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How to Intervene on a Mother’s Addiction

intervention on a motherThe U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there were more than 85 million mothers living in the United States in 2009. These women may come from very different backgrounds with very different life stories to share, but if these women have addictions, they may have one thing in common: They all need to stop using and abusing in order to participate fully in the life of the family. Some women come to this understanding on their own, due to some external force or some terrible event, and they lean on their families as they heal. Some women, however, remain in deep denial about the nature of their addictions, and others believe that their addictions are so serious that they couldn’t ever be solved. For mothers like this, an intervention could provide the gentle push that could lead to long-term sobriety.

Understanding the Sources

Mothers can develop addictions in response to all sorts of triggers. For some mothers, the behavior is somewhat hereditary. When these women were young, they watched their parents drink or do drugs to excess, and they learned that using substances is an appropriate way to deal with a stressful day or a major disappointment. Some addictions also have a genetic component, so women who lived in homes like this might also have genes for addiction coursing through their bodies, making them more responsive to the intoxicating benefits drugs and alcohol can bring about. Mothers like this may know of no other way to live, and they may find the idea of sobriety a little frightening as a result.

Other mothers may develop addictions due to the day-to-day stresses of raising a family and working on a full-time basis. According to the National Organization for Women, 51 percent of women give birth to their first child and returned to work a mere four months later.

In addition to holding down a job, these women might be asked to:

  • Shop for groceries
  • Keep the family home clean
  • Wash and repair clothing
  • Make meals
  • Watch children’s sporting events
  • Help with homework
  • Put children to bed
  • Soothe sick children
  • Facilitate play dates

All of this work is exhausting, and women might turn to drugs or alcohol in order to give them the energy they need to handle all these tasks without snapping. Some women rely on drugs or alcohol to help them relax at the end of a frantic day of running and straining. They can’t turn their minds off when the tasks are complete, so they rely on substances to deliver a soothing, soft way to relax when the hard work of the day is complete.

Paying attention to the triggers that could lead to an addiction is important for families who are planning an intervention. Mothers who use drugs to help them deal with motherhood might feel attacked and assaulted if they’re confronted by their ungrateful children, for example, while women who were raised in addicted households might not understand that there is another way to live. Families that surround an addicted mother may be angry and upset about the behavior, but by stepping back and thinking about the source, they may be able to dig into a deep well of compassion, and provide more help as a result. Any family that’s contemplating an intervention should think about how that addiction may have begun, and they should allow those insights to infuse their planning and their execution of the difficult talk.

Intervention Basics

intervention basicsAn intervention is designed to help a family change the point of view of the addicted person. At the end of a successful intervention, the addiction may no longer seem like an inevitable state that the addicted person must maintain, no matter what happens. Instead, the addicted person might come to believe that the addiction is destructive, and that it can be properly treated. Interventions conducted in this way can be remarkably effective, according to a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, as 75 percent of families that use this technique are able to encourage an addicted person to get help. The key is to handle the delicate conversation properly.

In most cases, an interventionist is needed before the family performs an intervention for a mother. Interventionists are trained professionals, and they are adept at explaining addictions in terms that all family members can understand. They are willing to help the family to plan and learn about addiction long before the conversation takes place. An interventionist can also help during the talk itself, by staying in charge of the conversation and ensuring that people don’t say things they don’t mean or stray too far from the script. In a way, an interventionist can work a bit like a coach and a bit like a referee, providing valuable insight during a difficult time.

When the interventionist is hired, the family must consider who to include in the intervention talk. An interesting study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse suggests that larger numbers of participants are associated with greater intervention success, as each person who participates has something valuable to add to the discussion about the addiction. Some families include neighbors, clergy members and distant relatives in their discussions, as these people may be able to persuade the person to get help. But for mothers, the most important people talking may be the children. These little ones may have the ability to reach through denial and elicit change in a way that adults never could. Even adult children may have a vital contribution to make. Children know their mothers well, and mothers often have deep hopes and dreams for their children. An intervention can build upon these tender feelings, and allow the mother to see the need for change.

Preparing to Talk

In an intervention, each family member is asked to provide a statement of love and support, along with specific details about how the addiction issue has changed the person they love. It’s important for each family member to be as specific as possible here, sticking to the facts rather than to exaggeration, so the addicted person has fewer items to dispute. Children of addicted mothers may have a significant amount of hard data to share. For example, a study in the journal Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy suggests that children of addicted parents are likely to experience:

  • Neglect
  • Physical violence
  • Physical abuse
  • Criminal behavior
  • Drug use
  • Drug dealing

In an intervention, a child could outline a specific day in which the addiction was visible, and the child could then outline how the day might have been different if no addiction were present. Older children could do much the same, explaining how their relationships have suffered due to the drug abuse issue.

Some families place limits at the end of their intervention talks, outlining all of the consequences that might come to pass if the addicted person doesn’t choose to change. Sometimes, families make the difficult choice to split a mother from her children if she doesn’t choose to enter a treatment program. This can be devastating for a mother to contemplate, but moms who don’t change really are putting their children at risk. If these women won’t accept the help a program can provide, it might really be best for the children to get some space, so they can spend time in healthier environments. An interventionist can help a family to make this decision, and an interventionist can help the family to write this consequence into the talks they’re preparing.

The Big Day

By the time intervention day arrives, the family has planned their talks down to the last word, and they’ve likely even held a few practice sessions, so everyone can practice their lines and get feedback on the terms they’re planning to use. It’s an important day, but the family should be prepared. Each person will read the script he/she has prepared, and each person will ask the addicted person to get help. As soon as the woman agrees to enter a treatment program, the conversation is over. For some mothers, this acceptance comes early in the talk and some family members never have to reveal the things they’ve written. For other mothers, each person must speak before she is convinced.

The family might be reasonably relieved when the intervention is over, but their work might not yet be complete. In fact, they might have a little more work to do as treatment progresses, just to ensure that all goes well. For example, a study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that 38 to 79 percent of people who are given an intervention relapse to drug use. A relapse doesn’t have to mean a full return to drug use, however, as long as the addicted person returns to care and gets the help needed to keep the next slip at bay. Families might need to be watchful and supportive in the weeks, months and years following treatment, so they can help to ensure that a woman doesn’t return to addiction once more.

At The Orchid, we believe that families have a key role to play in helping women to get and stay sober. We know that motherhood can be a challenge, but we also know that mothers are often fiercely protective of their children, and that these families can provide women with the strength they need in order to overcome an addiction issue. To facilitate that healing, we can help families to find an interventionist who could assist with an addiction talk, and we incorporate family therapies into the women-centric care we provide at The Orchid. If a woman you love has an addiction, we might provide just the kind of healing environment that can help her to get better. Please call us to find out more.

Further Reading

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