Tim could tell his wife, Lynn, was falling away from him. She drank all day and night. Before, during and after work. She lived for just one more sip. She drank so heavily, in fact, that she was just days from death.
One night, she had one drink too many and was admitted to the emergency room. Even with such a close call, though, Lynn refused to seek the help she so desperately needed.
Tim knew he had to do something, so he reached out to Intervention Services for help. An interventionist traveled to Lynn’s home in New York to confront her. It took three long days, but they were finally able to convince her to seek out care.
Now Lynn is alive, happy and healthy thanks to the intervention she received. She and Tim are now past that dark point in their lives and are able to move forward into a brighter future.
Social Acceptance of Drinking Alcohol
Drinking alcohol is often viewed as a “rite of passage” in American culture. As young adults become old enough to buy alcohol and move out of their parents’ home, they often begin drinking more just because they can.
Eventually, their drinking and partying habits level off with the responsibilities of adulthood like careers, marriage, and children. This is considered culturally normative behavior. However, some individuals do not follow this normal pattern of decreasing alcohol intake as they gain responsibility. Instead, their alcohol intake increases into early adulthood and beyond.
The social and cultural acceptance of alcohol often prevents alcoholics from getting the treatment they need. Most of the American population (i.e. 86.8% in 2013) has consumed alcohol at some point in their lives.
People drink alcohol to relieve stress, to celebrate, or to numb pain. It’s a normal social activity mentioned extensively in music, movies and on television. This social acceptance makes it difficult to diagnose alcoholism in a loved one.
Starting the Conversation about Alcoholism
Neglecting to confront a loved one about a serious drinking problem can have tragic consequences. Data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that each year an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes in America. Nearly two-thirds of these numbers are men. Alcohol is the third most preventable cause of death in the United States.
You may be worried about confronting a loved one if they’re showing signs of alcoholism, especially if you consume alcohol yourself. Your loved one may call you a hypocrite and point the criticism back at you and your own drinking habits. These are all normal fears to have when considering an intervention.
Regardless of your reservations, know that doing nothing can have dire consequences for both your loved one and the family as a whole. An alcohol intervention is not about casting judgment from one individual to another. Instead, it’s about reaching out to a loved one with concern and love, and offering them a way to get help for their drinking problem.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
It is natural to view alcoholism as the culprit of your loved one’s issues. But in reality, your loved one’s alcoholism is a symptom of a much larger problem. Alcoholism doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of an endless list of possible factors: genetics, biological makeup, psychology, environment, and sociology.
Most alcoholics drink to relieve the pain of their particular circumstances – a failed marriage, a death in the family, a broken relationship, a devastating diagnosis, or another difficult life event. Some were raised in an environment where alcohol was prominently consumed in large quantities. Some started drinking simply to fit in.
In order to achieve true sobriety and gain control over future cravings, it is essential to understand these underlying conditions so that they may be treated alongside the addiction. Alcoholism could even stem from a co-occurring mental disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. If that’s the case, both issues must be treated simultaneously for a successful recovery.
What are the Symptoms of Alcoholism?
There are many signs that can reveal if your loved one is truly an alcoholic or not. Of these symptoms, two stand out as key indicators: tolerance and withdrawal.
When a person must drink more and more in order to achieve the same “buzz” as before, their tolerance for alcohol increases. The amount of alcohol needed grows exponentially until it spirals out of control.
If they go a certain period of time without a fix, an alcoholic begins to break down and experience the symptoms of withdrawal. These can include uncontrollable shakes, anger, anxiety, insomnia, and dietary changes.
Sometimes alcoholism is easy to spot, but oftentimes alcoholics find ways to hide their addiction from the people around them. They create a double life for themselves, and may exhibit some of the following:
If you notice any of these behaviors in a family member or close friend, you should consider getting together with other loved ones and meeting with a professional interventionist. It is highly uncommon for an individual to overcome alcoholism without professional help. Intervention is the first step of many towards recovery.
How do I Know When it’s Time for an Intervention?
Many alcoholics never get the treatment they need. If your loved one is unaware of the severity of their addiction or is in denial about the problem, staging a professional intervention is your family’s best option for getting them quality treatment.
Excessive drinking can cause irreparable damage to the human body. It can cause destruction to your heart, liver, pancreas, and brain, impair the immune system, and increase susceptibility to developing cancer.
Alcoholism can rip your body, mind, and life apart at the seams, which is why it is so important to get help as soon as you suspect there is a problem. If your loved one believes they don’t have a problem or refuses to listen, there is little you can do to convince them to get treatment. That’s where professional interventionists come in.
Why do I Need the Help of a Professional Interventionist?
Very few interventions are successful without professional help. Using a professional interventionist significantly increases the likelihood of your loved one committing to treatment.
A professional interventionist is a trained mental health and addiction professional skilled in handling intense situations. They will maintain objectivity throughout the intervention session, guiding each participant through the intervention plan and interfering with any emotional hijacking attempts by your loved one.
The interventionist keeps each participant accountable, ensuring that they share their concerns while setting appropriate boundaries. They act as a safeguard for the consequences put in place before the intervention, preventing you from going back on your word and helping you stand your ground in presenting the ultimatum.
Perhaps one of the most valuable assets of professional intervention is the access to a network of alcohol treatment providers. The interventionist assesses the individual and the family dynamics to choose the most suitable type of treatment, using their partnerships in the addiction treatment community to answer any questions you may have about treatment.
How do I Plan for an Alcohol Intervention?
An interventionist acts as a guide to help you through the process of expressing your love and concern to your loved one. All participants that you choose to be involved will meet with the interventionist to discuss the history your loved one’s alcoholism.
Choose the participants for your intervention wisely. The family unit is typically the most impacted by an alcoholic’s drinking habits, so immediate family members (parents, siblings, spouses, etc.) should be part of the intervention. You may want to invite close friends or relatives to participate as well.
There are several things you and your interventionist will plan out before the intervention takes place:
The Love Letter
One of the most important activities that each participant will have to complete is writing a loving letter to express their thoughts, fears, or concerns to their loved one about their alcoholism. The interventionist will offer helpful hints so that each loved one writes a letter that:
- Is non-confrontational in nature
- Uses facts relating specifically to the alcoholism
- Uses a “tough love” approach (refusing to enable or cover up the loved one’s problem)
- Minimizes blame by using “I” statements as opposed to “you” statements
- Avoids the use of the word “alcoholic”
The participants will need to work with the interventionist to create a list of consequences to put in place if your loved one doesn’t agree to treatment. These could include them having to move out, getting cut off from financial support, or losing rights to see their children.
The Family Study
The interventionist will assess the family dynamic, including interactions and relationships to one another. Each participant must hold the others accountable for expressing their concerns and following through with the consequences if your loved one does not agree to treatment.
Every detail is planned down to the seating chart. The interventionist will decide on seating arrangements depending on each participant’s unique relationship to the individual.
Determining the best approach to treatment is a vital step in the preparation process. The interventionist will discuss viable treatment options with the family, taking into account your loved one’s medical, family, and substance abuse history and any co-occurring mental disorders they may have. Knowing this information helps the interventionist choose the best treatment program for your loved one.
What Happens at an Alcohol Intervention?
At the decided date, time, and location of the intervention, everyone will meet face-to-face. In some cases, the individual may know beforehand that loved ones will be talking about their drinking, but in most cases, the intervention is planned and executed without their knowledge.
During the intervention, the interventionist will guide your group in sharing your loving letters, revealing your pain and frustration about the drinking problem, and how it affects you personally.
The interventionist will continually set boundaries throughout the intervention to ensure that each participant sticks to the facts of the addiction only. The professional will also prevent your loved one from trying to emotionally hijack and manipulate the situation to get out of entering treatment and facing their addiction.
After speaking candidly about your concerns, the group will ask the individual to enter treatment and briefly explain the treatment plan. If the individual refuses to accept help, the interventionist ensures that they face the consequences, like losing financial support or getting kicked out of the house.
Alcoholism is merely a symptom of a larger problem. Oftentimes, individuals drink alcohol to forget traumatic experiences, relieve pain, or fit in. Since heavy drinking is commonly accepted in our culture, many people are hesitant to talk to their loved one about treatment – until it is too late.
If your loved one is hiding or denying their alcoholism, do not wait to seek help. A professional alcohol interventionist will carefully guide you and your family members through an intervention and help you choose the best treatment option for your loved one. Contact us today to learn more about why the intervention process is right for you and your loved one.