Category: Frequently Asked Questions

So often we get angry with the addict or alcoholic and wonder why they don’t change. Why don’t they just stop drinking? Can’t he see that drugs is ruining his life? Can’t she see her drinking is tearing apart her family? Why don’t they stop? This is the question I would ask you: if they could stop don’t you think they would? Isn’t the most miserable person you know the addict in your life? Often they will say they are going to stop. They will make attempts to stop. But they always fail. They fail until they finally give up and they lose all hope for a normal life.

The answer to the question of whether or not they can stop on their own is simple but it isn’t easy. The simple answer is no. No, they cannot stop on their own without help. Let me clarify, I know many who have quit drinking on their own for a period of time. I don’t know any who have recovered. I don’t know any who have never drank again. Some went years without picking up a drink or a drug again, but at some point they did.

Last Sunday I got the following email from a young man, 28 years old, who desperately wanted to get clean:

Hi Chad, I don’t believe we have met but we are connected in so many more ways than I previously thought. I have a story that in ways are probably very similar to yours and am in the process of getting clean and sober for what I’m hoping is the final time in my life. Over the past 10 years I have kicked 2 separate lengthy meth addictions, beat my heavy addiction to oxycontin following my near fatal motorcycle accident, and am now working on quitting synthetic opioids for the second time in the past 3-4 years. This past October on a road trip I experienced sudden cardiac arrest, died twice, and against all odds managed to be part of the 8% of people who recover from SCA with zero brain damage. I have never gone to a treatment facility, and have decided if I’m not 100% clean by my 29th birthday I will go that route. I really appreciate you sharing your story because that alone provides me with much needed hope and positivity that will aid me in the battle ahead. For now I would appreciate you keeping this between you and I. My hope is that in the not so distant future I too can share my complete story because hearing yours gave me that glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. You are an inspiration and I just wanted to thank you for your drive to help others like us… not bad people, just people who have made bad decisions.

He mentions the several addictions he “kicked” over the past 10 years. The truth is he didn’t kick any of them. He sobered up for periods of time but his addiction continued. He didn’t go back to meth – he replaced one drug for another. His ability to stop from time to time convinced those around him that he could beat his addiction. He convinced himself that he could beat his addiction. I can’t tell you how heart broken I am over this email because this young man died the next day. His addiction took his life. He never made it to his 29th birthday. He was surrounded by family and friends that loved him dearly but they didn’t know or understand addiction and how to get him the help he really needed.

I want to be very clear here because I don’t want my words to be misunderstood at all. His family and friends are not to blame. I do not blame or put any responsibility on them. I don’t know them personally but I am certain they did the best they could with the information they had. But that is the problem. When our child has a fever and complains of an ear ache we know to go to the doctor to get antibiotics for an ear infection. But when a loved one is suffering with an addiction we have no idea what to do and so often we do the absolute wrong thing. We end up loving them to death.

I sent an email back to this young man right away. I was worried about him making it to his 29th birthday. I knew well enough that he wasn’t going to be able to stop on his own and usually when someone makes that decision they go out hard one last time. That last time is what often kills them. I asked him to meet me for coffee. I invited him to come with me to a recovery group. My prayer was that I would have time to help him. I didn’t. I had no idea his time was up. I question if there was more I could have done. Maybe I should have been more direct. Maybe I should have pushed harder. I didn’t even know him that well and I have those thoughts; I can’t imagine what his family must be going through. We don’t know when time will run out for the addict in our life. We don’t have the luxury of time. If you are reading this and there is someone you are worried about, what are you waiting for? Are you going to love them to death? If you don’t know what to do then hit that contact button and send me a message. I’ll help get you started.

As the name implies, an intervention is an attempt to intervene. One myth is that an addicted person needs to hit rock bottom before they will be ready to get help and that an intervention is an attempt to create that rock bottom. This simply isn’t true. It may be that it does create that bottom but that isn’t the point. I know in my case, my intervention was a defining moment and it certainly did create a bottom for me. It is still hard for me to look back on that event because of the absolute bottom I hit that day.

An intervention is an interruption and may even be better named as that. The addict in your life is stuck in a pattern of self destruction. If you analyze their behavior you will see the same behaviors repeating themselves. Obviously there is the using but also there is the isolation – where you may go days without hearing from them or even be able to get in touch with them. There are the good days that give you hope that maybe change is on the horizon. Then there are the bad days where you are totally hopeless and feel you may have lost them forever. There are the huge mood swings and the path of destruction left in their wake as they tear through your life like the Tasmanian Devil in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Over the months or years these behaviors have likely repeated themselves over and over and over again. The first goal of an intervention is to interrupt this behavior pattern and give you control back over your life.

What is the purpose of an intervention?

As I stated, we want to take control back from the addict. They have been controlling and manipulating you and your family for long enough. We lovingly tell them that we are no longer going to allow their sickness to make us sick. For this reason alone the intervention should give you hope. It isn’t just for the addict, it is for you too.

The second reason for the intervention is to offer the addict help. We give them the opportunity to get well. We communicate with them what we love about them, what their addiction has done to us, and what we believe their life could be when they are sober. Through this process we hope to awaken something in them. We don’t get our hopes up too high, we’re only just trying to spark something that will bring them to an agreement to get help.

The final reason for doing an intervention is because it is the best tool we have available. If you are like most people, you have tried everything else. You have tried reasoning, you have tried begging, you have tried love, you have tried tough love, and you have tried anger and yelling and nothing seems to work. Why hasn’t anything else worked? Because you were using a screwdriver to hammer a nail. You have to use the right tool for the right job.

How does an intervention work?

Interventions are typically attended by close family and friends of the addicted person. By this gathering of loved ones we hope to apply peer pressure in firm but loving way. Typically the people attending the intervention will have met beforehand and created a plan. They will have prepared letters that will be read at the intervention that outline the good they see in the person, how their addiction has effected them personally, and a plea to get help. There is also a separate letter prepared that is called “the bottom line.” This is shared if the addict refuses to accept help. The bottom line is not a punishment and should not be constructed as one. The bottom line has two purposes: let the addict know that their destructive behavior is not allowed in your life anymore and to apply that final bit of pressure to get the addict to treatment. As best we can we communicate that we love them but we are not going to love them to death.

An intervention should always be facilitated by a third party who is trained in interventions and is not emotionally involved with the addicted person. Attempts to do an intervention on your own can have disastrous consequences. It would be like hiring an accountant to be your electrician. The reason for this is that interventions are highly emotionally charged events and emotions cloud judgement. And, probably most important, the addict has likely already figured out how to manipulate you and other family members. You have already proven that you are not able to do this on your own.

How effective are interventions?

This is a very difficult question to answer. An effective interventionist will likely have an 85% – 90% success rate of getting the person to treatment at the time of the intervention. Sometimes the addict doesn’t go the day of the intervention but ends up going within a week so the effectiveness can be as high as 90% – 95%. It is important not to confuse the effectiveness of an intervention with the addict getting better. The goal of the intervention is not to cure the addict. It is only to get the addict to a place where they can receive help.

When is the right time to do an intervention?

Yesterday! The longer someone is stuck in their addiction the harder it is for them to break out of it. It isn’t impossible but just like with any disease, the sooner it is treated the better the chances of success. If you are reading this right now with a loved one in mind then the time to do an intervention is now. There isn’t going to be a magical “right time.” There isn’t going to be a time that is easier. There aren’t other options that you should exhaust first. I’ve seen it too often where the family waits until it is too late. Or they take half measures which don’t work. This really is a life and death issue so take action today.

Usually when we hear the word disease we think of something like cancer or diabetes. Alcoholism or addiction is not something most people think of as a disease. When they hear it called a disease it sounds confusing and even kind of annoying. After all, to drink or get high or play video games or have sex is a choice right? People with a real disease don’t have a choice. At least that is the logic.

There is a lot of evidence to show that addiction, in all it’s forms, is more than psychological – it is more than a choice. Scientists have found real physiological evidence to support that addiction is not just a choice. Some people are more prone to becoming addicts than others. It is the same with many other diseases. For example, if you have heart disease or diabetes in your family your chances of also getting it greatly increases. In the same way, if you have alcoholism or addiction in your family, your chances of becoming an alcoholic or addict greatly increase.

My point in this article is not to go into all the scientific evidence to prove that addiction is actually a disease. My point is to help you think of addiction differently. If we see addiction for what it really is, more than just a choice, I believe we will have compassion on the individual and then be able to help treat them. A correct diagnosis is the basis on which treatment can begin.

Personally, I don’t know if labeling addiction as a disease is really helpful. In some ways I think it brings the wrong things into focus. Instead of discussing how to help the suffering addict and the loved ones he or she is affecting, we enter a debate on the definition of disease. The point is not whether or not addiction fits into our classical definition of disease, the point is that the addict no longer has a choice, they need treatment and without it they will die.

You may still be saying, “Yes but to get better all they have to do is make the decision to stop.” The hard part about that statement is that in a way it is absolutely correct. The problem is they can’t stop. They don’t have the ability to make that decision. Even if they did make the decision they are powerless to act on it. The addiction is stronger than any decision. Ask yourself this: isn’t the addict in your life the most miserable person you know? Don’t you think that if they had the ability to change their life by simply making a decision to stop that they would? So if they can’t stop on their own then what is the answer?

The answer is they need treatment. The disease needs to be interrupted. The interruption needs to be dramatic and powerful yet laced with love and compassion. And the only way this can happen is if it is guided by a professional. Please don’t read the information contained here and think you can go out and save your loved one on your own. Just as you wouldn’t attempt to treat cancer on your own, don’t attempt to treat the addict on your own. Botched attempts at treatment can actually make things worse.

A friend of mine called yesterday asking me this question. She hasn’t talked to her mom since Thanksgiving which has been a couple months now. Her mom has been isolating herself and when she does contact my friend her behavior is bizarre. She will send irrational and nasty text messages, she will lie or not tell the whole story. Often times her story about events changes. My friend is worried about her mom but doesn’t know what to do. Should the family do an intervention? She knows her mom drinks wine but isn’t sure how much since she lives a couple hundred miles away. Is her mom an alcoholic or does she have a mental illness?

Her mom has always had issues and especially when things are bad in her life. At one point her mom was married to an abusive man and during that time my friend would receive these nasty abusive emails that were her mom was clearly drunk and slurring her words. They finally rescued her out of that situation and things got better. Her mom married a wonderful man and things were really good. But then two years ago her new husband got cancer and died quickly. Since then it has been a spiral downhill.

When my friend asked me if she should do an intervention on her mom this was my answer: what do you have to loose? Right now she doesn’t have a relationship with her mom. If she does an intervention and it doesn’t work (if you get a good interventionist the success rate is very high) then she is in the same place. Except, she will be able to rest knowing that she has done everything she could to help her mom. On the other side, if it does work, her mom will finally get the help she needs and they can start putting their relationship back together.

If you are reading this and asking the same or similar question then let me encourage you. Everyone in your situation second guesses themselves. Does she really have a problem? Is an intervention really the right thing to do? These questions are born out of your own fear. The reality is, if you are asking the question then 99.99% of the time the answer is yes – they need an intervention. Think about it, have you ever asked that question about a normal person? Is there anyone you can think of where you thought they were an alcoholic or drug addict and it turns out they weren’t? No, of course not. If you are asking the question then clearly there is an issue.

If that isn’t enough then consider this: over 52,200 Americans died of an overdose in 2015. That’s more than died in car accidents (37,757), more than died in gun deaths including suicide (36,252) and more than died in terrorism (44). This really is a life an death situation. Do you want to be standing at your loved ones funeral knowing you could have done something but didn’t because you were afraid?

If you are asking this question you are in the right place. Over the coming days and weeks we will be answering this question and providing resources to help you get the help you are looking for.