Aside from a brief hiatus last year, Intervention has been with us for nearly 10 years now. LMN thankfully resurrected the compelling show after it got cut from A & E, and not only are they making new episodes, they are airing mini-marathons of the old ones. Critics of the show complain that it is voyeuristic, and it is, but it seems to be actually helping people on both sides of the screen.

It’s helped me process a lot of gunk in my own soul, gunk that was gumming up my works with codependent behaviors and thinking, and stints of problem drinking (the Lawrence episode is still one of the most sobering and disturbing things I’ve ever seen in my life, and I try to hold it in my mind if I’m ever holding a wine glass.) I’ve been enthralled with this show over the years; learning about behaviors I didn’t know even existed, watching people slowly kill themselves with the illusion of a cure for their personal torments. Meanwhile, the people who love them tear apart the fabric of their lives in desperate bids to help, only to find that the tatters they pull from their threadbare selves only feed their loved one’s addiction.

The audience gets a curiosity-sating glimpse of the drug use and destructive behaviors combined with honest and revealing testimonials from the addict and their family and friends. Pretty much everyone is affected by addiction, even if it’s a few degrees away from them. Addiction ripples, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though an addicted person usually sees it a bit that way. Addiction is the quickest way to solipsism, and one of the deepest ways to hurt people, intentionally, or not.

This is the kind of entertainment I love: peeks at the pain and strangeness of life. Problems are compelling, and learning about the problems of other people helps us feel less strange and isolated in our own issues, and it also helps us feel compassion for people going through things we know nothing about. The curiosities of human behavior usually aren’t dangerous or life-gouging, but Intervention goes about a dark as you can go. It serves up the shadows through the screen, but it also gives a real alternative for help, a kind of help not readily available for people going through this type of ordeal at home. In exchange for candidly displaying themselves at their worst, not only do the addicts featured on Intervention help others by making them feel less alone, or by deterring them from going down a dangerous path, they also get some of the best care possible.

Experts spend two weeks compiling a personality profile of the addict so they can select the best treatment facility for them. Producers wrangle deals with the rehab centers, who get to promote their business on the show, for comped treatment. They settle for nothing less than 90 days of treatment, far more than the 28 days people who are lucky enough to have substance abuse insurance usually get. The retail price for the treatment Intervention alums receive is about $50,000 to $120,000. Of course, a good number of the people featured on the show have left treatment early, and a handful have refused to go at all, but their success rate has been pretty astounding.

When A & E shuttered doors on the series in 2013, they claimed to have a 64% recovery rate. They profiled 243 addicts, had 238 go into treatment, and 156 of those were sober as of 2013. Nine have died due to complications related to the addiction featured on the show, and eight have died of other causes, or from drug abuse unrelated to their intervention.

This show has also thrust the idea of “interventions,” and the language of addiction and eating disorder recovery into national conversation, which is a huge reason why interventionist Jeff Van Vonderan signed on. “Half the time when I’d do an intervention, somebody there would say, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know there was such a thing’ or, “If I had known about this five years ago, maybe my dad would still be alive,'” he told Vulture.

As a non-expert on the subject, it certainly seems that the longer treatment programs used for show participants should be integrated somehow into the protocol treatment for addiction, eating disorders, and severe mental health problems. If a person is experiencing a behavioral problem so severe that they need 24-hour care, a month just doesn’t seem long enough to truly alter the path of their life. The economics of the situation are daunting, but it seems like there’s something important to learn from this socio-entertainment experiment.

  • Gary

    I too seek out and learn from those “peeks at pain and strangeness of life”. And I’m glad these people choose to share their stories in hopes that others may avoid the nastier outcomes. Having experienced some of that pain firsthand, I can attest to the helplessness close family can feel when trying to get their loved-one off the sure path to oblivion.

    I believe those that tend toward a more DIY approach to getting themselves out of bad patterns, which includes me, can be enlightened by witnessing the intervention process. Yes, the painful Lawrence episode is indelibly stuck in my mind!

    Thanks for the behind-the-scenes stats!

    Enjoying your posts. Thanks for writing!