We’ve tried twice to stage an intervention with my stepdaughter, who’s 22 and we are sure is taking Oxy pills that she gets from her boyfriend. Her roommate is the one who told us. We have a good team and we trained with a counselor but both times she found out we were going to do the intervention and left town so we couldn’t find her. Is she just supersensitive about these things?”

She could be clairvoyant. But I’ll go with the simpler explanation: somebody’s tipping her off.

We know people with alcoholism are ambivalent in the extreme about treatment. We sometimes forget that friends and family may be equally torn about confrontation. And before you ask if somebody could seek help for the alcoholic person and at the same time undermine the effort – well, sure. Happens not infrequently.

It’s about ambivalence. We know the alcoholic person needs help. At the same time, we dread on some deep, emotional level, the prospect of her anger, and the feeling of guilt it engenders in us. We compromise on a subconscious level by acting in contradictory ways. Promoting treatment, and somehow simultaneously sabotaging it.

As to who might be tipping her, it’s not important. But if you’re still encountering this problem after having professional training, your team might want consider abandoning the idea of surprising her. For instance, Ed Storti has what he calls a ‘motivational intervention’ described in his book Heart to Heart. You can check it out on his website. Also the ARISE model, on their site. Neither depends on the element of surprise, and both have been effective in a bunch of different situations.

Try looking at it this way: she already knows you’re coming for her, and she’s figured out that you can’t confront her if she ain’t there. That just alters the challenge. Now you need to figure out a way to convince her to show up despite knowing she will be confronted.

It’s not at all impossible. Just needs an adjustment of strategy.

Remember, it’s not really surprise or shock that convinces an alcoholic person to seek treatment. It’s a combination of influence and leverage. Those are still potent, even if she expects them.

This post belongs to Intervention Series