Last updated: 06/8/2021
Author: Michael E. Wolf, PhD
Reading Time: 8 minutes
An intervention is a process in which you come together with friends and family to approach a loved one regarding their drug or alcohol addiction. As a group, you help the addicted individual to recognize the negative effects their substance use has had on those around them. It’s important to approach the intervention from a place of compassion, open communication, understanding, and patience. The ultimate goal is to motivate your loved one to make a positive change and to convince them to enroll in a substance abuse treatment program. It is also an opportunity to let your loved one know that you will no longer be a part of enabling addictive behavior.1,2
Table of Contents
Why Is an Intervention Important?
An intervention is important in helping an addicted person acknowledge that there are issues and to accept help from outside treatment resources. It is an effort to build on love and concern for someone who is experiencing a drug or alcohol addiction. Working together, an intervention can help in refocusing your family member’s efforts to achieve recovery. This is essential for your loved one to accept assistance instead of refusing or postponing treatment.3
Who is Involved in an Intervention?
It is important to choose the members to participate in the drug intervention carefully. It should be five or six people who are caring and willing to participate fully in the intervention. This can include close family members, friends, and coworkers. It is important to choose someone who has a genuine relationship with your loved one and positively influences them. Anyone struggling with substance use issues should not be included.1
In planning an intervention, it is important to consult with someone who has professional experience with interventions. This may be a counselor trained in alcohol and drug use who is not emotionally connected to your family member.5
An interventionist has the knowledge and experience to prepare you and your family members for a successful intervention. They can recommend the best approach, and if they attend the intervention, they can facilitate the conversation and mediate to keep emotions under control.5
This person can help arrange for treatment if the person agrees to get help. This is an extremely helpful step, as many people may avoid seeking treatment because they aren’t sure which program to choose or what to look for in a program.
How to Prepare for an Intervention
There are specific steps to follow in preparing for an intervention. You and the other members of the intervention group will meet to discuss the important factors to keep in mind during the drug intervention. These include:1,5
- Craft a plan: This involves setting a schedule for a specific time of day and location. Learn about substance use, addiction, and recovery. Meet with a substance use counselor or interventionist, if that’s part of your plan.
- Write an impact statement: Each member in the intervention should write a letter that they will read aloud to the person in the intervention. Everyone participating in the intervention should say something about the person’s struggles with addiction. These personal statements should detail how the addiction has harmed them and those around them. Written statements about the impact on relationships can help the person with addiction understand that their drug use affects more than just themselves.
- Offer help: Those attending the intervention need to be willing to support the decision to go through detox, rehabilitation, and recovery. It is important to plan for the best-case scenario involving your loved one. At the same time, it is also important to realize that your family member may refuse help and that you should not pressure them or shame them into treatment.
- Set boundaries: If your loved one refuses treatment, relationships must change. Commit to ending co-dependency and enabling. Be clear about the consequences of refusal. Establish a reasonable bottom line.
- Follow-through: If the person accepts help, it is important to be ready to follow through with that help. Otherwise, the person may not enter a rehab program and trust between you could be broken.
- Rehearse the intervention: Practice the intervention at least once before the actual event so that you feel comfortable come time for the actual intervention.
What Happens During an Intervention?
On the day of the intervention, those in the intervention group will meet with the family member who has an addiction. If a professional interventionist is present, they will be introduced. Then, each member of the group will read their impact statement. The instructions for the addicted person will request that they listen to each statement completely before responding.2
Start with love and support. Describe specific behaviors that have occurred that have negatively affected each one. These may include:7
- Impaired driving
- Missed family functions
- Missed work
- Reduced contributions at home
Detail physical consequences: Emotional and financial damage caused by addiction may not be enough. It will help support your arguments with facts about the negative impact of continuing substance use on their physical health as well.
Outline treatment options: Discuss how treatment works and what to expect.
State the consequences of refusal from the intervention: Consequences may help a loved one accept the recommendations. At the end of the drug intervention, you will ask your loved one to respond to the request to enter treatment within 48 hours.
How to Respond During a Drug Intervention
What to Do
As challenging as an intervention can be, there are several things you can do to provide the best chance at getting your loved one to agree to enter treatment. When you are holding an intervention, it is important to be honest, genuine, and compassionate. Your loved one is in a lot of pain and needs your sensitivity in helping them cope.2
Your family member may react negatively and become defensive and angry. They may attempt to justify their behavior or give excuses about why now is not a good time to enter treatment. They may also deny that they have an addiction or need help.
When you respond to them, remember to speak from the heart, offering love and support. Talk about addiction as a condition that is a treatable condition. Remind your family member that they are not a bad person but have an addiction that needs help.
Express yourself calmly and constructively without anger or judgment. Express concerns for your loved ones and how you want them to live a healthy, happy life free of drug and alcohol abuse. Offer support to your loved ones as they begin a journey of recovery. Let them know that you are there for them every step of the way.
Use “I” statements to avoid attacking the person, such as “I feel upset” or “I feel worried.” It is important to avoid being accusatory. Be genuine and honest during the intervention. Remain calm during the intervention so that the goals can be achieved and the person can get help.1
What Not to Do
The focus should not be on shaming or blaming your loved one. You need to emphasize your love and support for the individual and that you want them to get help. Do not bring up past behaviors that your loved one has committed. You don’t want them to feel alienated or persecuted.
Do not accept excuses from your loved one. Stick to the bottom line you established before the intervention. Agreeing to negotiations and accepting excuses will not be helpful. Make sure you do not label your loved one as an alcoholic or an addict, as these terms can be stigmatizing. Instead, use specific examples of behaviors and their negative effects on your life.
What Happens After an Intervention?
After the intervention, the person can decide to either enter treatment or reject the opportunity. If it is refused, then the family and friends who arranged the intervention must carry through with the consequences of that refusal. This may mean not allowing the person to live at the family home, cutting off financial support, or any other consequences that you outlined.
The other choice that your loved one can make is to accept help with their addiction. If that is the decision, the person needs to be ready to begin treatment within 48 hours. If they choose to enter a treatment program, your family member will spend time going through detoxification and treatment for their addiction.7
Before the intervention, family and friends, along with any intervention professional, will choose a detox program to help manage unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and medically stabilize your loved one. Detox is essential because withdrawal symptoms from a drug can be extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous, depending on the substance.
Detox is the first step in the recovery process. Continued treatment is necessary to make long-lasting changes and address the root causes of the addiction.
Drug Treatment Programs
Addiction treatment programs occur on an inpatient or outpatient basis. During inpatient programs, your loved one will live on-site for the duration of the program, which can help them focus solely on their recovery without the distractions of their at-home environment. Outpatient programs involve attending therapy at a facility and then returning home in the evening. Regardless of the setting, a drug treatment program will include several important components, such as:
- Individual therapy: This involves working with a therapist to help someone understand the reasons behind their substance use. It also helps replace negative drug-seeking behaviors with healthier behaviors.
- Group therapy: A therapist facilitates a group counseling session in which people work on sober social skills and drug refusal skills. People also share their stories related to substance use and support one another.
- Family therapy: A person’s family is their support system, and relationship issues need to be addressed. Family therapy can help people work out their differences and rebuild connections.
If you have a family member with a substance use disorder and you want to help them find treatment, please call 800-926-9037 (Who Answers?). Our rehab support specialists can help you find the right program for them.
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Intervention: Tips and guidelines.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012, September). Alcohol and drug addiction happens in the best of families.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, July 10). Treatment and Recovery.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014, March 31). Lessons from Prevention Research DrugFacts.
- Mayo Clinic. (2017, July 20). Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 17). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014, June 20). Mental and Substance Use Disorders.