The Power of Invitation When Planning a Drug or Alcohol Intervention

by Michael Walsh

“The Power of Invitation When Planning a Drug or Alcohol Intervention” - article by Michael Walsh

The Power of Invitation When Planning a Drug or Alcohol Intervention

As a trained interventionist, I’ve managed many drug and alcohol interventions and helped countless families struggling with substance use concerns.

By the time people reach out to me, they’re often in crisis mode, unsure how to handle the chaos and turmoil that substance use and addiction have created in their homes, and lives.

I get how overwhelming the situation can be for the entire family because I've lived through it. I’ve been the one struggling with substance use, the one watching a loved one struggle, and now as an interventionist, the one overseeing and coordinating interventions for entire families.

Here’s the good news.

Drug and alcohol interventions help people make the connection between their substance use, and the problems they’re experiencing. And they have the potential to restore sanity in your home and get your loved one on a path to recovery.

Just like most things in life, there are different strategies and approaches you can choose from when it comes to a drug and alcohol intervention.

Most people are surprised to learn that interventions don’t have to be confrontational. They don’t have to look anything like the interventions you’ve probably seen on reality tv shows. The ones with a dramatic interventionist promoting secrecy, and lots of suspense and unnecessary chaos.

That style works well for making an entertaining Netflix series, but the truth is, there’s a much better approach for intervention, and it boasts a higher success rate than the drama-filled version.

Let’s take a look at how a surprise intervention compares to an invitational intervention.

What is a surprise intervention?

The model you’ve likely seen on tv is called the Johnson Intervention model, which is the perfect example of a surprise intervention.

Developed by Dr. Vernon Johnson in the 1960’s, this model involves working with a trained interventionist to prepare a surprise intervention for your loved one. Each member of your support group prepares a letter explaining how your loved one’s substance use has negatively impacted their life.

Foundational to this approach is the idea that people who misuse substances are in denial, and that confrontation is the best way to get them to face reality. The intervention is viewed as a forced “rock bottom”, that in theory pushes your loved one to accept treatment in the face of social pressure and ultimatums.

What is an invitational intervention?

In stark contrast, an invitational intervention encourages open dialogue as opposed to secrecy, and is based on inviting your loved one to a “family meeting” to address concerns about their substance use and explore treatment options.

Like the Johnson Intervention, this approach is based on the idea that people experiencing substance misuse are in denial, however it does not view confrontation as the best way to encourage treatment.

Instead, this approach is rooted in compassion, and a belief that people are most receptive when treated with kindness and respect. An invitation makes people feel valued and cared for, which goes a long way in paving the road for success.

In my experience, people are simply more willing to listen and receive help when they don’t feel deceived or ambushed.

And many families feel more comfortable using this intervention style too, because they worry that a surprise intervention could lead to more stress, and possibly leave their loved one feeling betrayed or resentful. In fact, the American Psychological Association reports that 70% of families who plan a Johnson Model intervention (surprise intervention) don’t end up following through with the actual intervention.

While most families tend to favor the idea of an invitational approach, each situation is truly different. Some are dire enough to require an immediate intervention, which may end up being a surprise to their loved one if time doesn’t allow for a formal invitation and response.

Thankfully, you don’t have to figure out the details alone.

Working with a trained interventionist.

Working with a trained interventionist provides a sense of structure, calmness, and control to what is most often a very chaotic time.

The goal is simple – to present your loved one  with a safe and structured opportunity to receive help and make changes before things get worse.

Our approach is based on the understanding that recovery and positive change don’t look the same for everyone. When families reach out to work with us, we start by carefully listening to their situation so we can truly understand their needs.

An intervention isn’t always the best step forward, and in those cases we often refer families to our CRAFT program, which offers whole family support through a series of twelve sessions.

For situations where we do feel an intervention is appropriate, we almost always start with an invitational intervention. The first step in this process is to determine which members of your family will participate so we can begin preparing as a group.

Once everyone feels ready, one person in your family extends the invite to your loved one by asking them to join a “family meeting”.

Many people worry that their loved one won’t be willing to participate, but the good news is that this process results in positive change regardless of how your loved one responds. Even when they decide not to join, we move forward with the family meeting and create a plan of action that will support your entire family.

This process sends a powerful message to your loved one. It shows them you care deeply about their wellbeing, while also letting them know you aren’t willing to live in the chaos any longer. This is the kind of loving boundary that helps people see past the fog of addiction and reevaluate their relationship to drugs and alcohol.

Getting started.

It’s natural to have lots of questions when trying to make sense of substance use concerns.

I’m happy to offer complimentary consultation call to anyone with questions. It’s an easy 30 minute call dedicated to exploring your support options, without any pressure to make a decision.

I offer virtual support throughout Canada, and serve as an in-person interventionist in most major cities on Vancouver Island and from Vancouver to Toronto and cities in between.

Michael Walsh
P: 250.896.8494