family in treatment If you’re worried about a loved one’s drug use, you might be thinking about staging an intervention. Successful drug interventions can be incredibly impactful, but there are no guaranteed outcomes. Read on to learn how to hold an intervention, what to expect during and afterward, and the pros and cons, so you can decide whether it’s the right way to handle your unique situation.

What Is an Intervention?

A drug intervention is a planned process designed to encourage someone to enter treatment. It typically involves a group of loved ones approaching an individual about their drug or alcohol addiction. Ideally, an intervention helps by:

  • Increasing the person’s awareness of how their behaviors affect other people
  • Setting boundaries to limit or avoid any ways in which you or other people might be enabling the person
  • Compelling the person to acknowledge that they have a problem
  • Motivating change by seeking help

What Happens During an Intervention?

During an intervention, a group of dedicated loved ones confronts an individual about their addiction. They do a couple of key things:

  • Identify all the ways their substance use has affected them and the ones they care about
  • Demonstrate their support for that person seeking treatment
  • Set consequences should the person continue using drugs

Should You Hold an Intervention?

There isn’t a perfect answer to this question. Many times, people decide it is best to hold an intervention when their loved one:

  • Continues to use drugs despite obvious consequences in relationships
  • Has developed an increased tolerance for the drug, so they’re using more and more
  • Has legal issues related to drug use
  • Displays extreme mood swings
  • Struggles to function at school or work
  • Neglects family responsibilities, like taking care of their children
  • Isolates themselves from everyone
  • Continues to use drugs despite serious medical concerns

If you’re thinking about holding an intervention, there’s a good chance you aren’t the only one feeling this way. Talk about your feelings with other family members. What do they think about the issue? How have they tried to help? You might consider holding an intervention if you’re ready to stop enabling addictive behavior. Most enabling often comes from a place of good intentions. You want to support your loved one, and you don’t want to see them suffer. At the same time, enabling tends to reinforce addictive behavior. As a result of an intervention, you may no longer want to support your loved one financially or let them live at your house, for example.

How to Do an Intervention: Planning & Holding One

Interventions can be incredibly challenging. They are emotional processes that can trigger immense feelings of guilt, anger, fear, and confusion. That’s true for the person being confronted, but it can also be true for you and the other people holding the intervention. It’s important to plan the event well in advance.

Consider Using a Professional

A professional interventionist can help with planning and conducting the intervention. They also tend to have treatment resources readily available, which means they can offer options to the person on the spot. During the intervention itself, a professional helps keep things on track. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to lose your focus or let emotions get in the way of what you want to say. Since an outside professional doesn’t have a personal attachment to your loved one, they’re able to keep everyone’s emotions in check and stick to the facts at hand. If your loved one has a history of violence, mental illness, or suicidal tendencies, an intervention can be especially risky. A professional interventionist—or even therapist—has been trained in these types of situations. They will know how to react if issues arise. The Association of Interventionist Specialists has a professional interventionist directory. You can also reach out to local treatment programs, like Footprints to Recovery, and ask for recommendations.

Assemble Your Team

Think about all the people involved in your loved one’s life. Ideally, you should include friends, family, and close coworkers in the intervention. Do not include anyone who actively abuses drugs at this time. And don’t force anyone to join the team. how to do an intervention Before selecting anyone, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this person genuinely care about my loved one’s well-being?
  • Do I believe they have any influence over my loved one’s behavior?
  • Do I believe they are willing to uphold healthy boundaries and consequences if my loved one doesn’t seek help?

When you ask people to join your team, make sure to explain a little about what to expect. You could even send them resources, like this, so they can get prepared. When it comes to assembling the team, quality is more important than quantity. You want people who can commit to the process and follow through with their boundaries.

Gather Resources

If you haven’t already, take the time to learn about your loved one’s addiction and the recovery process. If you go into the intervention with knowledge about and compassion for what they’re experiencing and the options they have for treatment, they are more likely to take the intervention seriously. Presenting options will make it feel less like you are ganging up on them and may help them realize that you are here to help them. Think ahead about treatment programs in your loved one’s area. Contact the admissions staff to determine logistics like:

  • Insurance
  • Fees
  • Eligibility

Ideally, you want to prearrange all treatment accommodations should your loved one decide to seek help.

Create the Plan

Schedule the time, date, and location for the intervention. You’ll want to talk to your loved one when they’re sober (or relatively close to sober). Drugs will inherently impair their thought process, critical thinking, and memory. It’s important to make sure your loved one doesn’t know about the intervention. You will need to provide another reason to get them to meet you. For example, you might ask them to meet you for lunch. Or, you might ask them to come to a therapy session with you. Consider setting an intervention first thing in the morning. You might also consider holding one just after a significant drug-related incident, like an overdose or getting charged with a DUI. When it comes to the location, you may feel tempted to hold the intervention at your home. But home can feel overly emotional or overly comfortable. Instead, consider holding it at an interventionist or therapist’s office. It’s a neutral space for everyone, which lowers emotions. Finally, it’s important to outline the intervention process. Everyone should feel prepared before the event.

Ask Everyone to Write Their Letter and Speak in Turns

Have everyone on the intervention team list how the person’s substance abuse affects them. Because interventions can feel awkward and uncomfortable, it’s usually easier to read aloud than to speak without any notes. If you’re working with a professional, they will give you specific guidelines about what to include. Try to limit the letter to 1 to 1.5 pages maximum. The message should be clear and concise. While everyone should have a turn to speak at the intervention, it’s important to have a group leader or mediator. This could be a professional, such as an:

  • Interventionist
  • Therapist
  • Other clinician

If you won’t have the help of a professional, the leader could be an important family member or friend of the person with the substance use disorder. This person organizes and runs the intervention, so it stays on track.

Anticipate Various Reactions

People respond in all sorts of ways to interventions. Sometimes they’re relieved when the subject is brought up. They want help, and they feel grateful for the support. But other people can respond with anger. They may be defensive of their choices, or they might deny the problem and insist you’re overreacting. In extreme cases, they could walk out of the room entirely or become violent. Be mentally prepared for a range of reactions from your loved one. A professional interventionist can help you prepare to manage your own reactions in the moment.

Have Your Follow-Up Plan Ready

If your loved one does agree to seek help, tell them how you will support them. If you’ve pre-arranged accommodations with a treatment facility, contact them to get the intake process started. It’s important that you act immediately and without hesitation. Keep in mind that people can change their minds quickly, and you don’t want too much time to lapse between the intervention and treatment. If your loved one does not accept treatment, everyone should be prepared to set boundaries. You should know these boundaries ahead of time. They may include no longer supporting them financially, leaving the relationship, or cutting all contact. Make sure that you each clearly outline what will happen if your loved one does not comply with treatment. This can be the hardest part, and that’s why it’s so important to prepare for various outcomes ahead of time.

What Are the Pros and Cons to Consider?

The potential benefits of an intervention include:

  • Feeling validated that you’re not the only one concerned or angry with your loved one
  • Having the opportunity to express your needs
  • Honoring your integrity by choosing to stop enabling your loved on
  • Incentivizing your loved one to seek change

The potential downsides of an intervention include:

  • Being placed in a vulnerable and emotional position with your loved one
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, or angry with yourself before, during, or after the intervention
  • Undesirable outcomes, like your loved one refusing to get help
  • The risk that people (including yourself) might not follow through with consequences

Interventions can be a powerful process in helping your loved one recover from addiction. At Footprints to Recovery, we’re here to help you and your family during this time. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs or to get recommendations for interventionists.



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Things Not to Do During an Intervention for a Drug Addict or an Alcoholic

You’ve decided to stage an intervention to coerce your addicted or alcoholic loved one into receiving treatment. Hopefully, you’ve consulted our Intervention Guide or talked with a professional interventionist like Bill Lee, part of the Cornerstone team. Regardless, you’re determined to move forward, because your loved one’s addiction and/or alcoholism isn’t calling a time out or slowing down, and it’s only a matter of time before already serious consequences grow to catastrophic ones. Before you get started, however, there are some things to keep in mind, tips that you’ll want to pay attention to so that the intervention process isn’t derailed before it even begins.

  • Don’t choose family members, friends, or loved ones who are overly emotional. An initial intervention is designed to secure a simple “yes” or “no” from the addict or alcoholic, using individuals who have an emotional connection to them. However, addiction and alcoholism often drive those afflicted to harm the ones they love, and that harm comes with certain emotional consequences. Those who have suffered at the hands of the addict or alcoholic may feel extreme anger, frustration, or even rage, and if those emotions are expressed during the intervention process, things can get messy, complicated, and ultimately unproductive.
  • Don’t stage an intervention when the focus of it is likely to be intoxicated. You’ll want to schedule an intervention when he or she is sober — or as close to sober as possible. They’ll react more calmly and rationally, register everything that’s being said and be able to unequivocally answer “yes” or “no.” Holding interventions in the morning is a recommended time, or immediately after a drug-related incident such as an arrest or hospital stay when they’re likely to be influenced by the consequences of their actions.
  • Don’t hold an intervention at home. It’s too easy for the subject to retreat to a bedroom or bathroom and end the conversation, and private places tend to become more emotionally charged than public settings. A restaurant is a good place to hold such a meeting, because everyone involved will comport themselves accordingly, and there’s a time limit on how long the intervention can drag itself out.
  • Don’t go into an intervention without some sort of plan. Who is leading the intervention? In what order will the assembled individuals speak? It’s a delicate situation, and if it’s approached without forethought, the results may well present in the same manner — haphazard.
  • Don’t speak extemporaneously. Successful interventions are scripted affairs, so the more each speaker plans what he or she will say beforehand, the more effective it will be. Ad-libbing can often bring about unintended consequences when speakers are swept up in the emotions of the moment, and when tensions arise, they can undo all of the careful planning that’s gone into the intervention.
  • Don’t use your allotted time to impose guilt. Believe this: No one feels worse about their actions, decisions, and choices than the addict or alcoholic. To berate or belittle them isn’t the point of the intervention; the goal is to get them to agree to seek treatment. You can certainly talk about how their decisions and actions make you feel, but don’t use your own emotions as a cudgel to beat them into submission.
  • Don’t talk in generalities. The more specific you are about how your loved one’s addiction or alcoholism has affected you, the better. Don’t talk about all of the nights they came home late and drunk; talk about one night that had a significant impact, that was horrifying or devastating to witness, and then recount all of the details. Those specifics will have much more of an emotional impact that anything else.
  • Don’t negotiate. The only response you want from the addict or alcoholic is a “yes” or a “no.” If you agree to give them another week, or money, or anything else, then you’ve already shown that you’re willing to bargain, and in typical addict fashion, they’ll use that to their advantage. Remember: They’re in the grips of a cunning, baffling illness, one that has convinced them they’re not sick, and the disease will do whatever it can to convince them to avoid treatment as long as possible.
  • Don’t panic if things don’t go according to plan. They seldom do; addicts and alcoholics often react in unpredictable ways when forced to confront the realities of their drinking and using. They may leave the room, provoke an argument, break down sobbing, or lash out in ways that seem purposefully hurtful. Remain flexible and be prepared for anything, knowing that there are a number of reactions you won’t be able to predict no matter how hard you try. Stay on task, however: getting that “yes” or “no.”
  • Don’t give up hope. If the answer is a “no,” you need to be prepared to move into the next stage of the intervention process. Our trained intervention specialist, Bill Lee, specializes in arranging for more formal and steadfast interventions, and he can help you take this process to the next level.

Because it is a process. The best outcome, of course, is an immediate “yes,” and that does happen. But even with a “no,” that doesn’t mean the process is a failure; it just means you keep going — because your addicted loved one is worth it but more important, you’re worth it. Your sanity and your serenity have been jeopardized for far too long, and with the right methods and a substance abuse treatment center as the final destination for the addict or alcoholic in your life, you can get them back.

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What is an Intervention?

Before addressing how to do an intervention, it would be helpful to first understand what an intervention is. The definition of intervention in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: The act or fact of taking action about something in order to have an effect on its outcome. The definition of intervention in Oxford Languages is: Action taken to improve a situation, especially a medical disorder. Family First Intervention defines an intervention as an act initiated by a professional interventionist in conjunction with the family members and loved ones of a substance user. It aims to educate, create self-awareness, and alter unhealthy behaviors to encourage positive change for all those affected. It is as important to know what an intervention is and the most effective way to go about it as it is to understand what an intervention is not.

Professional Interventions Can Help

There are all types of interventions, including surgical, military, and governmental, among others. What they all have in common is an unbiased focus of the professionals on the people, place, or thing causing the situation that needs to be addressed. At no time do interventions resolve problems in and of themselves. Other issues may have to be addressed, and alternative guidance is almost always necessary. In other words, when we have a problem that needs to be confronted, we call in professionals to assist, acknowledging their expertise and experience. In cases of addiction, that is oftentimes not what happens. In fact, with addiction, solutions are often determined by those on the front lines, i.e., family members who may be overwhelmed and who possess only a limited ability at best to see the problem and a potential solution. At some point, it is inevitable that substance users will experience some form of intervention. Either a family initiates the process with the guidance and support of a professional or a societal intervention will take place. What this means is, there will be an end point to the chaos, and without a plan, it is anyone’s guess what will result. It has yet to be the case where substance users ask for help, enter a treatment center, or attend their first 12-step meeting because things are going well. This also rarely occurs when a substance user is part of a codependent enabling family system that directly or indirectly comforts the addiction. Enabling impedes the capacity to see the need for change. If family members are expecting the substance user to seek help and professional guidance, we can only hope they see the same need for themselves.

You are Unable to be Both the Professional Interventionist and the Family

A professional interventionist spends far more time helping the family rather than the substance user. Although a major goal is for the substance user to accept help and be escorted to treatment, there is far more to it than that. An intervention is not a motivational speech or an act of tough love. “Shape up or ship out” is not a solution. An addicted individual finds comfort in dismantling the family system while creating diversions that cause chaos and confusion. The problem is not solely the addiction, but equally, if not more, the family forming maladaptive coping mechanisms in reaction to the addiction. These, then, create resentments and turmoil among family members. When the substance user enters treatment, it is not uncommon for the family to go through their own emotional detox, thereby enabling the broken family system to correct and heal itself. This is why when a family forgoes an intervention or their own recovery, they frequently find themselves experiencing a repeat of similar crises months or years later. Although it may be possible for a family to inspire or “tough love” the substance user into treatment, they cannot administer self-therapy to fix the problems that created the environment inhibiting short- and long-term change. Families often explain how many times their loved one attempted recovery but to no avail. In all those situations, the common denominator was: the substance user sought help, but the family did not. In none of those conversations did the family allude to taking charge of their own recovery and doing things differently. Common statements we frequently hear include: “the treatment center didn’t work” or “until they are ready or hit bottom, it is a waste of time.” Fortunately, that is not true.

An intervention is not about how to control the substance user; it is about how to let go of believing you can.

How to do an Intervention: Guidelines and Takeaways

Professional interventions are not 12-step calls facilitated by people in recovery. Waving a finger at a family with a not too subtle inference of guilt and shame, telling them what to do and what not to do, is not an intervention nor does it provide therapeutic long-term change or growth. An intervention is not an event; it is a process. A professional interventionist along with the staff should seek to provide insights and solutions while promoting self-awareness among family members. Helping a family bridge to their own recovery program is part of the intervention process. Related Resource: A Complete Guide to Addiction Recovery for Your Loved One Finding support and reliable insight in how to proceed about the addiction is not easy. Society, with little to no facts, and family members on the front lines, even with good intentions, may not be the best source of information. Listening to non-professionals or emotionally affected individuals tell you how to do an intervention or how to address the situation may simply not be effective. Believing you have to wait for the substance user to want help or hit bottom is not only dangerous, it also fuels the victim mentality of codependency. You may not have control over your loved one accepting help, but you do have control over your response to the substance user’s behavior. When we protect other people’s feelings, we are in fact really protecting our own. Intervention is about what a family can do for themselves in response to the devastation brought on by the addiction. An intervention is not about how to control the substance user; it is about how to let go of believing you can. Each family member plays an unhealthy role in response to the addiction, a role that balances out the family system. A family cannot address or even see the underlying problems without professional intervention. Until this catalyst to a solution is discussed and agreed to, the situation is most likely to continue or return, regardless of whether the substance user goes willingly or is talked into treatment by a family member. It is a beautiful time when a substance user surrenders to professional treatment. It is equally beautiful when the family does the same.

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It May Be the Nudge People Need to Get Help

It is extremely painful to stand by and watch someone’s life be destroyed. Yet that’s the position family members find themselves in when a loved one addicted to drugs or alcohol denies having a problem. Until that person admits the need for help, there is usually little that can be done. Professionals who conduct formal interventions focus on helping family members and friends hold up a mirror to their loved one’s behavior, revealing the need to confront their addiction before hitting bottom—losing their job, health and family.

Share your Concerns

The power of an addiction intervention comes from having participants express concern and compassion for the alcoholic’s welfare, explains Mary McMahon, an intervention specialist for Intervention Services, Inc., in Edina, Minnesota. McMahon has family members and friends prepare for the intervention by writing letters to the alcoholic or drug addict. Family members then read the letters aloud at the intervention. This allows family members to express their feelings without threatening or blaming the addicted person. «A family member might say, ‘I love you and I care about you, but I’m concerned. These are the things I see happening to you,’» McMahon says. «Then I have each person tie their own feelings to the statements. They might give examples of times they were hurt by the alcoholic. For instance, a child may write, ‘You went to my basketball game and everybody knew you had been drinking; I was so embarrassed.’»

Stay Supportive

An intervention for alcohol or drug addiction should stress love and concern, McMahon adds. They should not take a negative, confrontational approach. «I hear so much of the latter—of people being beat up in the intervention,» she said. «If the person had any other illness, there’s no way we would do that.» McMahon offers a few guidelines for people considering addiction intervention:

  • Participants need to be educated about the disease of addiction prior to the intervention.
  • Letters should be concise, well-rehearsed, and should accentuate the positive.
  • Interventions should take place on neutral territory.
  • People invited to the intervention should include family members, close friends, and, when appropriate, employers or fellow employees.
  • Limit the intervention to about 60 to 90 minutes. At longer sessions, anger may flare up and compassion tends to decline.
  • Schedule an addiction evaluation to follow the meeting.

Help for your Family Most intervention subjects will agree to the evaluation, McMahon says. But of course that’s not always the case. «That doesn’t mean the intervention has failed,» she says. «Interventions never fail, because family members and friends get help, and the sooner they get help, the sooner their loved one will. The process plants a seed for recovery in the addicted person’s mind. It teaches family members about the disease of addiction, how they may be enabling the addicted loved one, and how support groups such Al-Anon can help them care for themselves.» Intervention: How to Help Someone Who Doesn’t Want Help, by Vernon Johnson, a pioneer in the intervention field, is a good guide for people considering intervention for addiction, suggests McMahon. In McMahon’s experience, the subject of an intervention is usually grateful for the care and support shown by family and friends. «I often have people sit there and cry and say, ‘I didn’t know what was happening. I’m sorry I’ve hurt you all. Thank God you did something for me because I didn’t know what to do myself.’»

Discuss your Situation

If you call the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation to request an intervention, an addiction specialist will help you think carefully about whether the process is right for your family. There are times when a formal intervention is advisable. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation does not have interventionists on staff, but we can provide you with information and contacts for professional intervention services. Audra Franchini

Authored by Audra Franchini

Interventions do not involve the dramatic events portrayed in the media, and when properly executed, can help begin the path to seeking drug treatment.

If you have a family member struggling with addiction, you may reach the point where you need to get involved and help that person get treatment for their disease. Alcohol and drug addictions have the potential to cause severely damaging consequences to users. Often the individual’s behavior directly harms those close to him or her as well. This is often when family members will attempt to rally together and figure out how to do an intervention. It’s not a decision that should be taken lightly, but under the right circumstances it can be the best way to create a turning point for your loved one. In recent years, reality TV has presented an overdramatized view of interventions. In fact, over its nearly 200 episode run, AMC’s Intervention ended with a 64% success rate. This is far worse than the 90% rate claimed by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, when a professional is involved in the planning and execution process. It is important to bear in mind that even if the person is not immediately receptive to treatment, the intervention itself can still be jarring enough to make them eventually come to terms with the seriousness of their addiction.

How to Do an Intervention: 7 Steps

  1. Contact a professional.

    When assembling family members and deciding where, when and how to do an intervention, it is important to first seek out a drug treatment professional for guidance. A therapist or clinician who has experience with addiction can help make sure the necessary steps are properly and carefully laid out, making the intervention process as smooth as possible. It is especially important to involve a professional if the person has a history of mental illness, has suicidal or violent tendencies, or may be abusing several mood-altering substances concurrently.

  2. Prepare and present a drug treatment plan.

    This step is crucial. Do research about rehabilitation or treatment centers in your area. Some of these may specialize in alcohol or various drug addictions. You should prepare yourself with the best options for your loved one. Coming together to tell the person that they have a problem will not be enough to get him or her to quit their addiction. Whether it is a list of support groups to join, a survey of outpatient programs that are available, or an inpatient rehab program nearby, have your resources ready before the day of the intervention. It is also a good idea to have a concrete plan of how to get that person into treatment; who is going to drive, how will they pay for it, etc. In this case, the more details planned out ahead of time, the better prepared you are for how your loved one responds to this serious event.

  3. Choose a team.

    A small group is preferable, maybe five or six people who are close to our patient. Family members, intimate friends or coworkers, anyone who the consequences of this person’s addiction have affected negatively. It is important you avoid anyone who the subject does not like or may be upset to be confronted by. The idea is to facilitate a conversation focused around support and love. Similarly, you should leave out anyone who may become too emotional or has a history of defending the subject or enabling their addiction. Instead, have them write a letter that another intervener can read aloud. Before the meeting, everyone involved should be brought up to speed on how you have organized the intervention and on what they can expect from our patient in question.

  4. Choose a location.

    It is best to hold an intervention somewhere the person will feel comfortable, such as the home of a family member. Be sure to schedule it on a day that everyone will be able to attend. It is a great idea to hold a trial run. Everyone can go over what they are going to say. This will better prepare you all for the real thing when it comes time. In order to get the guest-of-honor to attend, it may be necessary to draw them in under the guise of a normal or innocuous get-together. Depending on the person and the nature of their addiction, choose your approach carefully. However, always be honest throughout the whole process.

  5. Get the person to admit they have a problem.

    Just getting someone to state aloud that they are an addict and have a problem that requires outside help can be a huge step. If the person refuses to admit this, you can have everyone in attendance take turns listing evidence of a problem. Tell stories of instances when the person’s addiction had negative impacts on your life. It is a cliche that nevertheless remains true: admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

  6. Have consequences and stick to them.

    It is important that family members stick to the plan laid out by the clinician you have contacted for assistance. If the person refuses treatment, there should be consequences to convince them of the severity of their predicament. This could be as simple as cutting off financial support. This could also be as serious as ending a relationship that the subject’s substance abuse has been negatively affecting. Anyone at the intervention who has enabled the person’s addiction in any way should take this opportunity to rectify that. Laying down consequences for someone you love can be challenging. An addiction specialist may be especially helpful in this arena.

  7. End things on a positive note and reinforce your treatment plan.

    Emphasize that the intervention was organized out of love and compassion for the person in question and that everyone involved wants to help him or her to get treatment for a problem that is negatively impacting everyday life. Reinforce the love and support that you have for this person, now and throughout the entire recovery process. Keep bringing everything back to the treatment plan and the merits of the professional help you have organized. Make sure that the person understands the severity of the problem. Also, make sure the see the potential benefits of receiving professional drug treatment. RCA is available to aid in the addiction treatment process. Call 1-800-RECOVERY to schedule your intervention.

Authored by Audra Franchini

Audra Franchini

Audra Franchini holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing & English. As RCA’s Senior Communications Manager, Audra creates impactful content for RCA’s website, advertisements, and internal and external communications to drive awareness to the disease of addiction and the importance of seeking help.

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