Alcoholics are a danger to themselves and others; they need to get their problem under control. If you've tried suggesting to your loved one that he needs help with his alcohol problem and you've met with only resistance, it may be time for an intervention. An intervention is a planned process by which family members guide an addicted person to change his destructive behaviour.

The intervention is accomplished by a group of caring friends and family members who confront an alcoholic in order to help him see the danger in his abuse of alcohol and begin the process of recovery. It's the most effective way to convince an alcoholic to seek help for his problem, because the most likely motivator to stop an alcoholic's drinking is the knowledge that those who care about him are being hurt by his behaviour.

Once you've decided to try an intervention, how do you start?

Learn about the process. Because alcoholism is a disease of excuses, you need to remove all possible reasons for the alcoholic in your life to refuse help.

Gather information about local treatment options and find one that will fit the needs of your family member. When you call the treatment centre, ask for the assistance of an intervention counsellor, who can help you plan the intervention. Family interventions are delicate matters that must be done properly to minimize the negative effects on the family and the alcoholic. They should not be undertaken without the guidance of a professional. Also, an experienced counsellor can give you some clues about how to approach the alcoholic; the more you know about his mindset, the more likely you are to have a successful result.

Make a clear plan. Call ahead for an appointment for your family member to start treatment immediately after the intervention. Pack the alcoholic's suitcase. Arrange for a leave of absence from work for your family member. Plan to get into the car and take the drinker to the treatment centre as soon as the conversation is finished. Even waiting until morning can give the alcoholic an opportunity to back out. Be sure you've covered all the bases so the alcoholic will have no excuses left to avoid seeking treatment for his problem.

Confront the problem. Talk with the alcoholic about his addiction. Choose a time when he is sober, a time when you can remain calm and a time when you can speak in private. The intervention can be a surprise to the alcoholic or a planned meeting. It might take place at home, in the office or on neutral ground, such as a restaurant.

Be as firm and specific as possible, telling the drinker how his behaviour affects those around him. Give recent examples of times his drinking interfered with his life and yours, such as, "Last night when you were drunk, you hit the children. I won't let that happen again. I know you really love your children and don't want to treat them that way, but alcohol makes you a different person. You need to stop drinking." Tell him how his addiction makes you and other family members feel.

Show him the reality of the situation. Let him know that others outside the family, such as co-workers and neighbours, have noticed his drinking and have lost respect for him. Expect hostility and even anger about your confrontation. Try to meet it with firm, calm resolve. The best way to clearly show the alcoholic how you feel is to state in no uncertain terms that you care about him but will not tolerate his alcohol abuse any longer.

Ask others to help. If you don't succeed in a one-on-one meeting, plan another intervention. This time, invite family members and friends into the discussion — children, grandchildren, spouses, parents, co-workers . . . anyone who has been personally, negatively affected by the alcoholic's drinking. Tell them to be prepared to share specific examples of how the drinker has hurt them through his alcohol abuse. Each person should have an opportunity to offer his thoughts.

Begin the discussion with the drinker when he is sober and when you know the family members can remain calm and firm, preferably at home or in the office of an intervention counsellor. Use the same approach you did in the personal intervention – specific examples of the negative effects of his drinking and the disappointment, anger and frustration all those around him feel because of it. Use statements that will show the drinker the truth of his behaviour: "Dad, you've been drinking all my life. I remember coming home from a date, wanting to tell you about it and finding you passed out on the couch. Now I want to bring my children to visit you, but I'm afraid to because I don't want them to see how angry and unkind alcohol makes you. My kids want to spend time with you, but I won't let them until you stop drinking."

Don't be afraid to say how you really feel; an intervention won't succeed if you worry more about the alcoholic's feelings than you do about getting him to seek help for his problem.

Get professional help. If you still aren't able to convince the family member to seek treatment with a family intervention, bring in an intervention counsellor or pastor to assist you. A professional may be able to help you be more candid and direct in your comments about the alcoholic's drinking and help the alcoholic to see the truth – that his problem is not his alone; he is causing his whole family to suffer.

Set consequences for the problem. Let the alcoholic know you mean business. If his drinking problem is in social situations, tell him you will no longer attend events with him where drinking is included if he doesn't seek treatment. If he drinks at home, tell him you will change the locks on the house or that you will move out if he doesn't get sober. Make the consequences something that will be difficult for the alcoholic to live with, but be sure you don't use threats you're not willing to carry out. Then, if the alcoholic still won't get help for his problem, follow through with the consequences.

Offer hope in solving the problem. Though not all alcoholics successfully give up drinking, many – especially those with the support of family and friends – kick the habit. While he's in the treatment centre, the alcoholic will have restricted freedom including no drugs or alcohol and, depending on the treatment centre, no smoking. He may not even be allowed visitors for a time. Though all this may frustrate him – and you – remember that the rules are to help him get sober so he can leave treatment and restart his life. Let the addicted person know you will be there as he begins the long road to recovery and that you'll stand by him throughout the journey.

© 2002 Lisa Brock. Reprinted from Used with permission.

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