Drug Intervention for Crystal Meth Addiction in Birmingham, Alabama

An intervention is designed to link a family to an addict just long enough for the addict to make the right decision to save themselves. Usually, family members have so much tension, anger, and confusion built up that they can’t properly communicate their feelings even if they did know what to say. Families do not know enough about addiction to help their loved ones. There is always this difficulty to communicate, and in some cases, it is more prominent than in others. When we dealt with a younger male addict and a very large group of older people, we were dealing with a serious gap. Alan Burton of Birmingham was fully hooked on crystal meth.

Throughout the Deep South and the Midwest, there is an ongoing methamphetamine problem. What was once just a biker drug in the Bay Area of California has now spread all over the country. Meth is manmade, dirt cheap, and very powerful. People inject it, snort it, and smoke it.

Alan was a meth smoker. Smokers tend to consume the most and the fastest, and Alan was no different. Alan’s family spent weeks yelling at him to try to convince him to stop using. Alan had a dealer come to his house with a pistol, looking for his drug cash. That’s when the family decided they’d had enough and called me to take him to rehab. About 80% of our interventions go relatively smoothly. This particular intervention ended up falling into the other 20% - the ugly interventions, where we go into tough love mode. I had expected this. As I got clean and sober in my early twenties (Alan’s age at the time of this intervention), I knew that we would have difficulty getting through to him. However, I was confident that even though we were in for a long day, everything would work out.

Family Support and the Role in a Drug Intervention

I was hired by Alan’s grandmother, at the instruction of his mother. I asked them to bring together everyone that loved Alan and have them set two full days aside for me, face to face. We met at a relative’s home. I was surrounded by sweet tea, fried chicken, deep southern drawls, and big smiles. They were very cooperative and made me feel like I was at home. Every family member, all twelve of them, took about forty-five minutes each to explain to me their history and relationship with Alan. I usually don’t have family members write letters, but this time I decided to. Everything was going very well until someone tipped me off to a massive problem that may have been deliberately withheld from me during the initial phone call. It turned out that Alan had an $800,000 trust fund from a lawsuit, and he was able to take money out it monthly. See, young people don’t go into rehab unless they have to. We had a problem. The day of the intervention started very early. We had breakfast and did a prayer circle. We prayed that their boy was just willing to listen. I explained to the family that if he would listen, then I would be able to save him. If he couldn’t listen, I couldn’t help him. And if he was high, he wouldn’t be able to listen.

Drug Interventions When the Family Member is High During the Intervention

The family assured me that Alan finally fell asleep after three days of being awake. Hopefully, we would be able to confront him while he was sober. As we rode up to the house, the mother pointed out the fact that all the lights were on in the basement, where Alan lived. This was not surprising, as crystal meth addicts often do not sleep. One thing to note, the family never told me he was a very nice boy in general, if a bit spoiled from having more money than anyone his age in Alabama. I was not expecting a new friend, but that is what I got. I walked into his room with his uncle. His uncle said, “Hey bud. I brought my friend over to chat with you. Your family is worried about you.” Alan looked at me and said, “Oh Wow!” He then ran over and gave me a hug. His eyes were dilated, and he was sweating. There were two empty bags on his bed and lighters everywhere. He was as high as a kite. Meth wears off about twelve hours after your last hit. We were in for a challenge. I made the decision to bring his entire family into his room. “Alan,” I said, “Your family is really worried about the direction you are going. We are fine with you using going forward, if that is what you want, but we want your family to at least be able to explain their feelings to you first.” To my surprise, he complied. He was likely just scared. We brought everyone up to the living room. Alan sat next to his mother, hyperventilating and holding her hand. The family looked at me. They knew he was very high and likely had not slept in four days. I began, “Look, Alan, I have done my share of meth. It isn’t something you can stay on all of your life. I know you don’t want to get clean. But I have a feeling that you will reconsider once you hear how much your loving family cares about you. Are you okay with each of them reading a letter of concern to you?” He nodded, under his hat hiding his eyes. I was surprised he didn’t walk out of the room as nearly half of all intervention targets do. But he was just in minor shock. I continued, “I have been clean and off hard drugs for over a decade. I have no idea if you want the happiness I have, but your family is willing to do whatever it takes to help. We really want you to get to a position where you can make the decision that’s best for you. That’s why I am here.” Each letter was read. Family members expressed their love for him: memories of bass fishing, memories of him as an innocent little boy, days before he was smoking meth and mistreating loved ones. They spoke about how happy he was at his senior prom, how his girlfriend loved him and how upset they were that she is no longer around. Most of the family members cried as they read their letters explaining to Alan how much they loved him and how worried they were about him. They were a good group. They didn’t interfere with my job. They did as I’d suggested. They simply showed him love and concern. They didn’t put him on the spot, and they didn’t put him in position to be defensive. It was a confusing session because, although he didn’t leave, he also didn’t seem to totally comprehend the words being spoken by his family. There was something off this time. He was at the peak of his high right in the middle of the intervention. It wasn’t that the timing was poor. There just wasn’t anything we could do about it. As one relative was wrapping up their letter, Alan stared at me and said, “I am not going to rehab.”

Drug Intervention Options When Things Don’t Go as Planned

So why was Alan living in his mother’s basement when he had a fortune tucked away for him? He had trustees set up so that his money was protected. He could only receive $5000 a month, and every dime went to meth. He didn’t have any money on him when we met, so he was deeply dependent on that monthly check. His trustee didn’t know he had a drug problem. If found out, they would not provide any future distributions. This was my ace in the hole with Alan to get him to go to rehab. While ultimatums typically do not work in the long run, it was a better option than allowing him to continue smoking meth in his mother’s basement. I wanted to do everything I could to get him to see how unmanageable his life was. I wanted him to see how much his family loved him and how they were forgiving him for past issues.

About 80% of the time, I’m able to get the addict to understand all this. That is our job. But 20% of the time, people end up in treatment simply because we give them no choice.

So, the intervention went on. I introduced each family member to Alan and asked him if he would be willing to hear them out. He was frozen. He did not leave the room though - a bad sign and a good sign. He was listening to their words; they were just not moving him. I paused the intervention and asked Alan if he would come downstairs to his room with me alone for a few minutes. To my surprise, he complied. We sat down on his bed. His room was torn to shreds as if someone had been in there looking for a stolen kilo. With the cold wall to our backs, feet dangling off the mattress, I went told him about my personal experience with meth and other drugs. His dark eyes peered out from under his cap at me while I spoke. I went on and on, because he was listening. Every few minutes I would try to bring up rehab and treatment and the possibility for him to meet new young people and enjoy himself. He decided to speak up. “I am not ready for rehab. If there is a consequence for me not going or something, I just want to know what it is. But I am not going anywhere.” I believed him. Although the drugs had been clouding his responses to us all day, I believed him. He wasn’t going. I said, “Alan, I already expected that you’d refuse to go. I don’t blame you. Let’s not crush a dozen hearts all in one day though. You don’t have to go for yourself, man. You can go for your great family upstairs. Tell you what. I am going to make you a deal – a deal I would have taken in your shoes. Let’s just tell them you are going to rehab. You and I will leave, and we will go to the facility. You will stay for a day or so. If you don’t like it, just leave. And that’s it.” We sat there for twenty minutes while he thought about it. Finally, he said, “To be honest man, you seem really cool, but I don’t really care about my family the way they care about me. Can you just tell me if there is a consequence for me not going?”

Drug Addiction and Drug Intervention; Honesty, Consequences and Tough Love

I went upstairs alone and called for the family to huddle up. “He isn’t going, no matter what. We need to make a decision on what route we are going to take. Let’s go back to the other house for lunch. Please block Alan’s car in.” We came to the conclusion that Alan would never get clean as long as he had his monthly funds. We also decided that, sadly, Alan didn’t care that much for his family, at least not the way he did when he was younger. We decided to make plans to meet with the trustee so that I could explain the magnitude of Alan’s crystal meth addiction. This would effectively freeze his monthly distribution immediately. We also had plans to hire an attorney and go before a judge if needed. We knew we could get his money frozen because the distributions were intended to better his life, not make it worse, and I was fine with meeting the trustee immediately. If this plan were to fail, Alan would be immediately asked to leave the house and cut off from the family. The family was totally on board. I had done my job. Even if we were in a tough-love mode and were eventually forced to turn him out onto the streets, we would be closer to forcing him into rehab. The Alabama sun was starting to dip when we came up to the house and to break the news to Alan. Instead of having an organized, one at a time approach, the family ganged up on him a bit. They urged him to go, pushing him, knowing they had nothing to lose. I halted the threats and the harassment in an effort to play good cop. I put my arm around him and apologized for having to be the bearer of bad news. I told him that I would be approaching his trustee tomorrow with his mother, and we would be showing them the meth bags, the interventionist invoice, and my statement. When I got to the part about freezing his assets and distributions immediately, he turned white. We all sat around him, waiting for Alan to make a remark. I then said, “Or you can come with me to rehab now, even for just a couple of days, and your finances will not be affected by this.” We waited. He took off his hat and looked me in the eyes. “Man, I have an attorney that is going to stop you all from doing that. Screw you all.” An uncle, with arms the size of small tree-trunks, pushed everyone out of the way and grabbed Alan by the throat. Several of us stepped in to rip him off. We waited again. “I refuse to go,” repeated Alan. I had the mother pack a small bag for Alan. We had the cars moved away from his car. He had no money, no friends, and nowhere to go. The mother tossed his bag in his car, tears running down her face, and said, “Get the hell off my property.” He drove away. At around 4 am, I was woken up by my phone ringing. The mother told me he decided to come home because he had nowhere to go. Although he had no desire to quit meth or to live the sober life, he was willing to go to rehab. He entered a facility an hour away, very angry and very reluctant. Two weeks later, I got a call from the mother. Not only was Alan still there, not only was he happy to be there, not only was he voted the leader amongst his peers, but he had asked his mom to tell that guy who came out to help him that he said, “Thank you.” What a career I have.