Intervention Treatment Forced Is not a Myth!

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“They must hit rock bottom!”

“You can’t force them into treatment!”

I can’t tell you how much despair and hopelessness I used to feel when I would read statements like this in social media support groups. I had heard statements like this all my life so they must be true! Right? And once again the reinforcement was there that there was nothing I could do to help my son, he had to do it himself.

But he is sick I cried. He isn’t himself, he isn’t be- having rationally how can he help himself.!!! Then I found NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and my life changed. You see NIDA said these were myths. Myths??? Yes, Myths!!!

This is where my despair gave way to a glimmer of hope and my research skills as a librarian kicked in. I researched and researched and found paper after paper, study after study, and hard statistics that said not only could you force someone into treatment, forcing them into treatment had the same recovery success rates as those who entered into treatment of their own accord. The research also said you could raise the bottom of someone you loved. They did not need to hit rock bottom, in fact rock bottom could mean lifelong harm and even death. Letting someone hit rock bottom was like telling someone who had a family member with diabetes to come back when their child was in a coma! But he is sick I cried. He isn’t himself, he isn’t be- having rationally how can he help himself.!!! Then I found NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and my life changed. You see NIDA said these were myths. Myths??? Yes, Myths!!!

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I needed this information because shortly I was going to receive two phone calls that would push me back into the depths of despair. The first phone call came from a friend/dealer of my son’s. “This is John, please don’t hang up. I want to tell you I am very concerned about Thomas.” I was angry and bitter. What nerve this man had calling me, I barely heard what he said, but I told him to go ahead with whatever game he was playing. It was no game he told me. He was really worried Thomas was going to kill himself. “Of course he is!” I practically yelled into the phone.

John ignored me to continue, “He needs help, fast. I even told him so. He is using more than anyone I know.” His words weren’t making sense to me so I asked him to repeat what he was saying. He told me he and others had spoken about it and decided I should know Thomas was spending his entire paychecks every month on feeding his habit. He was killing himself and needed help. He said Thomas was a functional “addict” and you could hardly tell when he was using. This sunk in as I had Thomas’ supervisor had told me something similar recently. But what could I do? Thomas was a grown man. I don’t remember hanging up the phone, I just remember standing there for a long time with tears running down my cheeks.

The second phone call came from my son. “Mom, I have been at the college all day filling out FAFSA forms. I can get a loan to go back to college.”

For most parents this phone call would have been wonderful news. Their child would be going to college. They would graduate with a degree to one day find that job of their dreams. But when I heard this I grew sick with fear and worry. I hardly remember what I said to him, but it definitely was not “That’s great news honey!” My son was in active addiction and I knew that he would receive somewhere around $3000.00 to pay for classes, books and living expenses. I do not normally swear, but I know an expletive went through my mind. What the hell was he thinking? But of course he wasn’t. He was in active addiction.

I remember saying, “Do you think this is the best option right now? Why don’t you go into treatment first?”

“No mom, I don’t need treatment,” he said. “I got this. I am working on quitting and school is what I need.” I had no words to dissuade him. He was going to get a loan and go back to school . . . I burst into tears after this phone call and ended up on my knees crying out for help.


There isn’t much help for parents who have a child in active addiction. Even caring family and friends don’t know what to say or do. I thought of Tom McClellan the former Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the White House. McClellan had all the knowledge and resources at his fingertips and he wasn’t able to save his youngest son. If Thomas McClellan couldn’t save his child, how could I? What could I do?

I got angry . . . really angry and I remember that I could force him into treatment and by God I would!!! I called his father and I called his step-father at work and said we were going to have an intervention. They both scoffed at first, but thank God (and I do mean thank God), they humored me, and agreed to my plan.

I called Thomas and invited him to his nephew’s soccer game and told him afterward we would visit his father and have lunch. In the meantime, I researched and contacted various long-term treatment centers and settled on two, one in Florida and one in our local area. I spoke to each of the treatment facilities and told them we planned an “intervention” and would be trying to raise our son’s bottom by offering him two options. Basically we were going to force him into recovery one way or another. Both treatment facilities were on board and offered great suggestions.

The day of the intervention we picked up Thomas was a beautiful early spring day in 2013. We picked him up at the homeless shelter he currently resided at and took him to lunch. We went to his nephew’s soccer game and to be honest, I don’t remember a single detail about lunch or the soccer game. I was both pleased to be spending a day with my son who I hadn’t seen for weeks and extremely anxious about the planned intervention.

At his father’s apartment we all chatted for short time and then we got to the point. I told our son we were concerned and we shared how several of his friends had contacted us about his use. We told him we wanted him to go back into treatment. Thomas looked at his father, his step-dad and then at me and said, “no.” He was going back to school and there was no need for us to worry. Even now, thinking back I am astounded by the lack of reasoning and understand- ing an individual in active addiction has. Their view of the world revolves around their drug of choice and the only clarity they have is in ways to get to their drug. I have come to understand that for someone who has the disease of addiction, using drugs becomes as necessary to them as breathing is to the rest of us. I could see my son was sick and even dying, even if he could not. So I gave him a choice. He had stolen money from his father, his step-father and I and we could either charge him with a felony and he could go to prison or he could go to treatment. My son looked at his dad and he looked at me and scoffed. “No, you won’t.,” is what he told us looking us dead in the eye.

I looked at him, he was so pale, so thin. His beard and hair untrimmed and face broken out in sores. This wasn’t my son. This wasn’t the young man who always dressed so neat and clean. This wasn’t the son who ran off the soccer field in high school giving me a huge hug saying, “I love you mom,” in front of every- one. This wasn’t the team leader, healthy dynamic, honest young man everyone knew and loved. This was a lost human being, sickened by a disease that even in this 21st century was viewed with myth, stigma and shame. But this was my son who we all loved and cherished and he needed our help, he just didn’t seem to know it . . . yet.

His father and I told him we loved him and then we turned to his step-father. To our everlasting gratitude, Don who had kept quiet during the entire conversation/intervention stepped up. He crossed his arms and looked our son square in the eyes, and told him, “Your parent’s might not charge you Thomas, but I will.”

Thomas didn’t even blink, he just looked at his step-father and turned to me and his father and said, “Where do I sign up?” Within an hour we were at the treatment at the Lighthouse Mission in Bellingham, Washington and our son signed himself in for their year to two year New Life program for men.

I am not going to try and put a romantic ending here. The next few months were difficult. Addiction is after all a relapsing brain disease, but even Thomas kept with it and the wonderful counselors at the Lighthouse Mission stuck with him. There is a lot more to this story, but suffice to say for now, our son is now over 18 months in recovery. It has not been easy, but it has been worth it. 2 years ago my son would have been one of the first to say you can’t force someone into treatment, now he hugs me and tells me he loves me and thanks me for what we did for him. Walls that were built during his active addiction phase have started coming down. He has a full-time job, a fiancé and his adoring family surrounding him. We have become educated about his disease and offer our love and support where we can. We have a recovery plan in place and watch for signs of stress.


Since leaving the New Life program ran by the Lighthouse Mission, he continues in a 12 step program which is working for him. On December 22 of 2014 he came to me to do step nine of his recovery. It was the best Christmas present of my life, and I have been blessed with many wonderful presents, but that is a story for another day.

Postscript: Forced treatment is not a myth, the myth is believing you can’t force someone into treatment. Families, courts, workplaces force individuals into treatment all the time. Statics on forced treatment show the same rate of success as for individuals who go into treatment of their own accord. If things are to change we must look to evidence-based treatment and allow those who are diagnosed with addiction to receive the necessary treatment they need from medical sources and take addiction out of the judicial marginalization system it currently resides. More information substance use disorder and on the myths of addiction can be found at these sites

United We C.A.N
Duana Wilkins, Executive Director Change Addiction
Now Organization
United We C.A.N.
Note: This was written with permission and input from my son Thomas and is dedicated to him and the millions of Americans who have found recovery.


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