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Can Interventions Help with Codependency?

answered 06:03 PM EST, Mon April 30, 2012
anonymous anonymous
How can I convince my parents to stop enabling my brother? He is an alcoholic and he has never really had a job that he can stick with for longer than a few months. He is in his 30s now but he still acts like a child and relies on my parents for everything. They still pay the rent on his apartment so any money he makes he can pretty much just spend it all on alcohol, but even with that he still managed to get evicted for taking that rent money for a couple of months and pouring it down his throat. He was the life of the party in his teens and early 20s, but now all his friends have moved on and he just stays at home alone and drinks by himself.

My parents just can’t bear to see him face the consequences of what he’s doing to himself. But how is he ever going to stop when he has this easy life, and my parents are also getting older. What’s going to happen to him when he’s in his 40s and all of a sudden there is no one around to take care of his every need. They need to stop treating him like a child and he needs to man up and start taking care of his own self. He is smart and big and strong and there is no reason why he can’t take care of himself. I am so frustrated because I have worked so hard on him to try to get him to take some responsibility for himself and to try to get him to drink less but I feel like my efforts are just so totally undermined by my parents so it’s just all a waste of time.

Dr. James Strawbridge Says...

You can hardly be involved with an alcoholic/addict these days without hearing the term “enabling.” What does it mean? Simply that those who live and/or work with addiction people tend to adapt in such a way that they make it easier for them---indeed enable them---to continue their substance abuse. Parents, family member, and spouses can fit into this category. They take over the responsibilities of the sick individual, make allowances, forgive unforgivable behavior, and continue trying to be loving and caring in the face of abuse of the alcohol. Parents close their eyes to this and other suspicious behavior, hand out generous allowances, and write absence notes for questionable behavior.

Why do people do this? Not, oddly enough for the benefits of the sick person---enabling harms the alcoholic/addicts. They enable in order to meet their own needs. It’s an attempt to reestablish the relationship, to counter growing alienation, to lure the alcoholic/addict back into the relationship by providing a counter force to the alcohol or other drugs that seem to be tugging the other away. Although this tactic may work very effectively to draw an alienated but non-addicted family member back into the fold, it is ineffective and actually counterproductive when used with victims of alcoholism/addiction. Enabling poor— quality glue. It not only doesn't succeed at keeping at keeping the family, or friendship together, it allows the disease to progress to a more serious stage and worsens the prognosis for a good recovery.


What can you do in the situation you have described? Stage an intervention.

An intervention is group meeting at which family, closed friends, and possibility a professional try to persuade an alcoholic that he has a problem and should seek help. The intervention should stress the importance of the family’s needs, allowing family members to ventilate their feelings and frustrations with a supportive group present to help them make their case. But it is not a time to beat up on the alcoholic, to punish or get even. Its purpose is to help, out of love and concern.

An estimated nine our of ten interventions succeed in getting the alcoholic into treatment. But even those that don’t succeed give family members the feeling that, no matter what happens, at least they tried.

A really successful interventions helps not only the alcoholic but those around him. It stresses the importance of their needs and persuades them that, whether or not the goal of getting their loved one into treatment is met, they need to change their own lives. It can also be therapeutic, since it affords a forum in which they can finally tell the alcoholic how they’ve been hurt by his drinking alcohol, allowing them to ventilate their feeling and frustrations with the supportive group present to help make their case.

Who should participate?

Those people who are closest to the dependent person and the most influential. This could include close family members, close friends, a cleargyperson, and doctor. Bring in those outside the family. Bringing in those outside the family helps by making clear that knowledge of the problem and concern about it have spread. The group should large (4-7) to have an impact and show there is some interest and power behind the effort.Avoid asking anyone whom you suspect has a drinking problem of his or her own.

The Intervention

  1. There are usually nine basic steps.
  2. Make a list of all potential participants’
  3. Contact a professional who is experienced at conducting interventions. To find one ask for referrals from AA or Al-Anon friends, an addiction specialist, a local treatment cent (but no one you intend to use, since this could represent a conflict of interest). The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), or a local alcohol awareness council. Before agreeing to hire the professional,ask about the cost and manner of payment, and check his or her credentials and approach. Talk to the professional in person and try to gauge if he or she comes across as loving, compassionate way and will be able to direct family energy constructively. Avoid someone with a punitive militant approach. Ask for a couple of references.
  4. Arrange a preliminary planning and education meeting , It will be helpful to have the professional there to explain how the intervention will work. Family members should be advised to attend one or more Al-Anon meeting before the intervention, so that they will better understand their own feelings the alcoholics and the disease they are dealing with.
  5. Have everyone who will attend the intervention make a list of situations where they were hurt by the drinking behavior. Each incident should be a first hand incident accompanied by the following information: when it took place; where it took place; what the behavior was; how it related to alcohol; what was wrong with it (embarrassing, dangerous, and so on); and how it made the person recounting the story feel. When possible, be specific and about the amounts of alcohol consumed. Use recent incidents rather than those that could be dismissed as “ancient history.”
  6. Get the facts on treatment.
  7. Hold a rehearsal meeting.
  8. Set up the intervention.
  9. Do your lifesaving work

Do your lifesaving work calmly (as much as possible) have each participant list and describe the events that have been damaging to work, family, health, safety, and so on. Reading the prepared text or index card notes will reduce anxiety and make certain that nothing important is omitted. The attitude should not be vindictive, but rather sorrowful. Love and concern should be constantly emphasized. When everyone is finished, ask, “Is this the way you want to live your life?”

Clearly spell out the consequences to follow if help isn’t sought---but only if you are really ready to follow through on them.


In the vast majority of cases, when an intervention is carefully planned and well executed, the person being addressed agrees to get help.

Where to get help: The regional alcohol and Drug Awareness Resources Network (RADAR) works in partnership with the National Clearinghouse for alcohol and drug information (NCADI) and consists of state clearing organizations, and others . Each RADAR Network member offers a variety of information services. Contact the office in your state and, as needed, any specialized center

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Page last updated Apr 30, 2012

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