Alcoholism is a devastating disease, one that is life-altering not just for the alcoholic but for everyone who loves him. In an attempt to improve the situation, many families find they will try anything in the hopes that it will help their alcoholic loved one to stop drinking, moderate their behavior under the influence, or improve their long-term prospects in terms of the impacts of the disease.
For families living with alcoholism, an intervention is a last resort. When they have informally begged their loved one to get treatment to no avail, attempted repeatedly to construct emotional boundaries only to have them knocked down, and tried every possible thing they can think of to create positive change at home without success, it is only then that many families realize that the only thing left is to stage an intervention.
What Is an Intervention?
An intervention is a formal conversation held by concerned family members to make it clear to their addicted loved one that:
- He has a dependence upon alcohol that is killing him.
- Alcoholism is a medical disorder that requires medical treatment.
- Treatment is needed immediately.
- If he chooses not to go to rehab that very day, then serious changes will be implemented immediately.
Each one of these aspects of an intervention is critical, and getting across each of these points in a loving and nonjudgmental manner has been proven to be greatly effective in helping alcoholics and addicts to choose a new life through treatment.
Demonstrating Active Alcoholism
How do you convince someone that they are struggling due to their use of alcohol when they are adamant that they have everything under control? It’s not easy, but before you can get to the discussion of going to treatment, it needs to be clear that they are alone in their assessment that their alcohol use is not problematic.
Everyone is given an opportunity to speak at an intervention, and while participant numbers should be limited to fewer than five people, each person’s share has the potential to be very powerful. Participants are encouraged to highlight the nature of the person’s relationship with alcohol by sharing a personal experience they had with the alcoholic and the consequences of their drinking. This could include something the person said or did under the influence that caused them or someone else – especially the speaker – emotional or physical pain. Accidents under the influence, violence of any kind, arrest, health problems caused or worsened by drinking, ruined family events, and other similar anecdotes are appropriate.
It is important to emphasize to your alcoholic loved one that you do not blame him personally for the consequences or harm caused by the drinking but that you do blame the disorder of alcoholism. A chronic disease, alcoholism alters how a person thinks and behaves. Long-term alcohol use can literally change the structure and function of the brain, and thus cause someone to do and say things that they never would otherwise.
It is not a lack of moral character or willpower that causes someone to continue drinking even when it is clear that there are harmful results for the behavior; it is the untreated medical disorder that is alcoholism – and treatment can help.
Treatment Is Necessary
If your loved one was living with diabetes or cancer or heart disease, you would encourage him to exhaust all available medical resources in order to effectively manage the symptoms of the disease, halt its progression, and improve his quality of life. Similarly, when alcoholism is clearly the issue, you want your loved one to get help and seek medical treatment that you know is his best chance at bettering his life. Explaining your reasoning for why you are offering him the opportunity to go to alcohol rehab and requesting that he prioritize his health above all else can help him to understand that you are not judging him or angry with him but want what is best for him.
A Line in the Sand
The fact is that many alcoholics, even if they agree that they are living with alcoholism and need treatment, fear the prospect of enrolling in rehab. Your loved one may agree to get help – but ask that you allow him to first manage this detail or take care of that thing first. He may even try to convince you that treatment isn’t necessary, that he can quit on his own – really, this time, he can make it happen – and he’s just asking you to give him one more chance. It can be very convincing, and you may think to yourself that you are staging an intervention because you really want him to stop drinking, so if he can stop drinking on his own, isn’t that just as good as treatment?
No. The promise of quitting drinking alone is not the same as agreeing to go to treatment. If he could have quit, he would have done so by now. Treatment is necessary, and to emphasize that immediate treatment right now – not tomorrow or next week – is needed, you may be called upon to draw a line in the sand. That means that you will need to demonstrate your commitment to helping him get better by withdrawing any and all support you are providing your loved one that is allowing him to continue drinking without consequences. Whether your are staying married to him, giving him money, providing him with a place to stay, employing him, or otherwise buffering him from the consequences of his drinking, you must make it clear that you will not do that anymore – and then follow through if he refuses to get help.