Drug Addiction Intervention Myths

Understanding intervention begins with understanding addiction. You can’t know how to help until you know what, and who, needs helping. Addiction isn’t a moral failing. This explains why good people become addicted. It explains why your loved one struggles with this issue no matter how much you love them or they love you.

Addiction isn’t a decision. It isn’t a sign of personal weakness or failure on behalf of family members or friends. Addiction is a disease. It is a complex disease with a variety of causes and contributors. The New York Times[1] explains addiction is, “a learning disorder, a difference in the wiring of the brain that affects the way we process information about motivation, reward and punishment. And, as with many learning disorders, addictive behavior is shaped by genetic and environmental influences over the course of development.”

Addiction does not have one clear cause. This means it does not have one clear answer either. Addiction requires professional treatment and personal support. Once you understand these basic truths about addiction, it’s time to learn what an intervention is and isn’t. It’s time to learn what to expect from an intervention, which assumptions are true and which are false.

Myth: Interventions All Look the Same

News and media have us believe every intervention involves a group of loved ones sitting down for a single meeting. This is not true. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence[2] (NCADD) explains, “Intervention is a professionally directed, education process resulting in a face to face meeting of family members, friends and/or employer with the person in trouble with alcohol or drugs.”

This doesn’t mean everyone meets at once. This doesn’t mean “meetings” have to be formal. An intervention may involve asking a medical or addiction professional to hold a brief intervention. A brief intervention can be an effective way to reach a loved one without approaching him or her yourself. The World Health Organization[3] explains that brief interventions involve non-judgmental conversations between a patient and a healthcare provider. These conversations, “are a valuable tool for treatment for problematic or risky substance use. Brief Interventions can also be used to encourage those with more serious dependence to accept more intensive treatment within the primary care setting, or referral to a specialized alcohol and drug treatment agency. The aim of the intervention is to help the patient understand that their substance use is putting them at risk and to encourage them to reduce or give up their substance use.”

This is just one, and one of the most basic, approaches to intervention. It is basic, yet it is also effective. Other options for intervention include series of one-on-one conversations between you and a loved one. They may involve the group of loved ones you’d expect to see at an intervention. Interventions take many shapes and forms.

The right intervention is the one tailored to your loved one’s individual needs. An intervention professional can help you assess the situation and determine the best approach.

Myth: Interventions are angry, aggressive or negatively confrontational

We see images of emotional, enraged or dramatic interventions nearly every day. We expect interventions to involve shouting, crying and anger. This is not an accurate representation of effective, professionally-guided interventions.

Addiction has put enough drama into your life. Interventions help take it out. Effective addiction treatment will never be overly emotional or aggressive.

The New York Times shares, “Empowering, empathetic treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy, which nurture an internal willingness to change, work far better than the more traditional rehab approach of confronting denial and telling patients that they are powerless over their addiction…The circuitry that normally connects us to one another socially has been channeled instead into drug seeking. To return our brains to normal then, we need more love, not more pain.” That said, you can’t love someone into recovery. If you could, your friend or family member would be there already.

ABC News[4] explains that helping is about balance: “Parents should insist the addict change behavior, stop using drugs and get treatment. But the family should still be willing to offer some lines of support. Also importantly, loved ones should get good advice and not try to go it alone.”

You need to establish consequences and set rules. You need to stick to what you say you will do. An interventionist will help you find the right balance between creating a message of love and personal support while still encouraging finding treatment and change. You don’t want to enable addiction. Enabling comes from a place of love. However it does more harm than good. It lets individuals avoid consequences that might otherwise offer motivation for recovery.

Myth: I Can’t Help

You feel like you’ve tried everything. Maybe you’ve even held an intervention before or seen your loved one off to treatment only to have him or her relapse weeks, months or year later. This has led to the myth that interventions don’t work or that addiction is hopeless or untreatable. None of these beliefs are true. When you seek professional intervention help, you make a positive impact on your loved one’s health. NCADD shares, “When done with a person who is trained and successfully experienced as an interventionist, over 90% of people make a commitment to get help…Most interventions are successful. In some cases, a person may refuse help at the time of the intervention, but as a result of the intervention, come back and ask for help later.”

An intervention opens the door for rational, supportive conversation now and in the future. It lets individuals know they have options and that their loved ones want them to find health and happiness. You can help. Talk to an addiction professional about the best options for you and your loved one.


[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/opinion/sunday/can-you-get-over-an-addiction.html. “Can You Get Over an Addiction?” New York Times. 226 Jun 2016. Web. 5 Jan 2017.

[2] https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/intervention-tips-and-guidelines. “Intervention: Tips and Guidelines.” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. 25 Jul 2015. Web. 5 Jan 2017.

[3] http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/activities/en/Draft_Brief_Intervention_for_Substance_Use.pdf. “Brief Intervention for Substance Use.” World Health Organization. 2003. Web. 5 Jan 2017.

[4] http://abcnews.go.com/WN/tough-love-part-ii-parent/story?id=9852608. “Parents Face Difficult Decisions When Dealing With a Drug-Addicted Child.” ABC News. 16 Feb 2010. Web. 5 Jan 217.

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