Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand, and I will move the Earth.”
– attributed to Archimedes, 3rd Century BC
If you’re going to convince a reluctant alcoholic or addict to accept professional help, you’re going to need some leverage. And once you have it, it must be effectively applied. Intervention can be quite dramatic (that’s why it makes for good TV), but it’s really the intelligent application of leverage that produces the desired result.
What’s leverage? It may be defined as the ability to influence the addict towards a decision for treatment. Leverage can come in positive form (example: “If you do A, we will respond favorably with B”), and also in the more familiar form of a consequence (example: “Unless you do A, we will be forced to take away B”). The trick is to identify the leverage that will have meaning to your alcoholic or addict. Much of intervention prep is devoted to this search. Some things to remember:
At the most basic level, leverage is about perception
Isn’t everything? If the alcoholic perceives something as a reward, then it is a reward, even if it doesn’t seem like it to the rest of us. Same is true for consequences. We need to find what motivates this addict or alcoholic.
The family isn’t really helpless – they’re stuck
See the difference? When you’re helpless, you lack the ability to achieve the desired outcome. But when you’re stuck, you have ability to influence, but for a variety of reasons are not using it. Successful intervention is about mobilizing your resources (and those of others involved) to achieve a positive outcome.
Leverage isn’t the same thing as power
When you have power, you rule over something. When you have leverage, you use it to purposely move another in a positive direction.
It’s a term borrowed from negotiation. And that’s really what we do when we intervene with a reluctant addict or alcoholic – we negotiate for positive change.
The best place to start preparation is by identifying barriers to treatment
Instead of asking, “What will it take to get him into treatment?”, ask: “What’s keeping him out? With all his problems, why isn’t he in treatment already?”
One barrier is the addict’s defenses
He’ll come up with a variety of reasons (excuses) for continuing to drink and/or use drugs. We’ll have to answer them. Our advantage: they’ll be the same ones you’ve heard already. We can prepare.
Another barrier is stigma
This is where expressions of love and support come in. They’re important in reducing the shame most addicts feel about their addiction.
The third barrier is enabling
In most cases, the addict’s experience teaches him that when the chips are down, others (including us) will rescue him. If he sees that isn’t the case, he’ll be more open to another option. Nobody wants to face the music.
We need to change, too
Sending an addict off to treatment, only to return him to exactly the same environment and atmosphere he left, is a bit like seeing somebody lying drunk in a gutter, helping him to his feet, brushing him off, and then pushing him back down again.
Real change involves everybody. It means we need to look at ourselves and our behavior and make some important decisions about changing so that we truly support recovery.