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The Journey To Recovery

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Intervention The Journey To Recovery - The Journey To Recovery

The Journey To Recovery

After a successful intervention, the journey of recovery begins for the whole family. With the alcoholic safely in treatment, a next phase of the process is underway. Some family members will think their job is over. They will say, “It’s up to him now. We’ve done all we can,” But that is far from the truth. Although the family cannot make the addict recover, they can play an important role in the journey of recovery.

First, the family can help keep the alcoholic remain focused during the treatment process. It is not uncommon for the patient to want to leave early, giving a long list of rationalizations and excuses. But the intervention team must remain firm. If an agreement was reached with the alcoholic for 28 days of treatment, then he or she must be held to the promise. If the clinical team at the treatment center is recommending a halfway house after discharge, the family should support the recommendation.

Many patients try to manipulate the weakest member of the intervention team, trying to gain their sympathy for an early discharge. “I’m bored in here. I’ve learned everything. I’ll never drink again. I need to get back to my work.” If you are being manipulated in this manner by the alcoholic, call one of the other members of the intervention team immediately and talk over the situation. Call all the other members of the team as well, and let them know that your beloved alcoholic is trying to abort the treatment process. When you continue to act as a team, and keep the lines of communication open, you will greatly enhance the chances for successful recovery.

One of the best signs that an addict is going to do well after treatment is the ability to follow the recommendations of the counseling staff. If the alcoholic is not willing to complete treatment, for example, the chances for long-term recovery are slim.

The second thing that the intervention team can do is to participate in the family program. It is likely that the treatment center you have chosen has a program that everyone can attend. Whenever possible, all members of the intervention team should make a commitment to complete this program. Besides gaining invaluable knowledge and experience, the team members will also be modeling appropriate behavior. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of having to explain to the alcoholic why he has to complete his program when you don’t have time for yours. It’s a recipe for disaster.

If you have been associated or living with the alcoholic, the family program will be immensely helpful to you. It will give you many insights into the struggles you have had over the years, and it will help you to understand the recovery process in greater depth.

If children have been living in the alcoholic household, it is critical that they also receive appropriate care. They are often the silent victims of this disease, and they must be brought into the healing process as soon as possible. If the treatment program you have selected does not have a program for children (ages 5 — 17), ask for a recommendation for an outpatient therapist who specializes in this area. For more information on this important topic, contact the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA).

Thirdly, friends and family who have participated in the intervention should begin attending their own 12 Step programs. There are several to choose from, including Al-Anon, Naranon, and Families Anonymous. Once again, it is vital for the addict to see that the family is taking action, and working on their own recovery.

Once the alcoholic is in treatment, I often hear questions from families concerning financial help and related issues. Here is a typical example: “Won’t we be enabling if we pay his car payment while he is in treatment?” My answer to all such questions is simple. If the alcoholic is doing everything that he is supposed to do, according to the clinical team at the treatment center, then the family should be doing everything they can do to support the long-term recovery process. If a person is in treatment, they may not have the resources to pay their bills. As long as they are moving in the right directions, the family should support them, within the reasonable limits of the family’s finances.

On the other hand, you may hear the alcoholic say, “I don’t want to go to the halfway house. Lend me some money so I can get my own apartment. I promise I’ll go to AA.” In this case, the patient is going against the recommendations of the treatment team. Although he is probably not aware of it, he is sabotaging his recovery before he ever gets out of treatment. Under these circumstances, financial help should not be given.

Recovery is an activity for the whole family. If the addict is married, the couple should agree to go to at least one meeting a week together. It is not hard to find AA and Al-Anon groups that meet at the same time. Alternatively, the couple can agree to attend at least one “open” AA meeting per week. Many communities have AA and Al-Anon club houses that host many meetings every week. Becoming involved in the larger recovering community in your town is one of the best ways to insure long term recovery.

Finally, in the event of a relapse, the intervention team can play an important role in a return to recovery. In our book Love First, we address the concept of a relapse agreement:

As soon as the relapse happens, the team should reassemble and make plans to talk to the addict about the next steps, as identified in the agreement. Detoxification may be necessary, along with a re-commitment to outpatient counseling and 12 Step groups. In any case, the alcoholic needs to know that the family is continuing to support him in his recovery. All the while, family members should continue with their own support groups. However, it is important to ignore advice that says, “there’s nothing you can do about it.” While it may be true that you cannot control another person, there is a great deal that can be done to influence a person, and to clear a realistic pathway to recovery.

Regardless of any temporary setbacks, recovery is an ongoing process that brings joy and fulfillment back to life. While trapped in the bondage of addiction, both the addict and the family become hopeless and frustrated. Beginning with the intervention process, hope is rekindled and the journey of recovery begins. Addiction isn’t something that happens overnight, and neither is recovery. Your loved one may experience an emotional roller coaster, and regularly plummet through the whole range of human feelings during the course of a day. This is not unusual given the tremendous changes that are demanded by this new way of life. As many people have said: “Recovery is simple: you just have to change everything.” The best antidote to these problems is regular AA attendance, along with a good sponsor.

The promises of recovery are great, and they are memorialized in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. In the following passage, we hear first hand experience about what is to come for newly recovering alcoholics.

It is impossible to know at the beginning of a journey what obstacles may come along the way. Nor is it necessary to know. That is why so many people rely on the famous maxim: One Day at a Time. You can rely on this wisdom. A person only becomes sober and stays sober a day at a time. And so too with the family.

Recently, I heard from a family who had carried out a structured intervention a little over a year ago. At the time, they were nearly overcome by anxiety and fear. Many of them believed that the intervention would be unsuccessful, and that a divorce was inevitable.

What a difference a year makes! The alcoholic is sober, and she has continued outpatient counseling and become involved with the recovering community. The family is together and the marriage has solidified. The children are back on track in school, and their behavior is returning to normal. Family activities are a pleasure again, instead of a nightmare. Most importantly, anger and fear have exited the home, with hope and healing taking their place.

I have had the good fortune to witness many such miracles in my work. Indeed, I would not be here today if my family had not had the courage to intervene on me in 1981. I believe in the process of intervention, treatment, and recovery because it has saved my life. If you are worried about someone else’s use of alcohol or other drugs, I urge you to take action. There is a great deal you can do to help yourself and those you love. You will not be alone on your journey, and you will find that many people will be there to help you, once you reach out for help.

Keep it simple, follow the directions, and trust the process. You may be able to save someone’s life, as my parents saved mine.


This article is featured with permission. © 2000 by Jeff Jay. Excerpts from “Love First” copyright © 2000-2008 Jeff Jay and Debra Jay. Excerpts from “Alcoholics Anonymous” copyright ©1939, 1955, 1976 Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

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Intervention Day

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Addiction Intervention Day - Intervention Day

Intervention Day

It’s show time. After all the planning and preparation, it’s finally time for the team to swing into action. The letters have been written and edited, the funding for treatment has been verified, and all contingencies have been covered. There are a thousand details large and small that go into planning an intervention, and when the big day comes, they all must be in order. However, one thing cannot be avoided: High Anxiety.

Everyone will be nervous. The most uncomfortable part of the whole process will be the hour just before the intervention. The intervention itself will probably go smoothly. In my experience, everything tends to fall into place after the couple of minutes. But until the show is underway, last minute jitters are the order of the day.

Most members of the intervention team will start seriously second-guessing themselves (and the process) in the hour before the intervention. “I don’t think this is going to work,” one will say. “Dad is going to get too mad.” Another will worry that the alcoholic will never forgive the intrusion. “He’s going to feel like we’re ambushing him.” Still others will start to rationalize why they shouldn’t be involved, saying, “I’ve had a few drinks with Marie over the years. Who am I to say something.” Or, “I’m just not sure this is a good idea.”

There is no getting around the stress and anxiety. It’s natural, and it’s part of the reason that intervention demands courage on the part of the team. This is not an easy thing to do, and everyone will naturally have doubts and fears. It’s true that interventions are successful 85% of the time in getting the person into treatment that day, but when that day comes, the odds might not seem quite good enough.

I like to remind families in the final hour that they are being powerful instruments of love in this process. The alcoholic is locked in denial, and without help from the intervention team, the addict will likely remain addicted until serious consequences, or death, finally intervene. It is important in the moments leading up to the intervention for each member of the team to have faith in the process and to focus on the loving action in which they are going to take as a group. “Keep praying!” I often tell them, and if there is ever a time when the maxim “pray without ceasing” makes perfect sense, this is the time.

The nuts and bolts of intervention day are straight forward. All the necessary plans will have already been made, so now is the time for follow-through. The team should meet at least 30 minutes before the intervention. Usually, the team will be able to meet at the location of the intervention, with the alcoholic coming along at the appointed time. For example, the alcoholic may believe that he is coming over to his parents’ house with his wife for brunch at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning. In that case, all the members of the team should meet at the house between 9 and 9:30. It’s a good idea to have something to eat and drink, to help deal with the anxiety. Juices are better than caffeinated beverages, but I never try to press the issue on intervention day. When the intervention is taking place, I will often ask that a glass of orange juice be placed within easy reach of the alcoholic, in case he wants a sip of something during the process.

Team members may want to review their letters once again. It sometimes happens that an event from the night before will be added to a letter if the alcoholic has been acting out. Always be careful that no anger or blame be allowed to creep into the text.

Little touches can help to put people at ease. Interventions can become tearful events, and I like to see that several boxes of Kleenex are available around the room. People should also be seated comfortably, and in a fairly intimate circle. Details like bathroom breaks should all be taken care of before the intervention. Once the process is begun, there should be no interruptions whatsoever. Phones should be silenced, pagers turned off, and everyone’s attention should be focused on the task at hand.

Seating arrangements for the intervention are described in some detail in our book, “Love First,” but in general only a couple of rules need to be followed. First, be sure that the most influential and non-threatening person is seated next to the addict. Second, if there is a person who has a particularly contentious relationship with the alcoholic (perhaps a spouse), they should be off to one side.

It is the leader’s or chairperson’s job to keep everyone on track and positive before the intervention, just as they will direct the intervention meeting itself. The chairperson does not need to be controlling in this regard, but their demeanor will set the tone for the group. A calm and purposeful air will be most helpful during the process. On the other hand, in the moments before the intervention starts, a little good hearted humor is often just what the doctor ordered.

The intervention will unfold quite naturally after the first minute. When the alcoholic first arrives at the location (the Sunday brunch, let’s say), it is immediately apparent that something different is going on. The alcoholic will see immediately that there are more people present than he expected. Indeed, he may see a sister who lives a thousand miles away, or a friend who wouldn’t be expected at a family gathering. In any case, the alcoholic will know in one split second that brunch is not on the menu, and that alcohol is the main order of business.

Initially, their defenses will go sky high. But this will only last for a few moments. In our current example of an alcoholic male, I would ideally like to see his mother greet him at the door with a big hug. She should say, “Honey, we need to talk,” and without ever letting go, walk him over to the couch and sit down right next to him. At this point, the rest of the team will take their seats.

The chairperson will make a brief opening statement, such as: “Mike, we’re all here because we love you and we’re worried about you. Everyone has written down what they want to say to you, and we just want you to listen for a few minutes.” The alcoholic will reluctantly agree, and the letters will begin.

Then the miracle. The alcoholic will have been very defensive up to this point, but then he will hear the letters. As noted in the previous article, each letter begins with a heart-felt memory, recalling when the alcoholic has been especially helpful or when they have been a source of pride. These statements are the exact opposite of what the addict is expecting to hear, and the result is wonderful. Defenses go down, tears often flow, and the door is opened to understanding.

Because the letters have all been written in a careful and loving manner, their effect is repeated again and again as the intervention proceeds. The alcoholic’s denial will weaken, and a marked change will usually be seen in his expression. Only a brief pause should separate one letter from the next. The entire process of reading the letters often takes less than fifteen minutes.

After the letters are read, the chairperson once again speaks for the group. First, the chair will ask if the addict is ready to accept help. The alcoholic will usually ask questions about the treatment, and the chair will provide details. If the alcoholic has objections to treatment, the chair and the chair alone will answer them. It is best to avoid cross-talk, and to let the chairperson handle the issues as they arise. The team should have planned in advance for every possible objection, so there are usually no surprises.

The chairperson does not need to be in a hurry to answer any of the objections. It’s often best to keep a slow and steady pace when answering, and to insert a silent pause between the alcoholic’s objection or question and the chair’s answer. This adds a note of calm to the meeting, and also keeps control with the chairperson.

If the alcoholic tries to pick a fight or escalate emotions, it is critical that no one take the bait. The addict may know intuitively that if they can start a fight, the intervention will disintegrate into squabbling. It is vital that the team stick to the plan, and that no one respond in anger at any time. The chairperson will field all questions, and keep the group on track.

In most cases, the alcoholic will agree to treatment. At the moment of agreement, everyone should immediately get to their feet and give the alcoholic a hug or a pat on the back. This action has the effect of sealing the deal, and putting the process into its next phase.

Plans should already be in place to admit the addict to a treatment center immediately. A small bag should be packed, and every necessity covered. It’s best if the entire intervention team can go to the center for admission, to make sure that the alcoholic’s commitment does not waver.

On the way to the treatment center, the alcoholic will probably not want to chat. Often the intervention team is relieved and elated, and they want to talk. However, the alcoholic’s wishes should be respected in this regard.

During the admission process, financial matters should be handled by the family, whenever possible. If there is a co-pay or deductible that must be paid, it is usually best not to ask the alcoholic for funds. However, there are times when the alcoholic must pay for their own treatment. The intervention team must develop a strategy to handle this matter gracefully. Otherwise, the intervention can be derailed at the time of admission.

At the time of admission, the alcoholic will have to sign releases, so that members of the team can participate in the family program. It is important that this detail not be overlooked, and while it is the job of the treatment professionals to accomplish this task, it doesn’t hurt for the family to make sure.

After the admission process is complete, and the intervention team is on its way home, it’s often a good idea to have a little de-briefing. Here the team can get together once again to talk over the events of the day, and to reiterate their plans for participation in Al-Anon and the family program. It’s always good to have a few words at the end, and to reaffirm everyone’s commitment to the long-term recovery process.

I always say that there is no such thing as an unsuccessful intervention, because if nothing else, the enabling system will have turned into an intervening system, and the alcoholic’s drinking will have been ruined for all times.

However, there are times when the alcoholic will refuse treatment. In these cases it is my experience that the addict will finally accept treatment within the next 90 days. This is because their life will become unmanageable without a good enabling system, and treatment will start to look better all the time.

When the alcoholic refuses to enter treatment immediately, it is even more important for the team to meet after the intervention for de-briefing. It will be important at this time to reaffirm the team’s unity of purpose, and continued focus on the issues. There should be no second-guessing, but rather a commitment to follow through on the plan. If there are bottom lines, they must be carried out. If the alcoholic has agreed to a secondary recommendation, such as outpatient treatment, this must be pursued. By dismantling the enabling system, the team will continue to make progress. In most cases though, these contingencies won’t be necessary.

If you have followed the directions laid out in “Love First” carefully, it is very likely that your loved one will accept the help that is being offered. The process doesn’t stop there, however. In the final article, we will look at other important issues, including what to do if the addict tries to abort the treatment process. I know that when I was in treatment, I was a very uncooperative patient, and I wanted to leave every day. As we close out this series, I will give you some tips on how to deal with treatment and aftercare issues.


This article is featured with permission. © 2000 by Jeff Jay. Excerpts from “Love First” copyright © 2000-2008 Jeff Jay and Debra Jay.

Jeff Jay & Debra Jay provide additional resources including Videos & Podcasts at Love First

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How To Write An Intervention Letter

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How To Write An Addiction Intervention Letter - How To Write An Intervention Letter

Family Support

Interventions are most successful when they are very tightly scripted. For this reason, we like to use letters as a tool for keeping the team members on track. We address this in our book, “Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention.”

“During an intervention, emotions can run high. It is most effective if each person writes a letter to the alcoholic to read during the intervention. Letters prevent you from exploding into spontaneous anger or freezing up at the last moment.”

Any hint of anger or blame during an intervention is fatal. The addict will be listening intently for any sign of recrimination, as this presents a golden opportunity to start a fight. Once the anger flares, and an argument ensues, the intervention is destroyed. To guard against this calamity, we use letters to script our remarks, and to maintain a clear and positive tone.

The letters have several parts, which I will describe in detail. But first I’d like to share with you a real letter from a family member that was used during a successful intervention, quoted from our book, Love First:

“Dear Dad,

We don’t talk about it ever, but I love you very much. I know you love me very much, and you are very proud of me. I wouldn’t be where I am, or have what I have, if it weren’t for you. You taught me that I need to learn how to take care of myself before I rely on anyone else to do it for me. You encouraged me and supported me in my career aspirations. This gave me the confidence I needed to accept job positions that took me throughout the Midwest on my own.

When I went through my major heartbreak with Tom, you were the one whose shoulder I cried on. You were the one I trusted. You helped me get through it.

Dad, your alcoholism has been a part of our lives for a very long time. We didn’t get here overnight. It is running your life. When I call home to check in, if it is too late in the evening, you’re drunk. You get on the phone and your speech is slurred. When we talk later in the week you don’t even remember our conversations. Sometimes you’re passed out, and we don’t get to talk at all.

When I come to visit you, and I’m on my way out to walk the dog, if you’re in the garage I’ll try to wait a little while because I don’t want to catch you secretly pouring a drink. I do this to save you embarrassment. Or else I try to make a lot of noise in the laundry room so you know I’m coming, and you can hide the alcohol.

If I show up at your house late in the evening, you’re drunk. I see it in your eyes, hear it in your speech and watch you move back and forth from the kitchen cupboard to the couch, with an occasional trip to the garage to drink from your hidden supply.

I love you, and I don’t like seeing alcoholism sucking the life out of you. We’re all here together because we want you to accept help. We’re here to help. Will you accept our help today?

Love, Your daughter, Tina”

There are several parts to a good intervention letter, and all of them are displayed in the example above. The letter should begin with a simple statement of love and concern. You, as the writer of this letter, are an important part of the alcoholic’s life, so your statement should come straight from the heart.

Next and most importantly, you must recall a time when the alcoholic has been especially helpful to you, or when you have been proud of the alcoholic. Gratitude s the last thing that the addict is expecting to hear. When an intervention begins, the alcoholic will know intuitively what it’s all about. He or she will be on guard, and ready to do anything to derail the intervention. Imagine the surprise on the alcoholic’s face when letters are read that begin with heartfelt memories of pride and thanks. The alcoholic will be completely disarmed. Instead of starting an argument, the addict will often start to weep. This unique element is a key technique of the “Love First” approach.

The next part is optional, and in fact it was not used in the letter cited above, but I like to use it in many cases. In this section, you should make a brief statement about your new understanding of alcoholism as a disease, and your desire for the addict to get help in a formal treatment setting. This statement will have the effect of taking the addiction problem out of the moral sphere and putting it into the medical arena. Here is an example:

“Tom, I’ve taken some time to learn about chemical dependency, and I’ve learned that it is a disease that requires medical treatment. This is not a question of your willpower. It is a question of getting real help for a real illness.”

This should be followed by a statement of facts about the alcoholic’s negative behavior. As Sargent Joe Friday used to say: “The facts ma’am, just the facts.” In this section of the letter, you will need to recall several specific instances that illustrate the alcohol or drug problem. These facts must come from your own first-hand knowledge, not hearsay. They should be the kind of facts that would tell any impartial observer that there was a chemical dependency problem. For instance, our letter quoted above states: “When I call home to check in, if it is too late in the evening, you’re drunk. You get on the phone and your speech is slurred.” The alcoholic cannot argue with first-hand experience.

In the next part of the letter, you will repeat your love and concern, and then ask the addict to accept help for the illness. You may be quite specific about this, and may even name the treatment center that you want them to enter.

When this simple letter format is repeated by all the people on the team, it has a very powerful effect on the alcoholic. Gradually, you will see the addict’s denial slip away. The weight of the facts combined with the loving calm of the group will gently bring the addict into a moment of clarity where he or she can accept help.

Sometimes the alcoholic will want to continue the conversation. It is important that the team stick with their game plan, and have only one person answer the objections to treatment (as noted in the previous article). Often, the silence and self-control of the group will have a confounding effect on the alcoholic. He or she may try to start an argument, but to no avail.

As we have spelled out in our book, Love First, the chairperson must continue to speak for the group after the letters are read. In addition to answering objections, the chairperson will handle any questions that the addict brings up, and will keep the other team members from getting emotionally entangled.

In my experience, very few interventions require the use of a ‘bottom line’ to influence the alcoholic to accept help. However, in about 5% of the cases, it may be necessary.

The bottom line that each team member brings to the intervention can be described as the natural consequence that should follow if the alcoholic refuses help. For example, in an intervention that I facilitated in Florida, the grown son of the alcoholic told me about how terrified his small children were of their drunken Grandfather. The son decided during the planning stages that if his father would not accept treatment, then he would no longer be able to see his grand children. The son was making a difficult decision, but as the father of two small children, there was no other appropriate alternative. Here’s what he said:

“Dad, I’m sorry to hear that you won’t accept the help that we’re offering you today. Obviously, it’s your choice to make. But I cannot continue to subject my two beautiful children to your abusive alcoholic behavior. So, until you complete treatment and become involved in a program of recovery, I cannot allow you to see your grand children.”

Needless to say, the alcoholic was thunderstruck. He blustered and threatened and tried to pick a fight, but no one responded. They let his words hang in mid-air without a reply. Finally, the son said to his alcoholic father, “Dad, your grandkids just want their Pappy back.” Both men started to cry, and the stubborn old gentleman was admitted into treatment that same day.

Take time in preparing you letters. When it comes time to rehearse the intervention, be sure to read them all aloud. Often, other team members will help you to edit out inappropriate statements of anger or blame that you did not intend.

Letters can be a critical part of the treatment process, as well. Many addicts will lie about their use when they finally get into treatment. The intervention team should send copies of their letters to the counselor. In this way, the documented facts will continue to play an important role in the recovery process.

In closing, I want to share a powerful experience I had recently. I was called to a prominent university hospital to facilitate an intervention at a woman’s bedside. This successful female entrepreneur was suffering from cirrhosis, and had recently experienced complete liver failure. Yet she would not accept the need for treatment and recovery. Her doctors were not willing to put her on the list for a liver transplant, because she would not deal with her alcoholism. Her family was at their wits’ end.

Family members flew in from all over the country. The medical team participated as well. The letters that were composed and read by her family were profoundly moving. They told her how much they loved her, even in her disease, and how proud they were of her many accomplishments. Most of all, they recalled instances when she had helped them or inspired them, and this brought tears to everyone’s eyes. Although she was a very tough case, and had a lot of pointed questions about treatment, she finally had a change of heart, and agreed to be transferred into an inpatient center, after her release from the hospital. The assembled group wept with gratitude and love.

Three days later, to everyone’s shock and surprise, she died. At 40 years of age, this bright and successful businesswoman had been killed by chronic alcoholism.

In preparing for the funeral, her family told me how grateful they were. The intervention brought the entire group together as a real family, sharing their love and concern with more honesty than they ever had before. More than that, they were able to tell their alcoholic how proud they were of her, how much they loved her, and how much she meant to them.

As it turned out, they weren’t able to save her life. But they were able to create a moment of grace for her, in which she made the sacred choice to change her life.


This article is featured with permission. © 2000 by Jeff Jay. Excerpts from “Love First” copyright © 2000-2008 Jeff Jay and Debra Jay.

Jeff Jay & Debra Jay provide additional resources including Videos & Podcasts at Love First

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Preparing for the Intervention

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Preparing For The Intervention - Preparing for the Intervention

Preparing for the Intervention

When I work with families, I often say that there are three keys to a successful intervention: plan, plan, plan. There is no replacement for careful preparation when trying to intervene on an alcohol or drug abuser. In my experience, families that try to rush the process are setting themselves up for failure. Most families can carry out an intervention on their own. But if time is short, or there are other complicating factors, contact a professional.

The intervention itself will take place in a meeting between the intervention team and the alcoholic. The purpose of the intervention is to break through the addict’s denial so that he or she can experience a moment of clarity, admit the depth of the problem, and accept help.

In this article, I will talk about the steps that the team must take to organize themselves and prepare for the intervention. In the next article, I will discuss the all-important letters that each member of the team will write to the alcoholic. These letters become a virtual script for the intervention. They keep the team on track, and deliver a message of love and clarity to the chemically dependent person.

The first step is to choose the members of the intervention team. This group should ideally be comprised of three to eight people who are close to the alcoholic. These may include family members, friends, co-workers, or clergy. The intervention team members must have first hand knowledge of the addict’s problem. They cannot speak from hearsay. Also, the group cannot include anyone who has an active chemical dependency problem.

You may find that an important member of the team is reluctant to become involved. They may be fearful of making the alcoholic angry, or they may doubt if an intervention is the right thing to do. Take time to educate that person about chemical dependency and about intervention. It can be easier to use “expert” references, such as books, to avoid a battle of opinions. Most people will agree to participate in the intervention when they understand that it is a loving process that is aimed at helping the alcoholic.

Some members of the intervention team may live in other cities. If a family is serious about intervention, travel may be necessary. If it’s not possible for an important team member to attend the intervention in person, they may participate by phone, or have their letter read by another team member.

In selecting the members of the intervention team, it is important to know which members have influence and which members have leverage. When we talk about influence, we are referring to the emotional impact that a person may have on the alcoholic. A passage from our book, Love First, will clarify this idea:

“A person who appears to have little power over the situation may have tremendous influence in an intervention. A recent experience of ours is the perfect example. We were conducting an intervention, and as the letters were read, the alcoholic wasn’t showing any sign of emotion. We planned to have his fourteen-year-old daughter read her letter last. When her turn came, she paused and said nothing for what seemed like an eternity. In the silence that filled the room, all of our hearts raced faster. Finally, she looked at her father with tears in her eyes and a wonderful smile. She said, ‘Daddy, I love you so much!’ Instantly, the man’s eyes filled with tears, and he began to cry openly. The room was choked with emotion. Then his daughter cried, ‘I just want my Daddy back.’ Everyone started to sob, and our man of stone melted before the plea of his young daughter. She ran into his arms and hugged him. He immediately promised to get the help he needed. Never underestimate the influence of love.”

Everyone on the team has some form of influence, but not everyone has leverage. When people have leverage, they have the power to precipitate actual consequences in the life of the addict. Obviously, an employer has leverage,which can be used in an appropriate manner, as shown in this example: “Marie, we value you as an employee, but your drinking has caused you to miss 17 days of work in the last three months. We will do everything in our power to help you, including helping you to access treatment. But we cannot employ you if you will not come to work.” In this case, the opportunity and the possible consequences are equally clear.

A spouse may also have leverage, but it must be used gently. For example, a wife may say: “Jack, I cannot continue to raise our children in an alcoholic household. I can see the fear in their faces whenever you come home late. If you will not accept treatment today for your alcoholism, I’m going to have to put the welfare of our children first, and start looking at other options.” Here, the wife has avoided a direct threat, yet she has made her intentions crystal clear. She has put her husband on notice, but she has put the children first, thereby justifying her actions to everyone present. If, in this example, Jack’s parents are present and whole-heartedly supporting the wife, it will have an even more powerful effect on the alcoholic. So, when planning the intervention, determine which team members have influence and which have leverage. It is important that these elements be used wisely.

When the team comes together for an initial meeting to discuss the intervention, the members should talk about their personal experiences with the alcoholic and the negative consequences of the addiction. This is often an eye-opening experience for the team, as different individuals will have different knowledge of the situation. This process helps to get everyone on the same page, and helps the team to develop a better understanding of the depth of the problem.

Part of planning for the intervention will include choosing a treatment center. This process will begin with a number of questions: Is there insurance to defray the cost of treatment? What are the insurance or managed care company’s requirements? Is public funding necessary, and if so, what local agency authorizes treatment? Does the family have private resources to pay for treatment? Who are the best treatment providers in the area?

Prepare to spend some time on the phone. In the case of insurance, you will need to verify that there is a benefit for chemical dependency treatment, and how to access that benefit. In the case of publicly funded programs, you will have to find out what programs are available and how a person can be admitted. If the family has the means to pay for some or all of the treatment privately, then the treatment options will broaden considerably.

In my view, inpatient or residential treatment is almost always preferable over outpatient treatment. By the time that family members start talking about intervention, the addict’s problem is usually quite severe. Few families are going to address Grandpa’s alcohol and Xanax habit in the early stages. So it’s likely that the problem you’re dealing with will be very serious. The Medstat study demonstrated that residential stays of 21 to 28 days were almost twice as effective in preventing relapse as stays of 7 days or less.

Another important step in the planning process is to determine in advance the objections to treatment that the alcoholic will raise. These objections will be answered conclusively by the chairperson during the intervention. For example, an alcoholic living alone might say: “I can’t go into treatment. Who’s going to take care of my dog Spot?” The team will have thought of this objection in advance, and will have a plan. The chairman will answer: “Well, you know how much Spot likes Uncle Harry’s dog Rover. Uncle Harry has agreed to take Spot today, and look after him while you’re away.” The alcoholic will be stunned. Every objection will have a reasonable and workable answer.

To help in the planning process, I am including a version of the Intervention Checklist from the appendix of our book, “Love First.” You will find it useful in keeping track of details during the planning process.

Bring together three to eight people who are important to the alcoholic and are willing to learn how to help.
Set up a planning meeting to discuss moving forward with the intervention.
Choose a detail person.
Choose a team chairperson.
Discuss the importance of not alerting the alcoholic to the intervention plans.
List ways you’ve tried to help the alcoholic that may have enabled the addiction.
Put in writing all the negative consequences caused by the addiction problem.
Write a one- to two-page letter to the alcoholic.
Read your letters to each other, editing out anger, blame, and judgment.
Determine bottom lines, and write them down on a separate page.
Test each other’s willingness to follow through with the bottom lines.
Identify financial resources for covering treatment costs.
Evaluate treatment centers using the evaluation questions.
Set a date, time and place for the rehearsal and the intervention.
Choose a treatment center, answer its pre-intake questions, and make an appointment for admission.
Make airline reservations if the treatment center is out-of-state.
Create a plan likely to guarantee the alcoholic’s presence at the intervention.
Identify objections the alcoholic may use to avoid or postpone treatment, then formulate your answers.
Pack a suitcase using the guidelines provided by the treatment staff.
Determine who should drive the alcoholic from the intervention to treatment.
Compile a list of all prescribed medications the alcoholic is presently using.
Rehearse the intervention.
Decide where each person will sit, including the alcoholic.
Discuss the order in which you’ll read your letters.
Find a discreet place to park your cars.
Script the chairman’s introduction and closing statement.
Review objections and answers.
Plan to arrive at the intervention location 30 minutes before the alcoholic is expected to be there.
If the intervention is taking place at the alcoholic’s home, arrive as a group.
After the intervention, call the admissions staff and let them know whether or not the alcoholic has agreed to treatment.
Collect all letters and send them to the alcoholic’s treatment counselor.
Sign up for the Family Program.
Locate an Al-Anon or Family Anonymous meeting near your home or office.
Not every item on this list has been in these articles. However, the checklist will give you a good idea of the things you need to attend to.

If there are complicating issues however, you may need the help of a professional. For example, if there is a history of violence, if there are concurrent mental health problems, if there is a history of failed treatment attempts, or if there have been threats or attempts at suicide. Generally, any complicating factor that makes the group uncomfortable may indicate the need for professional guidance. Having said that, most families are perfectly capable of carrying out a structured intervention on their own, if they have the time and ability to prepare carefully.

Perhaps the most important part of the planning process is to make sure that all of the intervention team members are able to act with love and concern. If anyone is too angry with the addict to behave in an appropriate manner, then they cannot participate. Intervention is a way a breaking through the alcoholic’s denial, so that they will accept the help that is available to them. But the number one priority must be to preserve the dignity of the alcoholic, so that they can make a real choice. Love, honesty, and clarity are very powerful when used in a group setting. Trust the process. It has worked for many thousands of families, and it can help your family, as well. In this way, you can become a powerful instrument of God’s love in the world.


This article is featured with permission. © 2000 by Jeff Jay. Excerpts from “Love First” copyright © 2000-2008 Jeff Jay and Debra Jay.

Jeff Jay & Debra Jay provide additional resources including Videos & Podcasts at Love First

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Intervention : The 2 Phases Of Enabling

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Intervention The 2 Phases of Enabling the Addict - Intervention : The 2 Phases Of Enabling

Intervention : The 2 Phases Of Enabling

When family members become concerned about a loved one’s alcohol use, they will almost always do all the wrong things. Operating out of a sense of loyalty and love, they will unwittingly enable the disease to progress. Inevitably, the alcohol or other drug use becomes worse.

There are countless examples of how this may occur. Here are three stories that showcase enabling behavior.

1) A young woman in college is known to be drinking somewhat heavily. Her grades aren’t what they should be. Finally, she drives her car into a parked vehicle while intoxicated. Legal problems arise.

Her parents run to the rescue, thinking: “She’s just going through a phase. She can’t be an alcoholic. She is our beloved daughter.” Instead of getting professional help, her parents call a lawyer to deal with the legal trouble. Unwittingly, they diminish the negative consequences of their daughter’s drinking. That is, they make the problem less of a problem for their daughter. In this way, they have enabled the problem to continue.

2) A young man with a wife and children is staying out too late. He is drinking with his buddies at a sports bar and occasionally using cocaine. The problem escalates over time and his behavior becomes erratic. He stays out all night. He begins to miss work. He spends the mortgage money.

His wife becomes frantic, and somehow blames herself for the problem. When he misses work, she calls in sick for him. When she is asked by his parents how things are going, she lies and says all is well. She is too ashamed and confused to reach out for help, yet she is unwittingly making things worse. Without knowing it, she has become his accomplice by averting negative consequences at work and smoothing over problems with his parents. She may even borrow money to cover the mortgage payment. Even though she begs and threatens, cries and pleads, his wife is now enabling the problem to continue.

3) A 74 year old woman has prescriptions from three different doctors, none of whom know what the other is prescribing. She is taking Xanax, Percodan, and Tylenol 3, along with a host of other medications. She also drinks at night, now that her husband has passed away. Despite the love of her children and grand children, she is an alcoholic and drug addict.

When she falls and breaks her hip, the accident is attributed to old age. But at 74, she is quite fit and completely independent. She has lost her balance and fallen in her own home because of her narcotic and benzodiazepine habit, along with her drinking.

The family will not acknowledge the problem. Although Grandma has been hard to deal with on certain family occasions, it is simply too much to deal with. And besides, they think, she deserves to have a drink or two after Grandpa’s death. By turning away from the problem this family is enabling the problem.

There are two phases of enabling: innocent and desperate. The stories above are all examples of innocent enabling. The family members really don’t know any better, and their rationalizations are holding up fairly well. In truth, they are in as much denial of the problem as the alcoholic.

At some point this changes. Perhaps the young woman from the first story continues drinking, and drinks even more. Finally, she has a second and more serious car accident, injuring herself and someone else. Now her family is terrified. “My God,” they think, “she just can’t stop drinking. She must be an alcoholic!”

Strangely enough, most family members still will not reach out for help. Instead, they will descend into the desperate stage of enabling. Recognizing that their daughter has a serious problem, her parents take drastic measures to cover it up. They cannot imagine their beloved daughter labeled as an alcoholic. She will never be accepted, much less get ahead. Now the family goes into high gear. They hire another lawyer, they transfer her to a new college, and they keep the incident quiet. They are afraid that they may be making things worse, but they are determined not to damage her reputation.

Of course, this only makes things worse. Their daughter has not received any treatment yet, and so the disease progresses. Although her parents know there is a serious alcohol problem, they see it as a moral issue and not a medical one. They are still enabling the disease to continue. Desperately enabling.

Most people suffering from chemical dependency have an enabling system. This system is comprised of well-meaning friends and family members who unwittingly help the disease to progress. The enablers may be the source of money or the things that money can buy, like food and shelter. They may be the source of alibis or services such as legal help. Or, they may simply ignore the problem.

Just as families can do a lot to make things worse, they can also help things get better. When the enabling system turns into an intervening system, the disease becomes much harder to maintain. Friends and family cannot cure chemical dependency, but they can have a very positive impact on the problem. Families can break the cycle of enabling in three ways:

  1. Talk openly and honestly with the alcoholic about the problem. Stick to the facts and don’t be judgmental. Talk about your own feelings, but don’t try to inflict guilt. Only talk when the person is sober. Do not nag or scold. Talk about what you will do to help, and also talk about what you will no longer do to enable the problem. Also, talk openly and honestly with other family members about the problem, so everyone is on the same page.
  2. Do not give or lend money for the addiction, or to cover debts caused by the addiction. For example, if the rent money has been spent at the bar, don’t block the natural consequences of that action. Otherwise, one is only buying the next drink. However, if young children are involved, this strategy may not be appropriate. Be vigilant in protecting these silent victims of addiction.
  3. Become involved in a program of recovery. Al-anon, Nar-anon, and Families Anonymous are invaluable resources. It is often too difficult to stop the enabling process without help and support from those who have been down this road. Join a group, and draw on their experience, strength, and hope.

Enabling can also take a toll on the family members themselves. Ironically, their attempts to control the situation may impact them physically and emotionally. Some of these negative consequences are discussed in our book, Love First: A New Approach to Intervention for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction:

“Loved ones who enable the alcoholic are at high risk for both physical and mental illnesses. Their stress may cause diseases in the family similar to those the alcoholic experiences.

“According to Dr. Max Schneider, an internist specializing in families of alcoholics, the people around the alcoholic suffer from higher incidences of gastritis, stroke, heart disease, insomnia, respiratory problems, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Schneider warns that the risk of accidents, homicide, and suicide are much higher among families living with active addiction.

“Desperate enabling causes every member of the family to suffer. Anger and disputes arise; blame is bounced from person to person, and the family unit itself is eventually damaged. Children are especially vulnerable to this phase of enabling. The adults in the family are so focused on keeping the alcoholic in line, they don’t always notice what the children are going through. Make children your number-one responsibility. Be sure they are safe. Talk to them about alcoholism. Explain that it is a disease. It is nobody’s fault, and the sick person can’t help him-or herself. Give children a safe harbor, a person to talk to, and be honest with them. If you are aware of children who are living in danger because of a parent’s addiction, it is your duty to act. For guidelines on helping children cope with a parent’s alcoholism, contact the National Association for Children of Alcoholics.”

With all the problems that result from the enabling process, one might wonder what causes people to become enablers in the first place. In the innocent stage of enabling, the answer is ignorance. Enablers at this stage have plenty of love and concern, but they have no effective knowledge to guide them. In the desperate stage of enabling, fear is the primary motivator. Here we find enablers who are so concerned about the continuing consequences of addiction that they will do almost anything to protect the status quo. Ironically, there is a good deal of pleasure to be found in successfully outrunning the consequences and escaping the pain. As we note in our book:

“When addiction causes a problem, we are in pain, too; when the problem is solved, we’re relieved and our pain is reduced. Our feelings of relief are a form of pleasure. Once we go through the enabling cycle a few times, we’re conditioned to expect a reduction of pain and increased pleasure as a result of our enabling behaviors. Since we feel better, we mistakenly believe enabling works. Of course, since the addiction has not been treated, more problems will continue to surface. The only way we can keep up with the problems is to find more and more ways to enable. Our enabling progresses as the disease progresses, and our lives become increasingly unmanageable.”

When the enabling system turns into an intervening system, things begin to change. In the articles to come, the some of the techniques for planning and carrying out a structured intervention will be discussed. But there is an important interim step that can be taken short of a structured intervention. When a family detaches with love, in what can be called a soft intervention, they can protect themselves from the negative consequences of the addiction at the same time that they help the alcoholic to feel those consequences. A passage from Love First illustrates this point:

“The well-known ‘Serenity Prayer’ by Reinhold Niebuhr is the perfect recipe for detachment: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

“We are encouraged to see what we cannot change in other people, places, and things, but what we can change in ourselves. What does it take to do this? Wisdom and courage. And what is the result? Serenity. When we detach with love, we take our focus off the alcoholic and place it onto ourselves. When we focus on ourselves, we regain our power to make meaningful choices about what we do and what we don’t do. By making this shift in our thinking and actions, the world around us changes. Our world becomes manageable, and we find peace.”

This final passage from our book illustrates the problem and solution for many families:

“If you are focused on the alcoholic, you are focused on the problem. Take your eyes off the problem, and you’ll no longer be trapped in the problem. Put your focus on yourself. Resign from your job as manager of the alcoholic’s problems. Sign up for the team that creates solutions.”


This article is featured with permission. © 2000 by Jeff Jay. Excerpts from “Love First” copyright © 2000-2008 Jeff Jay and Debra Jay.

Jeff Jay & Debra Jay provide additional resources including Videos & Podcasts at Love First

Get Love First FREE Audiobook

Complete the form to receive a FREE copy of 'LOVE FIRST'.

You can call us on 01502 587269 (9am to 10pm), email us or request call back today.

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