An intervention is a meeting where a small group of family and friends confronts a loved one about their addiction. The end goal of a successful intervention is typically to convince the person to seek treatment. If the person refuses, the group usually carries out a previously agreed-upon set of consequences.

When Is An Intervention Necessary?

When you have a family member who’s dealing with substance abuse or addiction, an intervention can be one way to convince them to seek treatment. It’s often a last-ditch effort that happens when all other options have failed. Whether you go it alone or with help from a treatment center, planning is key to a successful intervention.

Who Are Interventions For?

Interventions are often used to address alcoholism and drug dependence, but you can also use them for harmful behaviors like gambling addiction, eating disorders, food addiction or another type of substance addiction.

An intervention is primarily for the person with alcohol or drug addiction. It’s a way to hold up a mirror to the person’s behavior and show them the effects of their addiction. Interventions also help participants by giving them a chance to explain how they’ve been harmed.

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When Is the Right Time for an Intervention?

Addiction can take a serious toll on family members, friends and colleagues, but it’s not always easy to identify the right time for an intervention. Some warning signs include:

  • Engaging in risky behaviors: This includes risks to the person or others. Examples could include drunk driving, missing work, starting bar fights or instigating domestic violence.
  • Denying the addiction: It can be difficult to accept addiction. If your loved one denies they have a problem or refuses to see how their behavior is affecting others, an intervention may be a valuable wake-up call.
  • Deceptive behavior: People with addiction often lie to the people around them to cover up their actions. Over time, this behavior can escalate to stealing and other illegal activities.

In many cases, an intervention happens when friends and family simply can’t tolerate the addiction-related behaviors any longer. At some point, even the closest family members may reach a breaking point — especially if the subject’s behavior has repeatedly caused fear, emotional pain or physical danger. The intervention is an opportunity to remind the person how much they’re loved but also to set strict boundaries going forward.

Reasons Not to Stage an Intervention

Interventions aren’t always a good idea — done incorrectly or at the wrong time, they can do more harm than good.

Before you start planning, consider the emotional state of the participants. It’s normal to feel angry, frustrated and hurt by a loved one’s addiction, but those feelings shouldn’t take center stage, or else it will result in a failed intervention. If you don’t think you can hold the intervention without attacking or berating the person, it’s probably best to wait.

Interventions are most effective when everyone is willing to:

  • Educate themselves about addiction
  • Agree on a treatment program
  • Agree to consequences if the person refuses treatment
  • Commit to enforcing the consequences

If your group can’t agree on those points, you might want to reach a consensus before proceeding. This is harder than it sounds, particularly when loved ones have been unwittingly enabling the addict’s behaviors. It’s especially difficult for parents, who may be afraid that serious consequences will lead to jail time or a broken relationship.

Who Should Conduct an Intervention?

You can conduct an intervention yourself, or you can hire a specialist to do a professional intervention. Typically, one person leads the intervention.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for who should lead the intervention. Ideally, it’s someone the person with addiction respects, such as a parent, close friend or sibling. The leader should be able to run the session with compassion while managing their own emotions.

You can also hire an intervention specialist who can manage the process with objectivity.

Reasons to Hire an Intervention Specialist

An intervention can be emotional for everyone involved. This is particularly true if friends and family are afraid for their loved one or if their lives have been impacted negatively by the loved one’s addiction.

If you don’t feel ready to manage an intervention for any reason, an intervention specialist may be able to ease the burden. Professional interventionists are trained in planning and managing the process so you can focus on getting through to the subject.

You might also consider a professional interventionist if your loved one has:

  • Multiple substance-abuse issues
  • A current struggle with mood-altering drugs
  • Mental health struggles
  • Suicidal ideations
  • A history of self-harm
  • Violent or abusive tendencies

In addition to managing the session, professional interventionists can also help educate friends and family about addiction. They can explain the codependent and enabling behaviors that may be affecting the situation.

Planning an Intervention

Careful planning is essential for an intervention — by thinking through all the possibilities, you can come up with the most persuasive and effective strategy.

Choosing an Intervention Team

The intervention team usually consists of the people closest to the person with addiction. It might include family members, close friends or close coworkers. If the person has a strong relationship with their church, you might include a spiritual leader.

In general, it’s best to keep the intervention team small. That way, it feels more like a conversation and less like an attack.

When you’re choosing people to be on the team, avoid anyone who:

  • Can’t control their emotions or anger
  • Has a bad relationship with the subject
  • Is unable to agree to the consequences
  • Is likely to undermine the process
  • Refuses to stop enabling the subject

This is not to be unkind — by restricting the team to people who can proceed with love and firm boundaries, you can have a bigger impact.

After you choose a team, decide as a group who should be the leader. If no one feels equipped, consider bringing in a professional interventionist.

Educate Yourself About Addiction

Once your team is in place, it’s time to arm yourself with information. Read up on the specific type of addiction or substance use disorder your loved one is dealing with. Understand that it’s not a moral failing but a condition that’s affecting the person’s brain chemistry.

Take extra time to read about enabling and codependency — this process can help participants understand how they might be contributing to the problem. With that awareness, it’s easier to identify the necessary consequences.

Set Goals and Agree on Consequences

The goal of an intervention is to get the person to enter treatment for their addiction. As a group, it’s helpful to come up with treatment options in advance. That way, you’re ready to present them at the intervention.

Not sure where to start? Call treatment centers for assistance. Alternatively, you can talk to a substance abuse organization, a local 12-step program administrator or a local hospital. With their help, collect information on appropriate local programs.

As you research different options, ask questions like:

  • When is the next opening?
  • How much does the program cost?
  • How long is the program?
  • Is the treatment residential or outpatient?
  • What is the admission process like?

Once you find a program that has an opening, check to see if your loved one’s insurance will cover part or all of the treatment. You can also ask the facility about possible financing options.

When your treatment options are in place, it’s time to talk about the consequences you’ll enforce if the person refuses treatment. The specifics will vary based on the situation, but the goal is to find consequences that protect you and stop enabling the addiction.

If the person has been engaging in dangerous behaviors, you may need to cut them off from your children. If they’ve been stealing, they may not be welcome in family members’ homes.

As you think about consequences, it helps to identify your own enabling behaviors. You may need to stop giving the person money, require them to move out of your home or stop covering for them to their employer or law enforcement.

It’s important that everyone in the group is prepared to enforce these consequences. A united front makes it harder for the person with addiction to manipulate any one person.

Think of it as setting boundaries — if your loved one refuses to accept treatment, you must protect your well-being. Plus, when you take away enabling factors, it forces the person to deal with the natural consequences of their behavior.

Decide Where and When to Hold an Intervention

The location is an important part of an intervention. It should be a place the person feels comfortable, but not overly so. It must also be a place you can get them to without arousing suspicion. The home of a family member may work well. Interventions can be emotional, so it’s usually best to avoid crowded public places.

As you’re planning, choose a time when the person is likely to be in the clearest mental state. An intervention is usually a surprise; this ensures the person doesn’t refuse to attend or arrive with rehearsed answers. However, if you think your loved one is open to it, you can consider using an invitational intervention model.

Write a Script

Are you nervous about the intervention process? It may help to write a script. It doesn’t have to be a word-for-word script — a detailed agenda will do. Decide who will speak and in what order. Each person should make notes about what they want to say.

The script helps you stay on topic, especially if emotions are running high. The leader of the intervention should be prepared to stop tangents and bring the discussion back to the agreed-upon topics.

While you’re at it, write down responses for the objections your loved one is likely to have. If you think they’ll be worried about childcare, come up with a plan or volunteer to share the responsibility. If they’re likely to cite work obligations, find an outpatient rehab program that meets in the evening. When you meet every objection with a solution, you take away plausible excuses for not entering treatment.

Rehearse the Intervention

Before you hold the intervention, get the group together and rehearse what you’re going to do. Decide how you’ll sit, and practice what the leader will say to start the actual intervention.

This rehearsal might seem silly or uncomfortable, but it’s an important step. During the intervention itself, participants may be emotional or nervous; the prior practice can help the process run more smoothly.

What to Expect at an Intervention

Every intervention looks different. If you hire an intervention specialist, they may prefer a specific intervention model. Some commonly used models are:

  • Johnson intervention: This model is probably what you think of when you imagine an intervention — each participant expresses how much they care for the person and then explains how the person’s addiction has negatively affected them. You can take it further by extrapolating what’s likely to happen if the person continues on a similar path. This model may be most effective for people who deny they have a problem.
  • ARISE model: The ARISE model unfolds in stages. In Stage 1, a concerned loved one contacts an intervention specialist, who helps set up a support network and a first meeting with the subject. In Stage 2, the specialist facilitates up to five more meetings. If the person doesn’t enter treatment, Stage 3 involves a formal intervention with serious consequences.
  • Systemic family intervention: During this type of intervention, the subject and the entire family system participates in a series of educational and therapeutic sessions with a trained intervention specialist. The goal is to help family members see how they’re enabling the addiction and help the person with addiction see how they’re affecting the family. This method may work for people who are ready to accept addiction treatment.

If you’re hosting the actual intervention, you can design a custom model. Typically, the participants arrive early. When the subject arrives, the team leader explains what’s happening and asks the person to stay.

At this point, the leader might explain that everyone is gathered in support and wants the person to get help for their addiction or substance abuse disorder. Everyone in the group gets a chance to address the subject directly, often by reading an intervention letter.

An intervention letter typically expresses love and explains how the person’s addiction has hurt the writer. It may lay out specific incidents and behaviors and express fears for the future.

At the end of the intervention, the leader can present the subject with the treatment plan. This is also a good time to explain the consequences for not entering addiction treatment. If the person agrees, you can start dealing with practicalities right away.

What to Do If the Subject of an Intervention Refuses Treatment

Interventions aren’t always successful. If your loved one refuses treatment, your next step is to enforce the consequences. Start immediately, and stay firm in your convictions as a group.

Do you need help planning an intervention or finding treatment programs? Our team at Camelback Recovery can help — call us today at 602-282-0141 to talk to a specialist.

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