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Reverse Interventions: Telling Your Family You Need To Go To Rehab

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

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Last Updated - 01/20/21

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Updated 01/20/2021

During a reverse intervention, someone living with an addiction asks for loved ones to support his or her choice to enter treatment. Sometimes, there may be resistance.

Most people have probably heard of an intervention, a meeting where family members or loved ones try to convince a person with an addiction that it’s time to enter rehab or treatment. You might be surprised to learn that reverse interventions are also sometimes a part of the recovery process.

In a reverse intervention, a person struggling with addiction tells family and loved ones that they are going into rehab. While this process may not always be easy, support is available if you’re ready to have this difficult but worthwhile conversation.

What are Reverse Interventions?

A reverse intervention is a conversation or meeting where someone struggling with substance abuse tells family members or loved ones about their decision to seek treatment. Admitting that it’s time to get help can be difficult. It may also require your honesty about substance abuse for the first time.

A reverse intervention is an open discussion with your loved ones about the extent of your addiction. Ultimately, the goal is to gain your loved ones’ support, whether this means asking them to take over some household or family responsibilities during your stay in rehab or simply requesting their emotional support throughout the process.

Beyond the difficulty of starting a reverse intervention, it may also be met with resistance. Spouses or significant others are sometimes hesitant to support their loved one going away to treatment if it means they’ll be left at home to care for the children or manage household responsibilities on their own. In addition, some family members may have lost trust in their loved one throughout the course of an addiction, so they may not be convinced that treatment will work.

On the other hand, friends or family members who are still using drugs and alcohol may fear their loved one getting sober. Sometimes, when someone chooses to get treatment, it can mean cutting ties with family members and friends who are still abusing substances. In these cases, the term “reverse intervention” may actually refer to negative reactions from people who try to convince you not to seek treatment.

Some people living a sober lifestyle have reported that friends will try to convince them to keep drinking alcohol or even go so far as to give them a list of reasons to keep drinking. This is an example of how this discrete form of a reverse intervention may look.

Admitting You Need Help For Drug or Alcohol Abuse

While it can be difficult to admit that you need help for drug or alcohol abuse, it is a vital step towards recovery. If other people in your life are using substances, you may be convinced that your use of substances is entirely normal or acceptable.

Unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse can be problematic and lead to an addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), you may have developed an addiction if you experience symptoms of a substance use disorder (the clinical term for addiction to drugs or alcohol):

  • Using larger amounts of drugs and alcohol than intended
  • Experiencing strong drug or alcohol cravings
  • Using substances despite their contributions to a health problem
  • Continued abuse of drugs or alcohol, even when it causes physical danger, such as driving under the influence
  • Being unable to reduce or stop drug or alcohol use

These symptoms suggest that you have lost control of your drug or alcohol use and continue to use substances despite serious consequences. There are additional signs and symptoms, depending on whether you’re using alcohol or different drugs. If you display some of these symptoms, it’s time to admit you need treatment to recover from addiction.

One important thing to remember is that addiction is a legitimate medical condition. It causes changes in the brain that can negatively affect a person’s ability to think rationally and make decisions, leading to impulsive behaviors and compulsive drug-seeking. Like any other medical condition, addiction requires treatment, and this is a critical fact to bring into the conversation during a reverse intervention.

When Your Decision to Get Sober is Not Supported

Even when you’re ready to admit that you need help for an addiction, your decision to get sober from drugs and alcohol may not be supported. Family members may not support your choice to enter treatment because of the stigma or shame associated with addiction. Research has shown that close family members tend to feel negatively judged by others when someone in the family has an addiction. Admitting that you need treatment can make your family members feel as if they will be viewed negatively.

On the other hand, friends or loved ones who have abused substances with you may fear losing their relationship with you. They may worry that your personality will change and you won’t be the same after getting sober.

If your decision to seek treatment is not supported, it is important to remember your reasons for getting sober. You may want to restore your health or escape the unpleasant side effects of drugs and alcohol. You may want to be a better parent, spouse, son or daughter. You may want to return to having a career and being financially stable. Whatever your reasons, remember you are seeking treatment for a legitimate medical condition, and you are worthy of recovery regardless of what others say.

How to Approach a Reverse Intervention

Perhaps the most important steps toward staging a reverse intervention are to make a plan and come prepared. Research addiction so you are ready to tell family and loved ones about the reasons you need treatment for this medical condition. The fact is, being willing to seek treatment is actually a sign of strength and not something that should cause shame.

Your loved ones may have questions, so prepare yourself to answer them. They may want to know what led to this decision, information about the treatment center you’ve chosen and what logistics will be involved with your stay.

You should also be prepared for friends and family to be resistant or have strong emotions. Do not be tempted to avoid the conversation or rethink your decision to seek treatment if your loved ones are angry or upset. If you have hidden aspects of your drug use from your loved ones, they may be shocked about the extent of your addiction or your decision to seek treatment. A reverse intervention is a time to be honest, even if the conversation is difficult.

If you are met with resistance, it might be helpful to provide your family and friends with resources about addiction treatment. Even if they are resistant, tell your loved ones that treatment does work and having their support can help you stay sober.

Asking for Support for Substance Abuse

Letting your loved ones know their support is important to you can be the first step in helping them accept your choice to go to treatment. Loved ones might not understand the challenges you are facing with substance abuse, so providing resources about addiction is essential.

When asking friends and family for support, it is important to acknowledge they may be feeling hurt, shocked or angry. You should also validate their feelings if they are experiencing resentment or distrust toward you because of behaviors that resulted from your addiction. Take the time to explain the reality that addiction can have a negative impact on the brain and lead to impulsive behaviors, which is why you are seeking treatment so that you can stop acting in a way that hurts the people you love.

Suppose your loved ones are resistant because they don’t think treatment is necessary or want you to continue using drugs and alcohol. In that case, it is important to reiterate that addiction is a legitimate health condition. For you, drugs and alcohol are problematic. Acknowledge that some people may be able to use substances recreationally with no serious consequences, but this is not the case for you.

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Discussing Drug & Alcohol Treatment with Parents

If you’re a teenager or young adult and you’re ready to tell your parents that you need help for your addiction, chances are you feel fearful and ashamed. You may be worried they will disown or punish you, or perhaps you don’t want to upset them. While your parents may be disappointed or have strong emotions about your addiction, they will likely be relieved that you are asking for help. They’ve probably noticed your behavior has changed and will be proud of you for admitting to the problem and taking steps toward recovery.

Entering treatment can benefit both you and your parents. Many rehab programs offer services for family members. This can include family counseling, individual counseling and support groups. When you enter treatment, your parents will be linked to counselors and other professionals to help them manage any feelings they have about addiction and learn ways to support you in your recovery journey.

Discussing Drug & Alcohol Treatment with Children

It can be challenging for parents to talk to their children about their need to seek addiction treatment. If your children are younger, it is usually sufficient to explain that you are sick and will be seeing a doctor to get help.

With pre-teens and teens, having a more open conversation may be appropriate. As the National Association for Children of Addiction recommends, it is important that children understand they did not cause their parent’s addiction and they cannot control it or cure it. In a reverse intervention with teens, have a conversation about these facts while helping them understand that they can still celebrate life and do things they enjoy while seeking treatment. Help them understand that addiction is a medical condition and treatment can manage it, just like any other health problem.

Finding Treatment for Substance Abuse

When you’re seeking addiction treatment, you should take time to think about what you’re looking for in a center. Reputable treatment providers should be licensed and accredited, with licensed professionals in psychology, chemical dependency, social work or clinical counseling. You can locate addiction treatment providers in your area by speaking to your doctor, social worker, community leader or contacting the local mental health board.

If you have health insurance, verify your insurance benefits to understand what kinds of addiction treatment are covered. If you do not have insurance to cover the costs of treatment, many treatment centers can offer you a payment plan to make treatment affordable. Others may offer a sliding fee scale, with costs based upon your income. If you are unable to pay out-of-pocket costs, you may qualify for government-funded treatment programs under Medicaid. 

Substance Abuse Resources

If you need help locating substance abuse resources nationally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a treatment locator tool. This tool also provides information about the types of services each provider offers and the payment methods they accept. If you are looking for treatment specifically in the state of Florida, Florida Health offers substance abuse resources.

In South Florida, The Recovery Village at Baptist Health provides evidence-based, comprehensive and compassionate treatment for drug and alcohol addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions. Our addiction specialists offer a full continuum of care to start you on your recovery journey. Contact us today to discuss personalized treatment plans that can meet your needs. 

View Sources

SoberRecovery. “Reverse Intervention.” November 19, 2011.  Accessed October 3, 2020.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is drug addiction?” July 2018. Accessed October 3, 2020. 

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “If my friend or loved one asks for my help, where do I start?”  October 2019. Accessed October 3, 2020. 

National Association for Children of Addiction. “The 7CS.” Accessed October 3, 2020. “How to Apply for Medicaid and CHIP.” August 31, 2020. Accessed October 3, 2020.  

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.” Accessed October 3, 2020. 

Florida Health. “Substance Abuse.”  January 14, 2019. Accessed October 3, 2020.