How to Stage an Intervention in Seven Steps

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If you love someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you are already aware of the power of denial. Addiction changes an addict’s brain in ways that make them prioritize their drug of choice at the cost of the people and things they value most. Part of that prioritization is to pretend that there is no problem, so they can justify their continued substance abuse.

Staging an intervention can help cut through this denial, so that your loved ones suffering from addiction come to accept their problem and the need for treatment. The following guide will show you how to stage an intervention to give you the best chance of success.

So, what exactly is an intervention?

An intervention is a planned, structured meeting where a group of people intervene on behalf of someone they love who persists in abusing drugs or alcohol despite suffering negative consequences from substance abuse. It is also a way for family and friends of an addict to overcome behaviors that enable their loved one’s addiction. There are many different styles of interventions, from tough love to a gentler approach, and which one is right for you will depend on your loved one’s personality and situation. The goal of all interventions is to get the addicted loved one into a recovery program for treatment.

A Step by Step Guide on How to Stage an Intervention

1. Form a Team

Most interventions involve five or six people who share a deep love and concern for their addicted loved one. You want to include enough people to make an impact, but not so many that the addict becomes overwhelmed. You also want to consider how the addict views these individuals. You want to involve friends, family, and coworkers who the person loves and respects. Avoid including individuals who are too emotional to stay focused, or who will likely make the intervention all about themselves.

You may also want to include loved ones that the individual would have a hard time talking to about addiction treatment. The fear of having to call up a favorite aunt or grandparent to tell them about going into recovery can actually prevent some people from seeking treatment, and that obstacle is automatically removed by having those people present at the meeting.

Once you have chosen your intervention team members, you should decide on a leader, or liaison, to take charge of the team.

2. Educate the Team

Staging a drug intervention requires the team members to understand the problem at hand. By researching addiction, the addict’s drug of choice, and the specific physical and mental symptoms your loved one is probably suffering, you can ensure that every member of the team approaches the intervention from an informed, compassionate perspective.

You also want to educate the team about how to stage an intervention, and what sort of preparations they will need to make. Everyone should have a list of points they want to discuss regarding their loved one’s substance abuse. If anyone is worried that they won’t be able to speak through their emotions, advise them to write a letter that they can read out loud at the intervention. Individuals who are unable to attend can also write a letter that one of the team members will read for them. Everyone should use as many “I” statements as possible—as in, “I’m worried,” or “I feel”—to keep the intervention target from feeling attacked and becoming defensive.

3. Plan the Logistics of the Intervention

At this point you need to plan the logistics of the intervention, such as where and when it should be, and how you expect to get your addicted loved one to attend. This will likely involve some degree of deception, as an individual suffering from addiction will not readily agree to an intervention. Think carefully about location. While staging an intervention in the addict’s own home may help them to feel more comfortable, you may wish to hold it in a neutral location such as a community room or a therapist’s office if there is a chance the addict may react violently—although luring the addict to these kinds of locations while preserving the element of surprise will be more difficult.

You should also carefully consider the time of the intervention. It is often a good idea to stage an intervention early in the day, to catch the addict while they are still sober.

4. Set the Intervention Goal

The goal of staging an intervention is to get your addicted loved one into treatment. To effectively achieve this, you can’t leave the next step up to the addict. Make their transition into treatment smooth and easy by researching rehab facilities in advance and planning out travel arrangements so that the addict will not have time to reconsider and back out before actually checking into a program.

As part of the goal-setting process, you will need to look into insurance coverage and find out about treatment cost and payment plans. You should also be prepared to take all the necessary steps to check your addicted loved one into a program after the intervention, and to answer any questions your loved one may have about treatment. You want to avoid any uncertainties that could discourage the addict from accepting help.

5. Rehearse the Intervention

To make sure everything goes as well as possible, you should rehearse the intervention in advance. You should determine and practice the roles of each team member, decide who will explain what’s going on to the target, and plan ways to handle a range of potential reactions from your loved one. You should also be prepared to spell out specific consequences that the team will enforce if the addict chooses not to get help. These should not be stated early on as “threats,” but rather be a line in the sand that you will draw calmly, but firmly, if necessary.

6. Hold the Intervention

Proceed with the intervention as planned, making sure to communicate your love for the addict, and letting them know that you will be available to support them through every step of their recovery process. Present evidence to break through the addict’s denial, present the treatment plan, and explain that everything is ready to go the moment the addict says yes. If necessary, as a last resort, also explain the consequences that will be enforced if your addicted loved one will not agree to treatment.

7. Follow Up

Be prepared to take immediate action after the intervention to make sure your addicted loved one agrees to proceed with treatment. This may mean physically escorting them to the treatment center, or simply checking in with them until it happens. Make sure to continue your support of the addict’s recovery through calls and visits to the rehab facility, and by attending therapy sessions if your loved one wants you to.

Six Tips for Staging an Effective Intervention

1. Be Prepared

Do your best to anticipate possible reactions and plan for how you will respond. Keep alert in case of unexpected or violent reactions, and depending on the individual, you may want a phone on hand to call 911 if needed.

2. Control your Emotions

Never use abusive language or become physical during an intervention. Do not attack the target or approach them with anger. Maintain focus on the goal: helping your addicted loved one reclaim their life and regain their health.

3. Use Open, Warm Body Language

It isn’t enough to control the emotion in your words; you also need to watch what you communicate through body language. Clenching your fists, gritting your teeth and crossing your arms will betray your frustration and anger. Try to breathe deeply, stay relaxed, and make eye contact with your loved one

4. Be Careful About Giving Them Money

While it’s fine to make a financial contribution towards your loved one’s addiction treatment, be careful not to send them off on their own with a great deal of money. Make sure they have just enough to get them where they’re going, and that a loved one or a rehab facility coordinator will supervise their journey to the facility location.

5. Tips For an Intervention for Addicted Young Adults

If your addicted loved one is under 21, involve as many family members in the process as possible. They need to feel the understanding, support and acceptance from loved ones to whom they may feel too ashamed to speak about substance abuse. Let their secret out in the open, and then show them that they are still loved.

6. Tips For an Intervention for Addicted Parents

If your addicted loved one is a parent, then their children need to be involved in the intervention process—though not necessarily directly. If a child is under age 10, or is not mature enough to confront the harsh realities of the intervention, it may be best to keep them from attending and only involve them by speaking about them, or by reading a letter they wrote (or dictated). Weigh how much the child’s presence might benefit the addict against any harm the intervention might do to a child who has already been hurt by their parent’s substance abuse.

Why You Should Consider a Professional Intervention

There is a great deal of planning and preparation needed to stage an intervention, and a great many unknown factors that you might encounter on the day of. A substance abuse treatment professional, whether they are a recovery consultant at the treatment facility you hope your loved one will check into, or an independent professional interventionist, will have the resources, training, and years of experience to effectively handle any given situation that may arise through this important process.

A recovery consultant or intervention specialist can help you plan the event, while providing insights to help make the intervention more effective and to clear up any confusion you may feel. They can coach you through the preparation process, let you know what to expect, and then facilitate the actual intervention so things proceed smoothly. They can also advocate for you and your addicted loved one by liaising with staff at the rehab facility before and even during and after treatment.

The cost of hiring a professional interventionist can vary widely depending on location, ranging from a thousand dollars to several thousand, and is almost never covered by insurance. However, some treatment facilities have their own intervention specialists on staff that can fill the same role for a smaller fee that is more likely to be covered by insurance. Either way, you may decide that the cost is worth it, as intervention success rates greatly increase with professional guidance.

If you know or see a professional counselor, you can ask them for a referral to find an intervention specialist. If not, you can start your search with the Association of Intervention Specialists. Make sure that whatever professional you hire has at least a Master’s Degree in counseling, experience conducting interventions, and certification as an addiction counselor and interventionist.

Plan for the Best but Prepare for the Worst

Ideally, your intervention will proceed exactly as planned, and your addicted loved one will agree to check into a rehab facility. If so, you will need to have a treatment option or options you can immediately facilitate for the addict. It’s best to have all the treatment details, logistics, and arrangements settled in advance. The longer you wait to take action, and the more you leave up to chance, the less likely your loved one will actually receive the treatment they need.

On the other hand, you need to be emotionally prepared for the chance that your addicted loved one will stubbornly stay in denial, and/or refuse to accept treatment. If this happens, your intervention team will need to stay strong and enforce the consequences that were explained to the addict during the session. Keeping your word without giving into the person suffering from addiction will increase the possibility that your addicted loved one may change their mind and agree to seek treatment after all.