Alcohol Intervention: When Should I Stage an Alcohol Intervention?
According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.5 million people aged 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder, a medical condition defined by the uncontrollable use of alcohol despite the negative consequences.1 Unfortunately, only 7.2% of those individuals received treatment.1 Recent research indicates that there may be several reasons why individuals who need it don’t seek treatment, including the cost and convenience, societal stigmas, and the attitudes and behaviors they perceive from healthcare providers.2
The problem is that, left untreated, addiction tends to worsen over time, hurting the individual misusing alcohol—and their family and friends, too.
Addressing your concerns for a family member, friend, or loved one often feels overwhelming and daunting. On one hand, you want to maintain your relationship; however, you want your loved one to get the help they need. Alcohol interventions have been used to help people confront their substance use problems.
What is an Alcohol Intervention?
The first step is recognition of the problem, which may not always be apparent to the individual misusing alcohol.
An intervention allows family and friends to talk to their loved who is misusing alcohol, express their concerns, and advocate for treatment.3 For some, this prompts treatment. In fact, studies indicate that certain family behaviors that support a loved one’s initiation for change may be the key to making it happen. These strategies include (among other things) making specific requests for changes in a loved one’s drinking behavior—like reducing how much or how often they consume alcohol—or seeking help.4 For some people with alcohol misuse issues, these requests may help them make the decision to get treatment.
Formal interventions involve a structured gathering, the presence of other supportive people (besides just family and friends), who might be impacted by the person’s alcohol use, and an addiction specialist.3 However, a more informal intervention provides a way to start the dialogue about a loved one’s substance use.3
Signs it is Time for an Alcohol Intervention
When does alcohol use become problematic? It may be difficult as a family member or friend to determine when a loved one’s alcohol use crosses the line into misuse. Below, are the criteria that doctors use to diagnose a person with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). A person must display two of these criteria to be diagnosed:5
- An individual consumes alcohol in large quantities or over a longer period than intended.
- The person wants to decrease or discontinue use.
- Their efforts to cut alcohol use have been unsuccessful.
- They spends a large amount of time seeking, drinking, and recovering from alcohol use.
- Normal daily functioning and work, school, financial, and relationship obligations suffer as a result of their alcohol use.
- They continue to misuse alcohol even when problems related to drinking are present.
- The person finds difficulty maintaining activities they once enjoyed due to alcohol use.
- They have participated in physically dangerous situations, such as driving while intoxicated.
- The individual acknowledges that they have a problem with alcohol but continue to drink.
- They’ve developed a tolerance for alcohol, meaning they require more alcohol to get the desired effect.
- The person experiences withdrawal symptoms with decreased or discontinued alcohol use.
Take Our Alcohol Abuse Self-Assessment
Take our free, 5-minute alcohol abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with alcohol abuse. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of an alcohol use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.
Alcohol Abuse Intervention: The Dos and Don’ts of Talking to a Loved One About Their Alcohol Misuse
When talking to someone about their alcohol use, there are certain ways to approach it and situations to try and avoid. You want to present your concerns in a way that might help them see how their behavior affects family and friends and convinces them that they need help, not put them on the defensive. Some things to remember include:6-8
- DON’T try to confront the person if they are intoxicated. Wait until they are sober and not feeling alcohol’s effects to address your concerns.
- DO plan what you’re going to say ahead of time. Do some research on alcohol use disorder and talk with medical and mental healthcare professionals about questions you may have regarding the disease. Maybe even practice your talk with someone else because these conversations can get emotional, and you’ll want to remain focused.
- DON’T attempt to talk when you’re angry. Yelling may create additional, unwanted conflict. Talk to your loved one when you’re both calm and can talk without distractions.
- DO get specific about the reasons for your concerns based on what you’ve seen or felt.
- DON’T use stigmatizing language such as alcoholic.
- DO offer support. Be available for your loved one. Help them replace alcohol-centered activities with healthier pursuits, such as exercise or learning a new skill with you.
- DON’T attack or punish the person.
- DO make a plan for next steps together. What goals can you set for them together? Create measurable actions to hold them accountable.
- DON’T get defensive or respond if there is a personal attack.
- DO encourage your loved one to see their doctor or other healthcare provider. You can offer to go with them, too.
What Are the Goals of an Alcohol Intervention?
While the intervention is an important step to help lead the conversation about a loved one’s alcohol addiction, it might not end with them in treatment.8
Goals might differ depending on the individual and the conversation. If your loved one is willing to talk about treatment, discuss their preferences. Maybe they want to start with a doctor visit, schedule an appointment with a therapist, or attend a mutual help meeting before diving into a treatment program.9 On the other hand, your loved one may reject the idea of treatment altogether. These individuals might need a break from the treatment talk. Additionally, the intervention may set off other issues or complicate your relationship with them. Regardless of the outcome of the intervention, it’s important to be patient.
Is an Alcohol Intervention Enough?
Talking to a loved one is only the first step. Research suggests that seeking treatment as soon as the individual is ready increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.10 The key is that they must be ready.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to treatment. What’s right for one might not be the right fit for another, and it may be important to help your loved one understand that, especially if they think rehab only consists of a 12-step program or a 30-day stay at a specialized facility.11 In fact, there are multiple types of treatments used to help individuals with alcohol use disorders.11 Simply understanding some of them might help your loved one feel more comfortable in seeking treatment. These treatments may include:10-11
- Detoxification. Medically managed detoxification from alcohol to help treat alcohol use disorder may only be the first step on the path to recovery. While for some, medically managed detoxification can pave the way for effective, long-term treatment, detoxification alone is rarely sufficient to help addicted individuals achieve lasting abstinence.
- Inpatient alcohol rehab. Inpatient rehab involves staying at the facility while receiving intensive individual and group counseling, psychiatric care, education, and possibly medication. Inpatient treatment helps individuals resolve the issues that lead to alcohol misuse and develop alternative coping strategies.
- Outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment offers services, therapies, and treatment that looks similar (or exactly the same) as inpatient care but allows individuals to participate in their normal routine. Treatment occurs during scheduled, clinic-based appointments and is provided during group and individual sessions.
- Medication management. Doctors or other healthcare professionals may prescribe a FDA-approved medication designed to help people reduce their drinking and prevent relapse.
- Behavioral therapies. Behavioral treatment uses counseling and evidence-based therapies to help individuals change their thinking and drinking behaviors. Therapy may include family, may be part of the formal treatment program or an aspect of the continuing aftercare. Behavioral therapy helps individuals develop healthy coping skills, learn to lower the risk of relapse, and strengthen relationships.
- Mutual help groups. Combined with other treatment, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other peer support groups provide another layer of support for individuals to maintain their sobriety and other alcohol-related goals.
Rehab is an effective treatment for substance use.10 In 2019, of the participants who entered some type of substance use treatment, 42% completed their entire program. Additionally, 54% of people who entered short-term residential treatment completed their program and 42% of individuals who started outpatient treatment finished the course of their treatment.12
Talking to your loved one about their alcohol use is only one part of the process. The first conversation or intervention is likely one of many. And if your loved one completes treatment and relapses, that too may be part of the process.8 Relapse is common as people work to overcome their alcohol problems.8 Professional addiction treatment works to incorporate relapse prevention into treatment.8 One of the best ways that you can help your loved one through this complicated process is to offer your support.
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