Love sometimes means having difficult conversations. Perhaps none are more challenging than interventions.
However, you shouldn’t let someone you deeply care about continue down a dangerous path of addiction or eating disorders. I recently had an intervention with someone I loved dearly and learned a lot.
Here are six tips for a respectful and loving intervention with a friend.
1. Recognize the Signs That Intervention Is Necessary
One of the toughest steps to any intervention is recognizing when one is necessary. It might be trickier than ever right now, considering the extraordinary stress the pandemic caused. However, stepping in could be the kindest thing to do. Fully 13% of Americans reported turning to drugs and alcohol to deal with their emotions during this time, and overdoses spiked by 18%.
However, it isn’t always easy to tell when someone is struggling. Those who abuse substances often hide their use, either out of embarrassment or fear. Pay attention to the following signs and prepare to take action:
- Secretive or aggressive behavior: Your formerly open roommate installs a lock on her bedroom door and screams at you if she discovers you in her room when she leaves the door open.
- Borrowing or stealing money: Many people have legitimate reasons for asking for help these days, like job loss and lack of child care options. Pay attention to the explanation given and consider refusing if the person asking evades your question.
- Work or school problems: These can have multiple causes, such as the enormous burden on health care professionals during this time. However, keep in mind such individuals also have access to medications most people can’t obtain. Listen to their explanations.
- Deteriorating physical appearance: Excessive drug and alcohol use can prompt people to skip daily grooming.
- Depression, tiredness and lack of energy: These symptoms could have a rational explanation, like putting in more hours or losing a home amid the pandemic. However, pay attention.
- Physical health symptoms or eating disorders: Many people who abuse alcohol and drugs begin experiencing health woes. They may also start skipping meals to obtain a more rapid “high” when they use.
When my BFF started dropping pounds rapidly despite her already thin frame, I knew it was time to take action. I started making phone calls.
2. Rally the Troops
Once you identify that you need to stage a loving and respectful intervention, your next step is deciding who to include. In general, it’s respectful to involve any other close friends or family members who care about the person. Please put individual personality differences aside to help.
The one exception is those who knowingly encourage alcohol or drug use — which isn’t the same as enabling. Include folks who want the individual to stop using but who may provide shelter or food out of love.
3. Talk to the Experts
Emotions run high during interventions. Even if you and your friends and family all want what’s best, you can be blinded by your affection and say or do things that jeopardize them seeking treatment.
If possible, invite a licensed neutral third-party therapist or counselor to attend. They can keep the conversation on track, calm flaring tempers and even impose a time-out if things get too heated. If you don’t know who to call, talk to friends or even your insurance company for a referral and interview them first to assess their ability to perform the intervention.
4. Make a Plan of Action
What do you hope to happen from your intervention? Many families want the individual to enter intensive in-patient treatment. However, you may not have access to such a solution if you have limited resources.
Some jurisdictions have state-funded facilities, but the application and screening process weeds out many potential patients. Get preliminary approval before staging your intervention if you choose this route.
Other options include sliding-scale facilities that let you pay based on your income. You may also qualify for grants and scholarships for treatment help. You may have few options other than to borrow from friends and family or start a GoFundMe. Ensure you raise the required funds first if you choose the latter.
The person I love, fortunately, has health insurance now but didn’t always. I think that was the deciding factor that got her to enter into treatment for her eating disorder. It’s tragic in a country as wealthy as ours, but not everyone has the means to seek the care they desperately need.
The intensity of an intervention flares emotions and can lead to you saying things that aren’t helpful in the heat of the moment. Rehearsing what you plan to stay helps you stay respectful, supportive and loving.
Practice using “I” statements when letting the person know how you feel. Instead of saying, “your binge drinking ruins family gatherings,” you could say, “I’m worried about the way your alcohol use impacts your behavior around certain family members.” Remember, blaming and judging will only put the other person on the defensive, not encourage them to seek treatment.
6. Be Supportive
An intervention is only the first step in the recovery process. It’s a lengthy road, and your friend will need your help during each step.
Therefore, study how to be a good member of their support team throughout this journey. Practice active listening skills for when they need to talk. Let them know your availability for tearful 3 a.m. phone calls.
Consider your boundaries during this time, too, and decide what you will and will not accept. For example, you might understand the occasional relapse but draw the line at stealing your money or living with you rent-free if they return to their old habits after treatment.
I continue to support my BFF. I know not to suggest things that might trigger her, like going out for fast food, for example. I ask for her input on meals when hosting parties and let her contribute so that she always has something she feels safe eating.
Stage a Respectful and Loving Intervention With a Friend
Staging an intervention is a challenging process. Use these tips to remain respectful and loving while organizing the help your friend needs.
Mia Barnes is a health and wellness journalist with a focus on mental health and chronic pain issues. She is the Editor in Chief at Body+Mind.
Image courtesy of Liza Summer.