The benefits of a drug or alcohol intervention

When faced with withdrawing all familial support, how can you pull off an intervention? Dr. Howard Samuels sheds some light on this tough topic here.

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By Dr. Howard Samuels, Author of Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

If you suspect that your spouse, friend, or child needs help for addiction…what can you do? Here, we help you eliminate your doubts hand encourage you to seek help in performing steps for intervention. In fact, physical and emotional sobriety in addiction recovery is possible!  How do you get there? We explore more and invite your questions about the benefits of interventions at the end.

The Value of Intervention

The bible tells us that money is the root of all evil and, while that may not be true for everyone, it was certainly true for me. Now, let me tell you why.

My intervention was an horrific experience for me. I’d been drinking and drugging for years; suffered overdoses and astonishing weight loss — my family no longer even recognized me, I was so gaunt and pasty-faced — and, amidst it all, I could not stop destroying myself.

Ha. Destroying myself. Even now, with almost three decades of sobriety under my belt, the root of my denial still exists. I have three children, and they all watch cartoons where the villain always announces, “I will destroy you!” because the network Standards and Practices departments have deemed it detrimental for the villain to announce, “I’m going to kill you!”

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And that’s what was happening to me. I was killing myself and couldn’t see it — wouldn’t see it — because I needed to get high.

But the people who loved me the most could see it. My father could see it. And he was at wit’s end. I mean, he’d tried everything — he’d had long talks with me, he’d sent me to rehab, he’d pleaded with me . . . and none of it worked. So, he and my mother eventually sought professional help because they’d realized (again to their horror) that something had taken ahold of their son and they needed real help if they were ever going to combat it. And this brings us back to my intervention.

My family had gathered (and mine is a huge family) and sat me down so that everybody present could — one at a time — tell me what they were seeing in me. It was agonizing, mostly because, deep down inside, I was still their son; I was still their brother . . . and I’d no intention of hurting anyone. None at all. I merely wanted to be left alone to wallow in my misery and continue my behavior.

The Knife of Ultimatum: Withdraw financial support

But, it was my father who dealt the final blow, thrusting the Knife of Ultimatum into my heart and twisting the dagger so that the real meaning took: This was the last straw, that turn said, and it is too painful for us to watch you do this to yourself. Get help or we will have to withdraw all familial support; and that’s not just our love and protection, it’s the money, too.”

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And the money was the key. I was already beaten; the intervention had been emotional, to say the least, but being penniless — being homeless — in New York City was unconscionable. I sat there in the parlor of my father’s house, mentally flipping through the rolodex of manipulations in my own head, desperately scanning his eyes for any sign or hint of the man I’d used for years and I discovered in an instant that he no longer existed.

That man had been replaced . . . with resolve.

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I knew he was telling the truth. Get well or get out, his eyes said; and I knew there was no way around it. And that was when I broke down. I broke down looked my father in the eye and asked him not to give up on me. And then, before I knew it, I was in rehab.

The intervention process is arduous

Now, it’s important to know that I probably never would have gotten sober had it not been for my family’s ability to draw a boundary — in my case it was a financial one — and stick to it; their strength made all the difference in the world. No one was going to “slip” me a fifty here or a hundred there. No one was going to enable me. Not anymore. They wanted to help me, but only if I was willing to live in recovery; only if I was willing to get help.

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The process is long and arduous. In my professional career as an addiction specialist, I can tell you, I have come across innumerable families who lay down the bottom line to save the lives of their loved ones and then, ultimately, renege on that bottom line because they cannot break the enabling behavior model or maybe they succumb to manipulations from the addict/ alcoholic, or maybe they simply feel that drawing boundaries betrays the way they think their love should look.

And I’ve watched addict/ alcoholics suffer and die when that happened.

Setting boundaries is the key

Boundaries are hard, especially for the families. It’s hard when your loved one is pleading with you to express your love for them in the way you always have and then have them accuse you of being a bad parent or an awful sibling or terrible spouse or friend when you stand your ground. But, I’m here to tell you it can be done.

I’m here to tell you it has to be done.

Does it always work out the way it did for me? It saddens me to say that it does not. Some addict/ alcoholics relapse. But, this doesn’t mean we go back to doing things the old fashioned way. We’ve lost a battle, but we haven’t lost the war. Stand by your convictions. Hold your ground. Relapse is not a failure. For some, it is merely part of the process, and there is nothing wrong with supporting an addict as long as they are in recovery. If an addict/ alcoholic relapses and then, miraculously, gets back on track, we embrace them because it means they haven’t given up.

We don’t bury our wounded; and we don’t throw anyone away.

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I had my family’s love and support (and, yes, even their money) while I struggled with getting well. But, they made it very clear that if I wasn’t living in recovery — if I was “playing them” just so that I could continue to kill myself — they were going to pull the rug out from under me and walk away.

And they meant it.

And I knew that they meant it.

If you are reading this and someone you care about is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction, my heart truly goes out to you. No one wants to be the bad guy and no one wants to point at the elephant in the room; it’s not how any of us were raised. Believe me when I say that it’s a war we are in, and that casualties can be prevented, and that most of what you need to do to win this war is intervene on the destructive behavior, draw a boundary, and stick to it. This is not an imaginary solution, it’s a solution that works.

But, I’ve got to warn you going in: if you’ve really got what it takes, it’s going to take everything you’ve got.

About the author
Howard C. Samuels, Psy.D., author of Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, is an internationally renowned recovery expert. He is the founder and president of the prestigious The Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles and he appears regularly on national TV news shows about the challenges of drug addiction. For more, visit The Hills Treatment Center.


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  1. I liked what you said about setting boundaries in spite of the difficulty for families to do so. My cousin is having trouble with an alcohol addiction and we’re worried about him and his family, so we want to get him help and stay strong to help him. Thank you for the information about how it can and must be done to help them.

  2. I really like what you said about how important it is for families of those who suffer from addictions to draw a boundary and keep to it. One of my best friends is my cousin and he’s going through a lot with an alcohol addiction complicating everything. We want to help him, so I’m grateful for your advice about laying down the bottom line to save his life and not enable his addiction.

  3. This is some fantastic advice; after all, you really do need to have the proper training in order to hold an interventions. I really think it is great that you go over some of the better ways that your family helped with your intervention. Boundaries are incredibly important to set and, as long as they’re respected by all parties involved, they can be used to great effect.

  4. My sister has been struggling with an alcohol addiction for a couple of years now and all of us as her family have finally decided that it might be time to have an intervention with her. So I appreciate you mentioning that we need to set clear boundaries about how their behavior needs to change otherwise some sort of consequence will occur. I’ll be sure to tell my sister when we have her intervention for her addiction that I won’t be supporting her drinking anymore, just her recovery.

  5. I like how you said that because your family drew a boundary you were able to get sober. It makes a lot of sense to me that family support in drug addiction or alcoholism would be really important. Your family and close friends are some of the most trustworthy and honest people and they can be trusted to do what is best for you no matter how painful it may be.

  6. Dr. Samuels, thank you so much for writing this piece. There are so many families and loved ones of addicts out there that just don’t know where to turn. It takes courage and a willingness to teach others to offer a personal account of addiction and the journey of recovery.

    While intervention may prove to work for some like yourself, there are other approaches to dealing with an addict as well. The lesser-known CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) approach has seen success rates of 60-70% of addicts engaging in treatment. Several studies have documented the effectiveness of this approach.

    We feel it is important to teach individuals about the variety of tools available to them when dealing with addiction. Perhaps for the individuals that, for whatever reason, choose not to take the route of intervention, CRAFT will become another tool at their disposal.

    Many thanks again, for writing such a great piece on your experience with intervention and for starting a larger conversation.

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