How often do interventions really work?

Mar 14 2018

How often do interventions really work?

The scenario is a familiar one to viewers of the A &E Network show Intervention: a group of family members and friends gather in a room to tell an addict or alcoholic in their lives how he or she has affected them, and urge them to get help.

How often do interventions succeed in their objective? What elements help to produce a successful intervention?

There is a relative lack of research data on intervention outcomes. But, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “when done with a person who is trained and successfully experienced as an interventionist, over 90 percent of people make a commitment to get help.” The NCADD also says that, in some cases, a person may refuse help at the time of the intervention, but as a result of the intervention, come back and ask for help later.

Consulting an addiction professional, such as an alcohol and addictions counselor, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or interventionist, is the best way to put together an intervention, the NCADD says. A substance abuse or addiction professional will take into account the particular circumstances surrounding the alcohol or drug use, suggest the best approach, and provide guidance for what type of treatment and follow-up plan is likely to work best.

One question the NCADD does not answer: how often does a successful intervention lead to lasting recovery?

Writing in the Psychology Today blog, Joel Young, M.D., wrote that “there’s little data available on the effectiveness of interventions, perhaps because effectiveness is difficult to define. Addicts are more likely to seek treatment when they undergo an intervention, but interventions don’t affect the outcome of treatment itself,” wrote Young, who teaches psychiatry at Wayne State University, and is the Medical Director of the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine.

If an addict seeks treatment without being fully committed to a life of sobriety—as some might do in response to the overwhelming peer pressure of an intervention—he or she may actually be less likely to get better. “

A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse compared the treatment outcomes of methamphetamine addicts who were forced into rehabilitation against those who voluntarily sought treatment. The research determined that there was no statistical difference in the results.

The sample of 350 MA users was obtained by stratified (by gender, ethnicity, and modality) random sampling of records of admission to outpatient or residential treatment for MA use in Los Angeles County from the statewide administrative database for publicly funded service delivery units (California Alcohol and Drug Data System).

Sometimes interventions include the threat of legal consequences, such as a jail time, in the case of subjects who have pending actions in criminal court. 

In a study announced in 1998, three researchers from the UCLA Drug Abuse Research Center concluded that “legally referred clients do as well or better than voluntary clients in and out of treatment.” The researchers found several examples of addicts actually doing better in treatment following an involuntary admission. They said “this is largely due to the threat of legal consequences for a failure to submit to treatment, which does not apply in all interventions.”

When considering interventions, the NCADD points out that “it is important to remember that no two addicts are alike, no two groups of interveners are alike, and each addiction comes with differing levels of severity, depending on the type of substance(s) being abused and the length of time addiction has had to set in.”