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How to Do an Intervention: Your Guide

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.

How to Do an Intervention: Your Guide
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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.

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.

How to Do an Intervention: Your Guide

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:

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.

Questions about treatment options?

Our admissions team is available 24/7 to listen to your story and help you get started with the next steps.

David Szarka
Medically Reviewed by David Szarka, MA, LCADC
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