Alcohol Interventions – What Can You Do?

Interventions Can Be Frustrating

As you read through this material you’ll undoubtedly notice that the frustrations and difficulties you’ve experienced are the ones we’ve also encountered when it’s come time to find help for a family member with an alcohol abuse problem. It seems like no one has much to offer beyond confronting the “problem person” and whisking them off to a residential alcohol treatment center at great expense and with uncertain methods and outcomes.

You are, of course, aware that as a family member becomes increasingly alcohol dependent, most of us find ourselves wishing we knew what to do. Initially we all tend to look the other way and hope the problem will just go away, but eventually most of us will start getting angry, as consequences begin to affect our lives. Then you start to feel guilty about being angry. It is, after all, a disease, isn’t it? How can we be angry at someone who is ill?

Doing Nothing Works For A While

Lewis Thomas, M. D., essayist and late Director of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, once wrote that in treating patients, the most difficult part is knowing that “frequently the best we can do is to stand back and quietly wring our hands.” For many of us, that is how we respond as the problem grows.

The Need For Actions Grows

Eventually, as you have probably found out, patience wears thin, circumstances become intolerable, and our own lives begin to be affected in ways we can’t ignore – bank accounts are depleted, arrests for DUIs and other infractions occur, bail is requested, and emergency room visits arise. Quietly wringing our hands is no longer an option, and as problems pile up, and anger grows, so does the need for action, whether it helps or not.

Limited Possibilities Make Success Difficult

As you’ve undoubtedly discovered, there aren’t a lot of possibilities. As we said earlier, traditionally professionals have urged and orchestrated “interventions,” forceful confrontations between the drinker and those affected by his or her problem. Supposedly, the chastened drunk, suddenly made aware of the error of their ways, is whisked off to a prearranged residential placement and started down the road of life long recovery, and everyone lives happily ever after.

You’re smart enough to know that it hardly ever happens that way. Confronted drunks become resentful drunks. Alcoholism treatment fails within days or weeks or months. Everyone is more suspicious, hostile, and alienated – as well as considerably poorer. And there still isn’t any resolution in sight.

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Makes you wonder what might have been a better route, doesn’t it?

If you’d back up just a bit – to the intervention turn-off – where the urge to do something becomes a demand, it is good to remember that we can’t really force anyone else to change, at least not for very long.

Changing How You React Can Cause Change In Others

We can, however, change ourselves and when we alter how we behave those around us will also change in response, though it isn’t very predictable exactly how. That’s the hard part. Intervening indirectly means being prepared for uncertainty and the unexpected.
Are you beginning to see that a degree of uncertainty is probably better than living with the current miseries and messes and wondering what disaster is just around the next corner?

Softer Interventions Are Better Interventions

As we’re sure you can see, there still aren’t a lot of options. “Soft” interventions without confrontation and prearranged treatment, have the best chance of achieving desirable results. Yes, the outcomes are still unpredictable, but beneficial results are also more likely, even when the drinker doesn’t stop abusing alcohol. These interventions involve a clear statement of what needs to change, and how the family members are going to change their relationship to the alcoholic. How the drinker is going to change is left up to them. Maintaining this resolution is the tough part, as we’re sure you can imagine.

Follow-Through is Critical

Careful follow-through is what’s needed. This generally takes the form of disengagement and detachment. Your understandable need and desire to “do something” is refocused onto improving your life, not fixing someone else’s. The drunk is left relatively free to meander along on his/her inebriated way but without company, rescue, or support.

You will quickly start to feel better about yourself once you shift your attention away from someone whose problems you can’t fix, and onto yourself and your life which you can improve. As you can imagine, frequently family members are the ones who can benefit most from a supportive counselor familiar with all of the complicated issues and dynamics of disengaging from an alcoholic in a firm but compassionate way. It isn’t easy saying goodbye, even if the drinker disappeared into a bottle some time ago and shows no sign of wishing to emerge.

Change The Rules On Them

In the end, intervention means changing the rules, usually unilaterally. Remember that the alcohol abuser already did this when she or he chose that route. You are responding in kind, and in kindness really, when no other reasonable or productive choices exist. While you will probably need to remind yourself fairly often, you are allowed stop contributing to or joining another’s destructive behaviors. You can also improve your life without taking responsibility for another’s miserable choices.