Do Drug Interventions Actually Work? What the Data Shows

Drug interventions are used to encourage someone struggling with substance use to seek treatment. They are organized by close friends and family members of the individual with a drug use problem. The individual is usually unaware that an intervention is going to take place and can be caught off guard by such an event. Interventions are designed as an opportunity for friends and family members to come together and express their concern for an individual.

During an intervention, the person struggling with substance abuse usually says very little. Their role is to listen to what each person has to say and then make a decision about attending treatment or not.

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Each person who is present at the intervention is there because they have been personally affected by the individual’s substance use. This is their chance to share with the individual how they have been affected by the drug use, how they hope the individual will seek treatment immediately, and what consequences there may be to the relationship if they do not go to treatment.

Interventions are usually quite emotionally challenging for everyone involved, so a mental health professional or intervention specialist is often present. They can set up the intervention and provide structure for the discussions to take place. They provide an objective third-party view on the situation to help keep things calm and focused on conveying the important information for the targeted individual to hear.

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addict undergoing drug intervention

When to Stage an Intervention

As the loved one of someone who is struggling with a drug addiction, it can be hard to determine when an intervention is necessary. If you are reading this information, chances are you have come to the point where group support and professional assistance are needed to get through to the person who is struggling.

If you and others close to the individual have made multiple attempts to encourage the individual to seek treatment without any success, an intervention may help. 

Additionally, if the individual in question is putting themselves and/or others at risk due to their substance abuse, then it is certainly time for the person to get treatment, and an intervention may be the way to get the person there.

There will never be a perfect time to stage an intervention. People struggling with substance abuse are usually in denial about the severity of their problem and go to great lengths to avoid confronting consequences of their actions. Mental health and substance abuse professionals agree, however, that the sooner intervention and treatment services can be taken advantage of, the more likely the individual is to achieve positive treatment outcomes and avoid the dangerous and negative risks associated with substance use.

The Efficacy of Drug Intervention

To evaluate the efficacy of drug interventions, you need to consider what your desired outcome is. If your primary goal is to get someone you care about into treatment, then interventions are highly successful. Data shows that people who have been confronted with an intervention are more likely to enter treatment than people who have not. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), more than 90 percent of people who are confronted with an intervention commit to getting treatment right away.

Once people are in treatment, however, treatment outcomes are similar between people who did and did not receive a drug intervention. The peer pressure used during interventions is a very persuasive way to get them to agree to attend treatment. 

People are often overwhelmed by the pressure of an intervention and feel they can’t do anything but agree to treatment. Once in treatment, however, they may feel more removed from that peer pressure and not necessarily be as committed to the treatment process as they need to be to succeed.

Nonetheless, interventions demonstrate the strong social support network standing behind the targeted individual. A positive social support system is a huge factor in achieving and maintaining sobriety. 

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If individuals can draw on that sense of support that is laid out in front of them during an intervention, they have a greater likelihood of experiencing positive treatment outcomes.

Are There Any Risks to Drug Interventions?

With drug interventions, you always run the risk that the individual will refuse to go to treatment. They may not feel like they have much of a substance use problem, or they may be too entrenched in it to see how much they need help. When the subject of an intervention declines to go to treatment, it can be incredibly disappointing to the family members who desperately want their loved one to get help. That being said, multiple interventions are sometimes needed before someone seeks help.

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While initial interventions might not result in the person seeking treatment, they are stepping-stones on their journey to getting help.

Another risk you run by staging an intervention is upsetting the individual with the addiction. The person may feel betrayed by their friends and family members for going behind their back and planning against them. If the individual does not want to seek treatment, the relationships between the individual and each person present at the intervention are likely to become even more strained than they already were.

An additional piece of the intervention strategy is for each participant to provide a consequence to the individual if the person who needs help refuses to seek treatment. If the individual does not agree to treatment, those consequences will need to be enforced. This will be a challenging moment for the relationship and cause pain for all parties involved, but it must be done so the individual can better understand the seriousness of their drug use and how it affects the people around them.

Drug Interventions for Different Substances of Abuse and Demographics

No matter what type of substance your loved one is abusing, an intervention can be tailored to meet their needs. One of the strengths of interventions is that they are highly individualized. The intervention will be structured based on the individual’s unique set of circumstances. Substances of abuse, as well as demographic characteristics like age, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status are all accounted for.  

Interventions have been successfully developed for people struggling with the following addictions:

  • Alcoholism
  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Illicit drug abuse
  • Gambling or sex addictions
  • Eating disorders
  • Co-occurring mental health issues

Researchers have found that the peer pressure associated with interventions is what makes them so successful, particularly with adolescent populations. Adolescents, among other people, are particularly susceptible to the influence of peer pressure, both positive and negative. Young people struggling with a substance use disorder to tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana can benefit greatly from interventions staged by family members and peers.

Ultimately, a drug intervention can be designed for and is appropriate for anyone who is battling a substance use disorder. Friends and family members often decide to come together to form an intervention team because they have been unsuccessful in getting through to the individual on their own.

How to Make an Intervention Successful

For interventions to be successful, they must be well thought out and highly planned. An intervention specialist can help you design an intervention for the best chances of success. Intervention specialists have recognized a number of points to cover in order to provide the best intervention possible. Key aspects of successful interventions include the following:

  • Significant planning takes place over many weeks. The intervention is not held spontaneously.
  • The time of the intervention is thoughtfully chosen for when the individual is mostly likely to be sober.
  • Participants have researched the individual’s substance use disorder, so they have an informed understanding of what the individual is up against.
  • A single person has been appointed as the leader of the group to streamline communication and keep the group focused.
  • Participants have shared all of the information with each other, so everyone is on the same page.
  • Participants stage a rehearsal intervention to go over who will speak when and make sure everyone understands the agenda of the intervention.
  • Group members have anticipated potential reactions to the intervention and how they may respond.
  • The group approaches the individual with love, concern, and support. Anger is not a helpful emotion in this context.
  • Everyone stays focused during the intervention on the plan that was rehearsed.
  • The group requests an immediate decision from the individual about seeking treatment.
  • The group follows up with consequences or immediate referral to an already researched treatment program, depending on the individual’s reaction.

Incorporating all of these aspects into your intervention plan does not guarantee a successful intervention, but it greatly increases the likelihood of it being successful. Sticking to these points will help the intervention team remain focused and not get distracted by rising emotions.

Interventions are highly emotionally charged. Planning them, preparing what is going to be said ahead of time, and making sure everyone understands their role in the intervention increase your chances of everything going well.

If You Need to Stage an Intervention

If you have a loved one who could benefit from an intervention, professionals are available to help you. According to NCADD, the majority of successful interventions are directed by a mental health or intervention professional.

This professional can help you form the intervention team, establish goals, help people figure out what they want to say, and find an appropriate treatment program. Most important, they will be present at the intervention to ensure the structure is adhered to and the focus is maintained on the individual in a loving and supportive way.

NCADD provides an online search provider of its national network of affiliates and organizations that are equipped to provide a wide range of addiction-related services, including intervention and treatment services. You can search by city and state to find the help of an intervention specialist near you.

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