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Johnson Intervention Model

Someone in your life is out of control.  Maybe it’s your husband or wife.  Maybe it’s a sibling.  Perhaps even your child has fallen into the destructive cycle of addiction.  You are angry.  You’re hurt.  You’re confused.  What should you do? What can you do to help the person you love defeat the monster of addiction and once more become the person you remember?

Dealing with addiction is a troubling and confusing time for anyone, but there is good news. There is a method for helping someone in this situation.  An intervention is a planned and very organized confrontation where the addict is all but forced to listen to the concerns of their family and friends.  After the confrontation, the addict is offered a chance to enter a rehabilitation facility or treatment program. The Johnson Model is a commonly used intervention prototype that may effectively help your loved one seek the treatment they need.

The Birth of the Modern Intervention Program

There are many styles of interventions which have existed a way to deal with addicts for nearly a century.  In the early days, interventions were brutal. The basis for the brutality was to tear down the addict until they realized through humiliation that they needed to change.  Over time, as science learned more about how the brain reacts to certain drugs, the structure of an intervention changed.  Dr. Vernon Johnson was an Episcopal priest who revolutionized the way families and others should interact with those individuals coping with substance abuse.  In an article published by Counselor magazine, Johnson is quoted as stating that an intervention is the process of “presenting reality to a person out of touch with it in a receivable way.”

Prior to Dr. Johnson’s creation of his intervention process, the predominant belief was that alcoholics were beyond help and that they had to hit “rock bottom” before they could “see the light” and help themselves.  If their family turned them away, their employers fired them, they lost their homes, they lost their children and they had no money left to support their habit, they would get help.  There was no way for this to happen except to let the drinking take its course — at least this was the thought process at the time.

Dr. Johnson conducted a survey of 200 recovering alcoholics.  He wanted to know why they had decided to stop drinking.  He determined, after tweaking the study questions to find out what was going on in the lives of the participants outside of their sudden determination that they needed to clean up their acts, that each of the recovering alcoholics had experienced a cascade of troubling issues, including financial, social and familial aspects.  It seemed as though the “rock bottom” theory had been reinforced, but why wait until the alcoholic (or drug addict) finds the bottom on their own? Is it possible for a family to bring rock bottom to the addict?

Anger and Humiliation Are Not the Answer

Why does your family member choose to use drugs? Do they seem happy about the situations in which they find themselves?  Have you ever put aside your hurt and anger for a moment to ask yourself these questions? It may seem as though your addicted loved one is choosing drugs or alcohol over their responsibilities or the love offered to them by their own families and friends, but in many cases the option to choose has been removed from the equation.

Drugs affect the brain in a very specific ways.  One of the ways that drugs can change how a person thinks is in regard to the ability to make good decisions. As behaviors are affected, the drugs are so powerful and the disease of addiction is so strong that the drug user is often incapable of choosing to not use drugs. Withdrawal symptoms of some drugs are so severe that the user is physically ill until they can use drugs again.

Other issues, besides the drug use itself, may also drive the need for an addict to continue using drugs.  For instance, your family member may be suffering from a co-morbid condition that has been either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and therefore treated inappropriately with ineffective measures.

The Johnson Model allows for an understanding of the lack of control your family member may feel.  It focuses less on blaming the addict for all of the wrongs that have occurred in their life and the lives of those around them, and more on the fact that you care about them – that they do not have to continue living this way.

*Dual Diagnosis Conditions Common in Drug and Alcohol Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the presence of dual diagnosis conditions among drug users is common, and often misunderstood.  This government organization has made it a priority to continue studying the links between mental illnesses and the presence of addition.  Some of the more common mental disorders among drug users include:

Are You an Enabler?

The concept of enabling is contingent upon the belief that you have the ultimate control over your family member’s life and choices.  This, of course, is not true when we consider the fact that you want and need your family member to stop using drugs.  You love them and you wouldn’t do anything to help them hurt themselves.  However, when we offer shelter or solace to an addict, we sometimes give them the perceived permissions to continue harming themselves and us.

So, what constitutes enabling? If you’ve ever been accused of being an enabler, you know how horrible it can feel that anyone might think you approve of your loved one’s addiction.  Understanding the effects of our actions, however, can help us understand how those actions can hinder the chances that your loved one might seek help.  For example:

  • Bail:  Have you paid bail or hired a bondsman to have your loved one released from jail?  Was their involvement in drugs responsible for their arrest?
  • Rent:  Have you given money to your loved one for rent or other financial responsibilities? Are they short on funds because they spent their own money on drugs or alcohol? Did they really pay their rent, or did they buy more drugs with the money you gave or loaned to them?
  • Shelter:  Is your family member employed, but can’t afford to pay rent?  Are they saving money out of each and every paycheck to get out on their own, or are they out of funds consistently because they know they have a safe place to sleep?
  • Food:  Are you feeding your adult family member consistently because they can’t seem to manage their money to buy their own food?  Are they spending that money on drugs?
  • Cleaning up:  When your loved one has become ill or injured due to their drug or alcohol use, do you clean up after them? Do you pick them up from the floor and make sure they are safely in bed?
  • Making excuses:  Do you find yourself coming up with myriad reasons why your loved one uses drugs or alcohol to cope?  Have you said to yourself or others that they are “going through a tough time”?  Do you call their employer to explain their absence from work, conveniently leaving out that they are binging on drugs, or they have a horrific hangover?

These behaviors may seem like ways to keep the peace or keep your family member’s condition or situation from getting worse, but perhaps their situation needs to get worse so they can begin to get better?

The End of the Line

The Johnson Model allows for compassion while making distinct demands. The disease of addiction may have taken away your loved one’s ability to choose whether they take drugs when they are available, but they can still make a decision concerning whether they will seek help.  You’re only asking them to try sobriety and get help while they do it.  If you need help finding a trained interventionist, or a treatment program that can help your loved one, you can contact us for more information. Our trained staff is waiting to help you and your family.

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