New Drugs

Staging a Drug or Alcohol Intervention

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What is an intervention?

Often, when a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it may be difficult to make a person suffering from addiction realize how harmful the addiction is. Convincing them to go for help can be a daunting task. They are often in denial, refusing to acknowledge that they have a problem. Besides for the addiction ruining his or her physical and mental wellness, thus shortening their lives, the people in their lives are negatively affected too. Drug and alcohol addicts will display altered behaviors such as irrational actions, and drastic mood swings. Parents, spouses, children, friends and workmates can all be concerned for, and suffering from the addicted individual, all at the same time.

An alcohol intervention, opioid intervention, or a drug intervention is where a group of the family and friends of a person suffering from substance use disorder  join forces to stop the negative behaviors. They plan out a meeting and then invite their loved one, where they each describe how harmful the behaviors of the addicted indvidual are, and then demand that he/she goes for help. They have a clear and detailed plan for  recovery which he/she must follow. The goal is to be loving and supportive and show him/her that there is a path to recovery and an addiction-free life.

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Is intervention a good idea?

The question really is, when is an intervention needed? An intervention can be a very good idea, but only if it’s needed. If a serious talk by a family member, friend, mentor, religious mentor, or a therapist is enough to convince a person suffering from substance use disorder to get clean, then that route should be tried first. An intervention is usually a last resort, only to be used when there is a consistent lack of acknowledgement of the problem at hand.


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Who to invite on the intervention team?

A typical intervention has between 4-6 people who the person battling addiction loves, respects or depends on. This includes family members, friends, workmates or mentors. Screen the subjects carefully and don’t invite: someone he or she  dislikes, someone who may derail and ruin the intervention, someone who may have an unmanaged addiction or mental health issue, or anyone who used drugs or alcohol with the subject of the intervention.

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Planning an intervention

  1. Work with a professional: When planning an intervention, it could be beneficial to consult with a specialist. Who to contact for an intervention: an alcohol intervention specialist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a mental health counselor, a social worker, or a professional counselor. There are also alcohol intervention programs where professionals understand addiction and how it affects the loved ones of the person abusing drugs and know how to guide you through the process to a successful intervention.
  2. Form a group: Find the people closest to the person you are trying to help and ask them to join the intervention. Set a time and date for the meeting, as well as a location. Keep in mind that the intervention will be the most effective if staged at a time when the addicted individual is sober.
  3. Do research: Research as much as you can about the addiction. Look into different treatment options, rehab programs and addiction specialists. Make a detailed plan for  recovery including which rehab program they can attend. Have one person as the point of reference between all the team members.
  4. Write down what you’ll say: Have notes on what to say at the intervention. Practice using ‘I’ statements, expressing emotion and hurt, and staying away from blame and insults. Discuss how each member is affected by the abuser’s behavior emotionally, financially or even physically.
  5. Come up with consequences: Every member of the intervention must prepare a consequence for the subject of the intervention, should they choose not to go ahead with the recovery plan. Make sure that every team member is prepared to carry out the threat. The point is to end codependency and enabling behaviors that allow the addiction to continue. This could include a spouse warning to move out of the house or a boss explaining the real possibility of termination.
  6. Be supportive: Every member of the intervention should plan how they will offer support through the recovery. If the plan is to encourage attendance at AA meetings, offer to drive them there. If the plan is to attend a rehab center, offer to take care of the children.
  7. Rehearse the intervention: This event could invite a lot of emotion, anger, self-pity, and blame. Rehearsing  the intervention in advance will help avoid that. It will allow everyone to arrive composed, making it more likely to for the intervention to be a positive experience.


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What to do at the intervention

During the actual meeting, every team member will have rehearsed what they will say. The intervention specialist will often be the one hosting the intervention, especially if the subject of the intervention  is at risk of committing suicide or has a history of violence or serious mental illness. The specialist can also ensure that the meeting stays on track, and doesn’t get derailed by anger, emotion, blame or insults.

Invite your loved one struggling with substance use disorder, without revealing the reason for the meeting. Every member of the team has a turn to talk about their feelings and explain how the loved one’s behaviors are disruptive and harmful. The addict is then presented with a treatment plan and is told that they must accept it immediately. Don’t give him or her a chance to think about it, as it can lose momentum. Then, each member explains changes that will happen should they fail to accept the recovery plan.

It is vital to follow up on the consequences that were planned in advance in the event of refusal. Failure to do so can cause  more stress, diminishing the likelihood of recovery.

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What NOT to do at an intervention

  • Don’t hold the intervention at home. This allows the addict to retreat to his bedroom/bathroom easily and the conversation can become more emotional. Rather, have the meeting at a public venue, or at a specialist’s office.
  • Don’t plan the intervention for a time when they  are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They will not be coherent or rational, and in the wrong frame of mind for such an intense meeting.
  • Don’t arrive at the intervention unprepared. Plan in detail the order of when every member will talk, what every member will say and the general flow of the meeting.
  • Don’t blame, get angry, or use accusatory labels like ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic.’ Stick to the facts, and the negative emotional effect that the addict has on every member. Humiliation, guilt, and blame will not get the desired results since the addicted individual likely feels embarrassed already. Additionally, recovery can only take place when the addict is fully supported by their loved ones.
  • Don’t negotiate the terms of the recovery plan. The intervention subject must reply ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the plan and may not negotiate more time or money.

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Expecting the outcome

Very often the interventions in the media show  acceptance of  the treatment plan, without pushback or protest. This is not always reality. It’s important to expect any reaction, and plan to remain calm and composed, demanding a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. They may stall for time, negotiate the plan, argue about what was said at the meeting, break down sobbing, or react violently. Once again, if he or she refuses the treatment plan, every member on the team must immediately carry out the planned consequences that were discussed at the meeting.

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Different types of interventions

There are six different types of intervention models that one may choose to follow:

  • Crisis intervention: Usually involves the police offering clinical resources- such as a rehab center- to the addict. This method is used both for substance use disorders or for a mental health disorder.
  • Brief intervention: A one-on-one meeting with the addicted individual and a medical professional. These drug interventions typically take place in the hospital (after an overdose or other medical scare), in the doctors’ office (when an exam reveals harm to the body because of the substance use disorder), or at school (when they suspect their student is abusing substances).
  • The Johnson model: Loved ones plan the intervention, as outlined above. They show support and love, while insisting on acceptance of the treatment plan, or facing the consequences.
  • ARISE: Similar to the Johnson model but involves the whole family and is less confrontational.
  • SMART: This stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-specific. It is sometimes used for a community intervention or can be adapted as the follow-up for the Johnson model intervention.
  • Family systemic intervention: This is an intervention that addresses the whole family of the addict, urging them to receive individual or family therapy and other support. This can change  codependent patterns, ultimately causing them to receive help.


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Intervention tips

  • Work together as a team. Make sure that every member is clear about every stage of the meeting and updated on any changes prior to the intervention.
  • It’s important to present a solid treatment plan. Do your research well and speak to highly qualified and experienced professionals. Find out which rehab centers have the highest success rate, if the addicted person has insurance that will cover the cost, and prepare the admission process, such as the evaluation and insurance pre-certification.
  • Anticipate their arguments, and have a clear, calm, and rational response to counter them.
  • Make the appropriate travel arrangements, such as booking a train/ airplane ticket and even packing a suitcase, so that they can take immediate action.
  • Remember that it is not guaranteed that the outcome will be positive. Prepare yourself not to be disappointed. Even if the intervention is not successful, there are other steps that the family and friends can take in order to stop the enabling behaviors and encourage their loved one to seek help.

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When your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it affects everyone around them. In order to save the person you love who is struggling with addiction, as well as protecting those around them, every measure should be taken, including an intervention if all else fails. An intervention is painful and may even feel cruel, but in reality, it is the first step towards recovery and healing. Plan the intervention well and make sure to have a solid recovery plan involving a reputable rehab center with a high success rate.

To learn more about dealing with an alcoholic or supporting a recovering alcoholic, read our useful resources.

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