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What is an Intervention, How Does it Work?

Franklin Hughes IV nearly destroyed 60 years of a family run business in four short years, using a powerful combination of crack cocaine, scotch whiskey and internet poker. Today he has 10 years of recovery behind him and is at the helm of the successful company his grandfather established in 1944.

My name is Paul J. Gallant and I am an interventionist. The Hughes family contacted me 10 years ago to help them with their son. Frank was 35-years-old at the time, eldest of three children and CEO of a multi-million dollar, family run business. His father was President, a brother CFO, and sister COO. The executive team, which also included in-laws and cousins, was at the end of their tether. The company was disintegrating before their eyes and they felt powerless to take appropriate action. Frank’s alcoholism, cocaine addiction and compulsive gambling, coupled with his issues of entitlement, poor judgment and lack of accountability, were sending this company toward bankruptcy.

When I met with the family I heard stories of missed meetings, angry customers, industry wide gossip and fiscal irresponsibility on a massive scale. The corporate structure was characterized by mistrust, infighting and an overall attitude of bitterness and hopelessness. One of the principal players remarked to me, “It’s not a question of if we are going to close our doors – it’s when.”

The poor condition of this once thriving company was not the result of bad strategic planning, global economic conditions or inferior service. This company was being driven into the ground by Frank’s untreated addiction problems.

Individuals suffering with addiction are prone to serious denial about the harmful effects of their behavior on themselves and others.

Individuals suffering with addiction are prone to serious denial about the harmful effects of their behavior on themselves and others. Often our efforts to reason with these people and convince them to stop acting out and get help are met with denial, defensiveness, justification or minimization. As the messenger we are often attacked – rage driven by shame.

Talking to addicts in a rational and objective manner is therefore often useless or even counterproductive. In other cases the addict may agree with observation that his behavior is harmful to himself and others. He may agree with the need for change and in some cases even make an attempt to relinquish or moderate his addiction. A relapse and repetition of the same cycle, sometimes dozens of times often follow this, over a period of many years. Such people manifest remorse, guilt and a passionate determination to “do better next time.” Or they might say, “It will never happen again.” But the behavior recurs despite their apparent insight and desire to behave differently.

Those of us around such addicts become frustrated, angry, depressed and often hopeless. We know the addict needs help yet are not sure how to act when the addict continues to insist he is just fine, that everything is under control. We want to believe that the problem will go away, or that it is just a phase. The addict possesses exceptional skills in deflecting the focus, pointing out our shortcomings, dragging up old conflicts or simply walking out in a huff. After being confronted many addicts will engage in still more acting out behavior to self-medicate the strong feelings of shame, hurt and resentment.

They may experience unpredictable mood swings, outbursts of emotional and sometimes physical violence…

The turmoil caused by addiction is considerable – and it seems to get worse over time. Addiction causes people who are not naturally that way to become progressively more self-centered, inconsiderate, dishonest and defensive. They may experience unpredictable mood swings, outbursts of emotional and sometimes physical violence, and make major decisions without adequate consultation or forethought. Their behavior can cause a great deal of destruction not only in their lives but also in the lives of others.

Such people are correctly said to be out of control – and those who care about them often do not know what to do but to stand helplessly by and watch them self-destruct. We wait and pray for this person to “hit bottom,” before their out of control behavior leads to tragedy.

The Intervention Process

The process of intervention gives those who care about the addict a tool – a forum by which they can express their concern in a structured and focused format. A well-organized and properly conducted intervention has been the first step in many addicts finally realizing recovery.

An intervention consists of a group of close friends and family members who present their observations and concerns in a non-judgmental manner. This is done with the guidance of an interventionist, in a controlled, objective and systematic fashion. This approach can overcome the denial and delusion of the addict, and presents a unified front of support and love. Treatment for the addicted person is sometimes dangerously delayed because of the mistaken belief that an individual must “hit bottom” or “treatment will work only if the person wants it.”

The purpose of the intervention is to break through the addict’s powerful denial and defense system – and face him with the reality of his situation. The collective impact of the facts coupled with the strong emotions of people who care for him can temporarily quiet the denial and connect with the person’s soul.

A well-planned intervention has arranged treatment in advance, taken care of all practical objections and even packed the addict’s suitcase…

A properly done intervention is honest but also deeply caring and supportive. Each participant first affirms the worth of the addict and their positive feelings for him, which are the only reason they have agreed to participate in this painful process. The goal of most interventions is to get the addict into treatment immediately. Experience shows that promises of reform, sincere and often tearful, seldom hold up. A well-planned intervention has arranged treatment in advance, taken care of all practical objections and even packed the addict’s suitcase so that he may be driven directly to the hospital or airport.

It is important to address the whole family before, during and after the intervention. Family run businesses are incredibly complex systems. Family roles, corporate roles, strategic alliances, misplaced loyalties, and poor communication patterns can create a minefield for a person hoping to help.

Getting a person to enter addiction treatment is the first step in the recovery of the whole family system. Each family must stop pointing at the addicted individual and commit to looking at the changes needed in their own lives. Case management, post treatment monitoring and continuing care are all important when working with an addict in a family run business. I have been able to help establish “return to work contracts” including the limits and boundaries necessary to ensure ongoing recovery.

Frank was able to find recovery. His family changed. They used the crisis of his addiction to rocket the whole organization into the fourth dimension. Alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction, problem gambling or mental health issues; when one member of the system has had enough, recovery is possible.

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