A DIY intervention is not an uncommon scenario that many families find themselves in, as it can be appealing because it is a cost saver. Yet, this is only one reason families do not seek professional help. Other reasons a family would not seek help for drug and alcohol intervention involve codependency roles in an addictive family system. Finally, there are family secrets that some family members do not want to be brought forward, despite the consequences. Overall, the benefits outweigh the uncomfortable nature of the intervention and what leads up to it because the goal is to save the life of the addict.
Codependency and the Family Unit
Codependency is a concept thrown around a lot within the addiction field, and researchers have attempted to identify the main problems associated with it. In one study examining eight participants from local support groups for codependency, there were three interlinked experiences in common. Participants reported a lack of clear self, an enduring pattern of extreme, emotional, relational, occupational imbalance, and attribution of current problems regarding parental abandonment and control in childhood—underlying issues typically fuel most relationship problems.
It could be argued that there is a certain myth behind codependency because it mislabels relationships that some would observe as being outside the range of socially acceptable. Moreover, when two people that are abusing drugs are co-dependent on one another, they are finding their own reasons to stay together that outweigh other alternatives. However, familial roles or codependency roles within the family dynamic have the potential to derail an intervention and prevent the family from seeking help.
For example, a family member may have a caretaker role that has taken on the responsibilities and problems of the addict. There is the hero role that may ignore the problem yet present everything in a positive manner or the mascot of the family who tries to bring fun and humor to the problem. Every family dynamic is completely different from the next, and family members feel their actions are done with the best intentions in mind. However, if the person abusing drugs has not stopped or gotten help despite a DIY intervention, their good intention is not working, and they need professional help.
How Do Family Secrets Derail an Intervention?
Overall, family-based intervention works, yet family secrets do make it difficult for some family members to reach out for professional help. According to research that identified over 1000 alcohol-related reviews and close to 3000 drug-related reviews, positive evidence was found supporting family interventions for engagement of users in treatment for adults who misuse alcohol and for multidimensional family therapy. Despite the family secrets, seeking help from an interventionist does generally ensure a successful intervention.
However, individual secrets, internal family secrets, and shared family secrets are enough to force family members not to ask for help. Individual secrets are kept by one person from the rest of the family, like another family member struggling with addiction. Internal family secrets involve at least two people keeping a secret from one or many other family members. Shared family secrets are pieces of information known within the family but forbidden to outsiders.
Every family does have a right to privacy, and determining the question of privacy versus secrecy is different in every family. Yet, there are big picture consequences of family secrets. However, if this level of privacy is coming in-between saving the life of someone addicted to drugs or alcohol, the family must reconsider their choices. The family unit must examine themselves, and the way information moves through them. Unfortunately, shared family secrets create a sense of loyalty based not on a sense of connection but rather on fear and shame. The fear of a secret getting out is strong enough to consider no longer the consequences of any action or decision, making it impossible to help the person addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Bacon, I., McKay, E., Reynolds, F. et al. The Lived Experience of Codependency: an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Int J Ment Health Addiction 18, 754–771 (2020).
Yasmin Akram, Alex Copello, Family-based interventions for substance misuse: a systematic review of reviews, The Lancet, Volume 382, Supplement 3, 2013, Page S24, ISSN 0140-6736, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62449-6.