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What to do when a loved one has a drug or alcohol problem.

Perhaps a family member or a friend of yours has a drug problem and you are concerned about them. Maybe you have witnessed this person go through some depression or health problems, trouble at work or school or even an accident that was related to their drug abuse. You probably feel frightened, angry, hurt and confused. A person with a drug problem is also feeling alone, scared, and guilty. Both you and the person who needs an intervention need to know this: You are not alone.  Millions of people have trouble with illicit drugs and just as many have had to confront a loved one over their use of drugs. Drug abuse does not discriminate and it can happen to the best of us. It affects men and women, teens and elders, people from the poorest of neighborhoods as well as the most affluent suburban areas.

An intervention is when someone is confronted about their drug problem. There are two types of interventions – informal and formal. When a personal discussion takes place between the person doing drugs and yourself, this is an informal intervention. A few concerns may be aired or questions asked. A formal intervention has a more structured conversation. Friends and family get together with a professional, such as  family therapist or substance abuse counselor, to talk to an individual about how his or her drug use has affected each of them personally. Formal interventions usually happen after a person with an addiction has flat-out  denied the problem or refused to seek treatment multiple times.

The goal of an intervention is to get the person with an addiction to take steps towards recovery. Outpatient treatment such as meeting with a drug counselor, getting a substance abuse evaluation, or going to an inpatient treatment program are all positive options. Interventions should happen so substance abusers don’t hit ‘rock bottom’, get into serious trouble with the law, or becomes ill. The point is to confront the person’s addiction and do something about it before things spiral out of control.

Everyone should follow a few important rules during and intervention. First and foremost, the person with an addiction should be approached when he or she is “clean,” meaning they are not under the influence of the drugs when the intervention takes place. Second, friends and family at the intervention should explain how addiction has affected them personally. Next, present only facts about the situation. Hearsay and predictions can hurt your case. Fourth, the person with the problem may lash out and try to hurt the people trying to help, but everyone involved in the intervention should remain calm, collected, positive, and hopeful about change. Also, do not use “addict,” “druggie,” or other derogatory terms during the intervention.

Most importantly, it must be clear that continuing drug use is unacceptable. Spell out the direct consequences each person will impose if the person says no to treatment. They must be severe enough for the person to understand the importance of a clean life. Withdrawing all financial support, kicking him or her out of the house, refusing to bail them out, and removing contact with children seem extreme, but may be the only ways to make someone see how drugs affect their life. Setting these ultimatums can create upsetting scenarios for everyone involved. A professional can help direct the meeting and offer additional support.