Sometimes love means having difficult conversations. Perhaps nothing is more challenging than interventions.
However, you should not let someone you care deeply about continue down a dangerous path of addiction or eating disorders. I recently got involved with someone I loved very much and learned a lot.
Here are six tips for a respectful, loving intervention with a friend.
1. Recognize the signs that intervention is necessary
One of the most difficult steps for any intervention is to recognize when one is necessary. It may be more complicated than ever at the moment, considering the extraordinary stress the pandemic has caused. However, intervening may be the best thing to do. 13% of Americans reported turning to drugs and alcohol to deal with their feelings during this time, and overdoses rose by 18%.
However, it is not always easy to tell if someone is struggling. Those who use drugs often hide their use, either out of embarrassment or fear. Pay attention to the following signs and prepare to take action:
- Covert or aggressive behavior: Your previously open roommate installs a lock on her bedroom door and yells at you if she detects you in her room when you leave the door unlocked.
- Borrowing or stealing: Many people have legitimate reasons to seek help these days, such as job loss and a lack of childcare options. Pay attention to the explanation provided and consider dismissing it if the person asking evades your question.
- Work or school problems: It can have multiple causes, such as the enormous burden on health care professionals during this time. However, keep in mind that these individuals also have access to medications that most people cannot get. Listen to their explanations.
- Deterioration in physical appearance: Excessive drug and alcohol abuse can cause people to skip daily hygiene.
- Depression, fatigue and lack of energy: These symptoms could have a logical explanation, such as spending more hours or losing home amid the pandemic. However, pay attention.
- Symptoms of physical health or eating disorders: Many people who abuse alcohol and drugs begin to have health problems. They may also start skipping meals to get a quicker “high” when used.
When my BFF started dropping quickly despite her already thin body, I knew it was time to take action. I started making phone calls.
2. Rally forces
Once you have determined that you need to make a loving and respectful intervention, your next step is to decide who to include. In general, it is respectful to involve any close friends or other family members who are interested in the person. Please put individual personal differences aside to help.
The only exception is those who willfully encourage the use of alcohol or drugs – this is not the same as empowerment. Include people who want the individual to stop using but might provide shelter or food out of love.
3. Talk to the experts
Emotions escalate during the interventions. Even if you, your friends, and your family all want the best, your love can blind your affection and say or do things that put them at risk in search of a cure.
If possible, invite a neutral third-party therapist or counselor to attend. They can keep the conversation on track, calm simmering tensions and even enforce a timeout if things get too hot. If you don’t know who to contact, talk to friends or even your insurance company for a referral and interview them first to assess their ability to make the intervention.
4. Create a business plan
What do you hope will happen from your intervention? Many families want the individual to go into intensive inpatient treatment. However, you may not be able to access such a solution if you have limited resources.
Some jurisdictions have state-funded facilities, but the application and screening process excludes many potential patients. If you choose this path, get initial approval before beginning your intervention.
Other options include tiered facilities that allow you to pay based on your income. You may also be eligible for grants and scholarships to assist with treatment. You may have few options other than borrowing from friends and family or starting a GoFundMe. Be sure to collect the required funds first if you choose the latter.
Fortunately, the person I love has health insurance now but not always. I think this was the deciding factor that got her into treatment for her eating disorder. It’s tragic in a country as rich as ours, but not everyone has the means to get the care they so desperately need.
5. Work out
The intensity of the interference stirs up emotions and can lead you to say unhelpful things in the heat of the moment. Practicing what you intend to stay with helps you stay respectful, supportive, and loving.
Practice using “I” statements when letting the person know how you feel. Instead of saying, “Excessive drinking spoils family gatherings,” you could say, “I am concerned about the way your use of alcohol affects your behavior toward certain family members.” Remember that blaming and judgmental will only put the other person on the defensive and not encourage them to seek treatment.
6. Be supportive
Intervention is only the first step in recovery process. It’s a long road and your friend will need your help at every step.
Therefore, consider how to be a good member of their support team throughout this journey. Practice active listening skills when they need to talk. Let them know how much you are there for the tearful 3am phone calls.
Consider your boundaries during this time as well, and decide what you will accept and what you will not. For example, you may understand the occasional relapse but put an end to stealing your money or living with you rent-free if they go back to their old habits after treatment.
I continue to support my best friend. I know not to suggest things that might motivate her, like going out for junk food, for example. Ask her to contribute meals when hosting parties and allow her to contribute so she always has something she feels safe eating.
Make a respectful and loving conversation with a friend
Organizing the intervention is a difficult process. Use these tips to remain respectful and loving while organizing the help your friend needs.
Mia Barnes Journalist specializing in health and wellness with a focus on mental health issues and chronic pain. She is the editor-in-chief of Body + Mind.
Image courtesy of Lisa Summer.