A substance use disorder intervention or a drug intervention is an organized approach by family members and close friends of someone who is suspected to have some type of addiction issue. The goal of the intervention is to convince the person to get treatment for their problem.
Interventions are often represented in the media as confrontational, essentially an attempt to force the person to seek treatment. This confrontational approach may not be productive.
A successful intervention should be well planned, and it should only include people who are very close to the subject of the intervention. It should be run by someone who has experience in this type of approach, such as a trained interventionist or a professional mental health clinician like a therapist or an addiction medicine physician.
Although there are many different formats that can be used in a drug intervention, the most effective interventions are basic and to the point. The team should present realistic options for treatment and consequences if the person does not agree to enter treatment immediately.
Once the overall mode of treatment (inpatient or outpatient) is determined, you will also be involved in developing an overall treatment plan with your treatment providers. An intervention can be performed by just one person, but it is often more effective to have several people involved.
Only people who know the subject of the intervention well and who are directly affected by that person’s substance use should be part of the intervention team. Most often, this will include family members, close friends, and others who have a close personal relationship with the person, such as coworkers or supervisors.
It is generally not advisable to include children or individuals under the age of 16, although in very rare cases, it might be helpful. Even though the intervention should not be coercive and confrontational, things can get rather intense. Children and adolescents can be deeply affected by such an experience.
The number of individuals on the intervention team can vary. Typically, it should not include more than 10 to 12 individuals. Often, 3 to 9 team members is ideal.
When people want to organize an intervention for someone with a substance abuse problem, they often have a subjective goal in mind, and their understanding of the situation is very one-sided. This typically involves how the person’s substance abuse is affecting them. They don’t often understand why the person continues to abuse drugs or alcohol when it is obvious that the behavior is self-destructive.
Many prospective team members do not understand the art of negotiation, particularly negotiating with someone who is invested in abusing drugs or alcohol. This can lead to the intervention failing or not even being performed at all.
During an intervention, emotions run high. If you are close to the subject of the intervention, it’s likely that you may lose your focus if things get heated. You need a leader to keep the event on track. Since an outside professional does not have the same stakes as the other team members, this person can be vital to keeping things focused on the overall goal. This means a higher likelihood that the event will be a success.
In many instances, the best approach is to seek professional assistance. This can be in the form of a professional interventionist (someone who is certified in performing interventions) or a licensed mental health professional, such as an addiction medicine physician or therapist who specializes in addictive behavior. In most cases a professional interventionist will be your best bet.
If you go this route, the professional will take the lead and guide you through the planning process. Although there is a cost associated with this service, it is generally well worth the investment.
The Association of Interventionist Specialists hosts listings of professional interventionists. You can also consult prospective treatment programs and ask for recommendations.
Maybe you know your loved one has been abusing drugs or drinking too much, but you wonder if it actually warrants a full intervention. Oftentimes, you can start with a simple one-on-one conversation with your loved one. If this conversation is not productive, staging an intervention may be appropriate.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offer some suggestions that can guide you to determine if an intervention is warranted in your situation:
In these cases, an intervention is warranted.
Interventions require meticulous planning and practice. We’ve outlined the general parts of an intervention below.
The specific format of the intervention you stage for a loved one will depend on the particular situation. Ideally, a professional interventionist will help you nail down the details.
Avoid these things during an intervention:
If your loved one agreed to enter treatment, you likely feel a huge sense of relief. But your involvement is crucial, particularly during the early stages of your loved one’s recovery.
Inquire with the treatment center about the level of involvement that is allowed. Some centers restrict visitors in the first few days or weeks of treatment. Others encourage family involvement from the start.