How to Write an Intervention Letter That Makes a Difference
When you have a loved one with a substance use disorder, sometimes you get to a point where you’ve done all you can to encourage them to get help and all that’s left is to stage an intervention before it’s too late. If you do decide to stage an intervention, it’s essential to do it with the help of an intervention specialist, someone who has training and experience in running interventions.
There’s a lot more to it than just getting everyone together in a room and asking the person to get help and the specialist can help with the planning and facilitation. Everyone participating in the intervention will be asked to read an intervention letter. There are several reasons it’s important to write a letter rather than just making it up as you go.
First, an intervention is a form of public speaking with pretty high stakes and you don’t want to get stage fright and forget what you intended to say. On the other end of the spectrum, you also don’t want to start going off on tangents and taking up everyone else’s time. You want your remarks to be focused and effective. Finally, an intervention is an emotionally charged situation. You want to say what you have to say without getting drawn into arguments that might sabotage the whole process. The following are some tips to help make your intervention letter as effective as possible.
Start From a Place of Love and Support
First, make it clear that the reason you’re participating in the intervention is that you love the person, you’re worried about them, and you want to help them. None of you would be there if that weren’t true, but your loved one might not see it that way. Their defenses will probably be up and you’ll want to do what you can to establish that you’re on the same side. It’s often a good idea to share a happy memory of the person or describe something about them or something they did for you that you’re genuinely grateful for.
Say That Addiction Is a Disease and Treatment Is Possible
The next thing is to make it clear that you see a clear difference between the way your loved one is really and how they act while in the grip of addiction. Make it clear that you understand addiction is a disease, that it’s not their fault, and that treatment is possible.
Describe Specific Times When Drugs and Alcohol Caused Problems
The main event of an intervention, the part we’re all familiar with, is when you describe the negative consequences drugs and alcohol have had on your loved one and the people they care about. This can easily turn into a laundry list but there are several important factors to keep in mind if you want your letter to make an impact. First, only describe events that you have firsthand knowledge of.
These should be things that affected you directly or that you personally witnessed. This helps to avoid credibility issues that may arise if you relied on secondhand accounts or rumors. Second, there is a room full of people waiting their turn to speak and they’ll probably cover those other incidents themselves.
Next, be sure to stick to facts. Avoid generalizations, value judgments, and attributing motives to your loved one. Again, these all open the door to arguments and rationalizations. The idea of an intervention is that the accumulation of hard facts gradually becomes overwhelming and undeniable. Avoid statements like, “You’re always getting drunk and yelling at me and the kids.”
Instead, say something like, “The police have been called on us three times this year and all of those times, you had been drinking.” You might want to start by brainstorming all the ways drugs and alcohol have hurt your loved one and then narrow it down to three to five of the most potent incidents to include in your letter.
Ask Them to Accept Help
After you have described exactly what addiction has done to your loved one, as well as their friends and family, reiterate that you believe addiction is a disease, one that experience shows they can’t deal with alone and ask them to accept help. Affirm that they can’t keep going on like this but that life can get better with treatment.
State the Consequences of Not Accepting Help
An ultimatum is only advisable in a small percentage of cases. Your intervention specialist will determine whether you should include consequences for your loved one refusing help. However, if you do include an ultimatum, you have to be prepared to follow through.
If you’re telling your child, “If you don’t get help, I’m not going to keep paying for college and I’m not going to support you financially,” then you have to follow through, or else it will undermine any future efforts you make to persuade them to accept help. They’ll know your threats are empty and they can do what they want.
Get Feedback and Make Revisions
Finally, don’t be satisfied with the first draft of your letter. To paraphrase Hemingway, the first draft of everything is, well, not good. After you’ve written your first draft, put it away for a day or two, if possible, then read it aloud to yourself. This will make any mistakes or awkward phrases jump out at you. This is especially important because the ultimate purpose of the letter is for you to read it out loud, so make it easy on yourself.
Next, show it to some people whose judgment you respect and see if they have any feedback. Don’t take criticism personally; keep in mind you’re all working together to try to help your loved one. Finally, make sure to get some feedback from your intervention specialist. Ideally, you will do a full rehearsal so you can all read your letters and get feedback, but at the very least, they should be able to read it over and give you suggestions. Keep in mind that this person has a lot of experience in interventions and has most likely been the subject of an intervention themself, so their feedback is especially valuable.
An intervention led by an experienced specialist has a good chance of getting your loved one into treatment. You can do your part by writing a compelling letter and being a team player. Always write from a place of love and support and when discussing the consequences of your loved one’s substance use, stick to undeniable facts.
It’s always hard to see a loved one struggle with a substance use disorder but life can get better. At The Foundry, we know that evidence-based treatment, healthy lifestyle changes, and family support are keys to a sustainable recovery from addiction. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us at (844) 955-1066.