“A dream you dream alone is only a dream.
A dream you dream together becomes reality.”

-Yoko Ono

Substance abuse has a way of shifting thoughts to another reality.  The reality is very lonely, and the daily activities of life are happening because of the autopilot.  I know many of us have driven to work and then forgot how we got there.  Autopilot works well, however, are we mindful of each moment?  Finding substance abuse intervention resources can be a great tool for becoming more mindful of the current state of being.

When working with clients with a dual diagnosis such as Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse disorder, you will notice that they find ways to get by on autopilot.  You have heard of the “functioning” alcoholic who goes to work each day and manages to function until he gets that DUI when driving home from work.  It is important to discuss any psychotropic medications prescribed that would be dangerous when combined with alcohol or other drugs. Therefore, educate the client on the physical harm that they are doing when taking this dangerous path of combining drugs and alcohol.   Here are a couple of substance abuse intervention tools that help to open the minds and hearts for these complex people who fall into a cycle of substance abuse.

The first substance abuse intervention step is to always be a “beacon of hope” with a vision for healing.  When speaking with your patient/client, you can ask them what their vision for healing is.  Developing a contrast which reflects how they feel about his or her use will assist the patient/client to see that the substance use is a problem for them.  Here are some contrast questions:

1) What are some good things about your use?

2) What would be some good things about changing your use?

3) What are some things that are not-so-good about using substances?

4) What are some not-so-good things about changing my use?

You may wish to chart these on a visual either as you record on paper or if you have a white erase board, anything to add the visual contrast.  You can also use this in a group activity as each member of the group records their answers.  The goal is to bring awareness and then ask, “What is your Vision for Healing.”  

Another substance abuse intervention that is helpful to begin to move the client forward is by asking the client to write a “Future Self Letter.” The brief narrative of the future self is a great intervention which can be used in either group or individual treatment setting. With a paper and pen, anyone can begin this exercise by visualizing what life could be like.

The instructions for this process begin by writing the letter.  Using a goal of abstaining from alcohol and substances for one year.  Date the letter one year from now and begin to write about how your life has changed.  Mention in your letter any problems you faced during the past year in giving up alcohol/substance use.  Describe yourself without alcohol/substance use as clearly as you can.  Write about what steps you took to get there and what personal strengths you pulled on to help you continue.  As you visualize yourself in the future without alcohol/substances, you can think about friendships, health, recreational activities, hobbies, self-esteem, employment or a promotion at your job.  If you prefer you can draw, sketch or paint a picture of this image of yourself in the future, rather than depicting in writing if you prefer to draw.  Also, note any changes and steps you have taken towards your goals that you have set.  

This process is very powerful in a group setting as each person shares, and the group can encourage each other as they share the “New Future Substance Free Person.”  Remember, the telling of the story is cathartic in itself.  Of course, as with all groups, it is important, to begin with, the group rules which most groups follow.  

This narrative process can be used in an individual session; it is important to allow the client to read the letter aloud if they are comfortable with this.  You may see some tears because it will bring up the desires of his or her heart which have been under the illusion of the substance use.  Many times as the client begins to see through clear lenses they will have that “awe-ha” moment, and a new desire to set clear intentions towards a personal goal will arise.  Healing takes place in the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual body. Therefore, the treatment plan should be balanced to address all of the areas impacted by trauma.  The client will gain an understanding that it is possible to move forward on a path to healing and self-realization.

Cinthia McFeature, Ph.D.



McFeature, B. & Herron-McFeature, C. (2017). Integrated health – HeartPath practitioner intervention and treatment for the trauma-exposed patient. Melbourne, Florida: Motivational Press, Inc.