Families overcome challenges all the time, together. They support each other through hard financial times, deaths, divorces, illnesses and many other difficult circumstances. And, some are able to organize and execute a successful alcohol intervention that leads to treatment, recovery and long-term sobriety.
However, there are some drug interventions that require professional help in order to give the substance abuser a better chance at overcoming the barriers to sobriety. Choosing to navigate the journey without someone experienced with designing and implementing a drug intervention may create more physical and emotional harm – for the substance abuser and family members – that not intervening at all.
Here are four times that everyone benefits from inviting a drug intervention specialist to start the conversation about seeking sobriety.
- When violence is possible
- When suicide is a concern
- When an addict has underlying medical or mental conditions
- When the family dynamic is less than perfect
1. When Violence Is Possible
More than one family member has been surprised when their normally calm, even-keeled loved one became enraged during a family intervention. The truth is, not every person needing an intervention exhibits signs of aggression and violence; however, there is substantial scientific evidence that shows some drugs, like alcohol, amphetamines, and cocaine, cause brain changes that diminish impulse control.
One study found that alcohol plays a “causal role” in violent behavior. Researchers who reviewed case studies and lab data literature determined “most real-world studies indicate that this relationship is exceedingly complex and moderated by a host of factors in the individual and the environment.”
It is vital to understand that the person who once exhibited mild anger over frustration before drug addiction, may respond to anything perceived as a threat with an explosive, violent outburst, with or without punching, hitting and throwing things.
Medical News Today reports amphetamines, when used as a recreational narcotic, “can also speed up reaction times, increase muscle strength, and reduce fatigue.” Coupled with other adverse effects of long-term drug addiction, like paranoia, psychosis, and hostility makes it impossible for people don’t routinely work with drug intervention programs, to know for certain if a violent event may be short-lived, or continue for hours.
Assuming the target of the intervention would not hurt family or friends when confronted is dangerous. Without a drug intervention specialist who understands how verbal and body language may trigger a sudden outburst to lead an alcohol intervention, the slightest hint of displeasure may put family members and the substance abuser in harm’s way for emotional or even physical violence
Moderators working with evidence-based drug intervention programs coach family and friends with advice and techniques that include:
- Avoiding confrontational words and phrases
- Applying conflict resolution strategies that prevent the conversation from devolving into arguments
- Controlling potential outburst by making sure the addicted person feels safe and loved
2. When Suicide Is a Concern
The same brain changes that often lead to a lack of impulse control can also cause aggressive behavior. Some substance abusers develop a self-loathing, turning the anger inward. Faced with addiction’s economic loss and destroyed relationships, these individuals believe relief is only possible through death.
A poorly planned alcohol intervention could be the final straw that pushes a substance abuser to seriously consider, or even attempt, taking life-ending measures to avoid more pain and suffering.
Carolyn Ross, M.D, M.P.H, penned an article for Psychology Today called Suicide: One of Addiction’s Hidden Risks. Her piece highlighted the startling suicide rate among substance abuses. Quoting research findings from the medical community, she said,
- Alcohol is the strongest predictor of suicide
- One in three people who die from suicide are drug-impaired at the time of their death
- Drugs account for 75 percent of suicides by poisoning
- Poisoning is the third-leading method of suicide
- Substance abusers are six times more likely than the general population to commit suicide
- The suicide rate among untreated substance abuser may be as high as 45 percent
Not all substance abusers attempt suicide, or have suicidal thoughts and tendencies; however, those who do tend to have more complicated recovery journeys. A drug intervention program includes specialists who have extensive training and experience to help families explore treatment solutions. Experience and evidence-based training with substance abuse interventions have taught coaches and moderators that a family history of suicide and severe emotional trauma in childhood increases the possibility someone misusing drugs or alcohol may attempt suicide.
Escorting people in this complex, fragile state directly to a rehabilitation and treatment center immediately after an intervention event or interview, may help to prevent them from making a tragic decision.
While family members may volunteer to take responsibility for getting their loved one to the rehab facility after an at-home gathering, working with a trained mediator who will work act as an on-going case manager is a better solution. Case managers involved in the beginning stages of a drug intervention program often work closely with their clients throughout the drug abuse intervention, continuing through each stage of inpatient services and outpatient treatment periods. Many stay involved during aftercare programs, which may last for years after clients achieve sobriety. Dedicated caseworkers can become more like trusted family members than medical providers.
When a Loved One Has an Underlying Mental Health Disorder
It is estimated that 60+ percent of the United States adult population takes prescription drugs, this includes maintenance medication for diabetes, hypertension, and depression. Unfortunately, many of these prescriptions are written from a perspective that managing known side effects is better than not treating the condition.
Take blood pressure control. Left untreated, high blood pressure increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease and experiencing debilitating or life-ending strokes. Physicians want to reduce risks for their patients, so they prescribe drugs approved as a treatment option. But, finding the pharmaceutical solution is challenging. As an example, although it is relatively rare, beta blockers commonly used to treat high blood pressure can cause night terrors and both auditory and visual hallucinations. Most doctors consider the low-incidence rate a risk worth taking.
Since amphetamine users also report vivid, horrifying dreams, it is difficult for untrained family members and friends to know if the addiction or the maintenance medication is the source of frightening sleep disorders.
And, it isn’t just one class of medication that poses risks. Many medications, especially those prescribed for depression and anxiety, come with a host of side-effects, including suicidal thoughts.
The particular antidepressant that comedian Robin Williams took for his depression, “Mirtazapine, (also known as Remeron) carries 10 international drug regulatory warnings on causing suicidal ideation.”
Williams struggled with depression for many years, and he took prescriptions drugs to manage his consider. Although doctors don’t believe illicit drug use contributed to his death, Williams’ words explain what substance abusers contemplating taking their own life may internalize.
“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” – Robin Williams
No one in the drug rehabilitation community advocates drug intervention techniques that include a sudden withdrawal from prescribed medication. CCHR International, a non-profit dedicated to protecting individuals from abusive or coercive mental health practices cautions,
“No one should attempt to get off of psychiatric drugs without doctor’s supervision.”
While prescription drug developments often lead to better management for chronic conditions like diabetes, depression and heart disease, over-prescribing addictive painkillers has created an epidemic in our country.
While family members may believe unconditional love and support are enough to get their loved one off drugs or alcohol, in reality, going “cold turkey” is life-threatening for many alcoholics.
Approximately 1 to 4 percent of alcohol abusers hospitalized for alcohol withdrawal symptoms die from withdrawal delirium. Researchers believe early intervention and treatment, including earlier substance abuse interventions, could reduce the number of deaths.
Ensuring addicts with underlying medical or mental health conditions receive high-quality medical care from the moment they enter a treatment facility is vital for survival. An intervention specialist understands the complexity involved in planning a family intervention, and advocates for respectful conversations that don’t threaten the physical and emotional well-being of the substance abuser.
Diseases, Loss & Injury Associated With Excessive Alcohol Use
According to The National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency, Inc. (NCADD), excessive alcohol use has many financial, physical and emotional consequences, including, but not limited to:
- Dementia, stroke, and neuropathy
- Cardiovascular problems, including myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation and hypertension
- Psychiatric problems, including depression, anxiety, and suicide
- Social problems, including unemployment, lost productivity, family problems, violence including child maltreatment, fights, and homicide
- Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns and firearm injuries.
- Increased risk for many kinds of cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx (voice box) and esophagus
- Liver diseases, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis
- Gastrointestinal problems, including pancreatitis and gastritis
- Alcohol abuse or dependence – alcoholism.
NCADD makes it a point to remind people that “Most alcoholics can’t just “use a little willpower” to stop drinking. While some people are able to recover without help, the majority of alcoholics need outside assistance to recover from their disease.
When the Family Dynamic Is Less Than Perfect
In conjunction with family therapy, individual behavioral counseling in treatment facilities helps addicted individuals heal.
“Why family therapy… because it deals with family pain.” – Virginia Satir
As the above quote suggests, family therapy is a wonderful tool for healing shared pain. But when there is constantly roiling tension just beneath the surface, a home intervention may seem like a personal attack, and may even lead to setbacks and delays in seeking addiction treatment.
People may not believe their family has any serious problems communicating, but let’s face it, almost every family is dysfunctional at some point in time. Our family influences how we live, our vocabulary, our behaviors, our customs and values, and how we respond to major life events.
When one family member becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs, others may feel disappointed, let down, embarrassed or angry. Sometimes, even the member of a person’s behavior evokes sudden outburst of rage and anguish. There is so much stigma surrounding addiction and mental illness, it is easier than people realize to make snap judgments.
Family members who see alcoholism as a self-inflicted wound might not present a good argument for seeking treatment. Holding a home-intervention, without medically trained supervision, could easily devolve into a shouting match or fight where people say and do things they regret, but cannot undo.
Home Interventions Don’t Work for All Drug Abusers: Sometimes the Best Plan is a Drug Abuse Intervention Program & A Drug Intervention Specialist As a Guide
Not everyone needs a drug intervention specialist. Some families, especially those with strong relationships who communicate openly and honestly with each other, find they can do some research, talk to their primary care provider and develop a recovery plan. Close families may take a more private approach, choosing to keep substance abuse discussions within the confines of their home. Inviting a stranger into private family discussions seems like betraying their loved one.
However, the importance of helping a loved one escape the chains of addiction with a family mediator or interventionist is preferable when the drug abuser has a complex medical or mental health history.
Elevate Addiction Services works with families exploring drug abuse intervention and drug treatment options.