as a road out of the addiction and, have a clear plan as to what will happen if they refuse to accept treatment.
An intervention can be help in many ways but most usually includes these steps:
- Making the initial plan. Form a planning group and, at least, consult with a qualified professional or an interventionist to help an effective intervention. It’s important to be prepared as an intervention is a highly charged situation with the potential to cause anger, resentment and a sense of betrayal.
- Have current and long term information on the problem. Find out from everyone the extent of the problem and research the condition and treatment programs. The group may initiate arrangements to enroll the loved one in a specific treatment program.
- Decide who will be on the intervention team. Set a date and location and work together to present a consistent, rehearsed message. Often, nonfamily members of the team help keep the discussion focused.
- Having specific consequences can encourage a loved one to move forward with treatment. If they will not accept treatment, everyone involved should decide what action they will take. Examples might include asking them to move out or by taking away contact with children or grandchildren.
- Be prepared by making notes on what to say. Each person involved should describe specific incidents where the addiction caused problems whether emotional or financial. Discuss the hardship of your loved one’s behavior while still expressing concern and the and encouraging your loved that they can change. Don’t argue. Stay with facts or with your emotional response. For example, “I was upset and hurt when you drank.”
- During the intervention meeting members of the intervention team take turns expressing their concerns and feelings. The loved one is presented with treatment options and asked to accept those options right then on the spot. Everyone says what they will do and changes they will have to make if the addicted person doesn’t go into treatment. Do not threaten a consequence unless you are ready to follow it through.
- Follow up. It is critical that someone dedicated is there to help a person during their addiction stay in treatment to avoid relapsing. Helping them to change patterns of everyday living will make it easier for them to avoid destructive behavior. Offer to participate in counseling with your loved one and seek out your own therapist and recovery support. Be prepared and know what to do if relapse occurs.
A successful intervention must be planned carefully to work as intended. A poorly planned intervention can worsen the situation – your loved one may feel attacked and become isolated or more resistant to treatment. That is why it is important to consult an addiction professional, such as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor, drug rehab, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or interventionist, to be able to help you organize an effective and successful intervention. A substance abuse or addiction professional will take into account your loved one’s particular circumstances, suggest the best approach, and help guide you in what type of treatment and follow-up plan is likely to work best.