Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

The Myth of Hitting Rock Bottom: The Power of Intervention

While substance abuse is not the topic of choice in most families, it is something that needs to not be overlooked. Even though it may seem evident that an addict needs treatment, getting a family member to go to a treatment facility can be a very difficult and daunting task.  While treatment programs exist within driving distance of most communities, the majority of addicts do not participate in treatment programs. Often an addict is unable to admit that they have a problem or that they need help. Many people have probably heard the saying that when a person hits rock bottom then they will seek help. After years of hearing this false information it is important to know that this is a myth. Frequently when people “hit rock bottom” it is far too late for any type of behavior change or treatment program. People do not need to wait until their loved one is at his or her low point to seek help. Intervention specialists throughout the United States are there to help families and addicts in this time of desperation.

Within the Midwest there are currently 15 certified Interventionists. To learn more about the intervention process the Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC) interviewed Bruce Perkins, a certified Interventionist who works predominately in Indiana. Bruce has been fascinated by the process of family intervention since he first heard about it when he was in college.  Bruce has been working with Hoosiers across the state since he relocated to Indiana in 1984.  For twenty years he worked in an inpatient and outpatient treatment center which gave him lots of experience with families and relationships struggling with addiction.  Nationally certified as a substance abuse therapist at the highest level, NCAC II, Bruce is also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Licensed Social Worker (LSW), and a Certified Alcoholism and Drug Counselor in the state of Indiana.  IPRC asked Bruce several questions regarding the myth of hitting rock bottom and the intervention process to gain a better understanding of the impact of interventions.

IPRC: What is the myth of hitting rock bottom?
Bruce Perkins: The myth of hitting rock bottom is the general publics’ belief that an alcoholic or drug addict cannot be helped until they hit rock bottom and want to get help. This idea is just not true. Interventionists help these people every day.  Interventionists work with families and friends to put a strategy in place to help the addict before it is too late. It can be very dangerous when addicts go without receiving  proper treatment. Every person’s “rock bottom” is different; a car accident, divorce, job loss, or even death can occur while family and friends are waiting for a loved one to hit rock bottom. It is important to intervene and help a loved one before these life altering events occur.

IPRC: What is an intervention and what are the key factors that make an intervention successful?
Bruce Perkins: I base my interventions off of the Johnson Model or Intervention, in which those closest to the substance abuser form a team that will confront the individual under the guidance of a trained interventionist. The team of family members and friends (usually 4-10 people) prepares for the intervention by learning about the characteristics of addiction, listing specific facts about the effects of the individual’s substance abuse, and deciding on potential treatment options. All preparations are conducted without the knowledge of the addicted individual. I have the family members and friends write down a list of the reasons why they love the addict which will be used during the intervention process. Having a caring and loving support system makes an intervention successful. There needs to be a support system in place for the addict. This support system needs to consist of people who care about this person and wants the best for him or her. There needs to be a level of commitment from the family in order for an intervention to be successful. It is also important that the intervention builds the person up and doesn’t tear them down. Treatment and recovery are difficult processes and it is important that the addict takes these steps with a positive approach to overcoming it.

IPRC: What is the hardest part of facilitating an intervention?
Bruce Perkins: The hardest part about facilitating is helping family members to overcome the fear of the intervention. Sometimes family members become reluctant to follow through with the intervention. It is important that the family members remain consistent through the intervention process. In regards to the addict, the hardest part is breaking through the defense mechanisms that the addict has built. Many times addicts have multiple layers of defense mechanisms and this can cause challenges within the intervention process. In order to break though these defense mechanisms, I make sure to not come off as judgmental or preachy. I ask the addict to write down worries and fears and use this as a tool to help empower the individual.  I base my interventions off of the Johnson Model or Intervention, in which those closest to the substance abuser form a team that will confront the individual under the guidance of a trained interventionist. The team prepares for the intervention by learning about the disease of addiction, listing specific facts about the effects of the individual’s substance abuse, and deciding on potential treatment options. All preparations are conducted without the knowledge of the addicted individual.

IPRC: What barriers can hinder an intervention?
Bruce Perkins: The most hindering barrier to an intervention is when an addict truly believes that the addiction problem is not that bad. This stage of complete denial can be the most challenging to overcome. It is important in all interventions, but especially in ones of this nature, that family members and friends have consequences for the addict if they refuse to go to treatment. This will help to hold the addict accountable. These consequences can range from a parent telling a child that they will no longer pay for college if the student does not go to a treatment facility to a boss threatening removal from work if an employee does not get help.  Regardless of what the consequence is, it is important that the family and friends keep this consequence to ensure that the addict is aware of their desire for him or her to check into treatment.

IPRC: Interventions are somewhat in a gray area between prevention and treatment, at what point is it appropriate to have an intervention and how do family members know when the right time is for an intervention?
Bruce Perkins: Anytime that a group of family members or friends observe that a relative or friend has a drug or alcohol addiction problem and the individual refuses to seek help, then it is appropriate for an intervention. When family members are aware that a person is abusing drugs or alcohol and the individual does not agree that they have a problem it is time to consider contacting an Interventionist. It is for family members to attempt to talk with the addict about his or her problem and if the addict is in denial then an intervention needs to occur.

IPRC: How important is the support of family members in the intervention process?
Bruce Perkins: Family Support is critical to the intervention process. Without the support of family and friends, there could be no intervention. The love and dedication of family members is what creates a successful intervention process. If the family is not ready for this commitment then it is wise to wait until everyone is completely on board with the Intervention plan.

IPRC: According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, at least 50 to 75 percent of Americans seeking treatment for a substance abuse problem also have a co-occurring mental health disorder. Can an intervention be done on someone with a co-occurring disorder?
Bruce Perkins: A co-occurring mental health disorder does not affect the intervention process it affects the treatment protocol. When dealing with a person who has a co-occurring disorder, it is important to make sure that this person seeks treatment that will focus on both of these health issues. The structure of the Intervention will not change just the treatment options.

IPRC: Given your many years of work as an Interventionist, do you have any recommendations to enhance prevention efforts and awareness programs in regards to addictions? 
Bruce Perkins: It is important that family members are aware of the problem and try to identify signs of abuse at an early stage. Early detection will help in preventing further problems. It is important to help individuals to stop usage before it becomes an addiction.

IPRC: What inspired you to become an Interventionist?
Bruce Perkins: Ever since I could remember I wanted to be a therapist, however when I was in school in Minnesota I was given the opportunity to intern with several interventionists. The interventionists that I worked with shared the concept of smashing the myth of hitting bottom. While interning, I was able to witness a successful intervention. During this intervention I had the privilege of seeing a family restored, a life changed, and from then on I was hooked. I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.

IPRC: What is most rewarding part of your job?
Bruce Perkins: The most rewarding part is witnessing someone turn their life around. When facilitating interventions I am able to see relationships between loved ones healed. Another rewarding part of being an Interventionist is when you see those who you have helped helping other. Many times addicts will help others who are struggling to overcome their own addictions.

IPRC: What advice do you have for someone who is considering an intervention for a loved one?
Bruce Perkins: My advice would be to not wait until it is too late. If you are worried about your loved one then you should speak with an Interventionist. When searching for an interventionist, make sure that this interventionist is certified and has adequate experience. Remember someone does not have to hit rock bottom to begin his or her journey to a drug free life.

For more information on Bruce Perkins or how to find an Interventionist in your areas visit these websites:
http://www.bruceperkins.com/
http://www.aiscb.org/

By Theresa Hunter, 3/16/2012