How to Hold an Intervention for a Loved One

An intervention can be formal or informal, but the goal is to have you or a loved one confidently enter professional addiction treatment. Knowing the right way to hold an intervention will help set you up for success. Here are some tips and strategies.

In this article:

What is an Intervention?

Interventions are a mechanism by which you can communicate with your loved one about their addiction and the effect it has had on you and others in the person’s life.

An intervention is an opportunity for friends, family, and even colleagues to tell the person first-hand how their drug or alcohol use has caused issues, affected relationships and work, and more. It’s also a planned process in which you and others try to convince your loved one to quit using alcohol or drugs or to attend a substance abuse treatment program. An intervention should be done in a non-threatening, respectful way to cultivate interest in treatment-seeking behaviors.

What is the Goal of an Intervention?

The goal of a drug addiction intervention is to convince your loved one to enter professional detox and substance abuse treatment in a compassionate and nonjudgmental manner.

If your loved one is receptive to the intervention, then the next goal is to help them find an appropriate drug or alcohol addiction treatment program for them that can address their unique needs and challenges.

How to Stage an Alcohol or Drug Intervention

You may choose to stage a substance use intervention that requires you to confront your loved one. One method of intervention, called the Johnson Intervention, is sometimes described as both a personal and confrontational approach led by one or several family members. Before you consider using this method, remember that it is best used with those who do not believe that they have a substance use disorder that requires attention.

Steps in this process include:6

  • Select and train the team: Everyone you select to be part of this team, friends, family members, employers, and/or coworkers, needs to understand the situation and agree to adhere to the same objective(s).
  • Provide a script to each team member: The script is specific to behaviors connected to the individual’s substance of choice and is an honest expression of potentially deep-seated feelings.
  • Set a boundary: Enabling behaviors are destructive, and, therefore, each participant in this intervention needs to establish a boundary unique to them.
  • Establish an action plan: Several questions need to be asked and answered during this step regarding which insurance is accepted, cost, treatment facility selection, childcare, property care, pet care, or other boundaries to treatment.
  • Make an appointment at a treatment facility: You can do this by calling up local rehabs and seeing what their availabilities are.
  • Decide the time and place: Hold the intervention somewhere other than the individual’s home.
  • Conduct a rehearsal: Rehearsing provides a space to evaluate team members’ scripts, train them, better understand the disorder more completely, and ensure that everyone is approaching this task from a supportive stance. Predetermining an order can sometimes be useful.

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What Types of Interventions Exist?

There are three main types of drug addiction interventions, including:

  • Invitation Model or Systemic Family Intervention: Emphasizes a family-oriented approach to drug and alcohol misuse by including your loved one’s entire support network in a workshop led by a professional
  • Field Model of Intervention: Involves confronting your loved one without their knowledge, facilitated by a crisis-trained interventionist who can intervene in the event of a violent or erratic reaction
  • Johnson Model: Involves the family and a professional interventionist confronting your loved one about their substance addiction and how it has affected them and others

What to Avoid During an Intervention

Below is a list of stigmatizing, shaming, and blaming words and phrases to avoid when interacting with someone who has a substance use disorder:11

  • Addict
  • User
  • Substance abuser/drug abuser
  • Junkie
  • Alcoholic
  • Drunk
  • Former addict
  • Reformed addict
  • Habit
  • Clean
  • Dirty

You will also want to make sure to avoid confrontation or blaming them for their substance addiction. Instead, approach them with respect, love, concern, and compassion. Be honest and direct but also be understanding of their situation, empathizing with their struggle and challenges. Remember that addiction is not a choice—it’s a complex condition caused by many different factors.

You will also want to avoid being reactionary if your loved one becomes defensive. Make sure you have calm responses that you have rehearsed so you are prepared. Take a few deep breaths, don’t interrupt them, and avoid accusing them of anything or calling them names. If they provide reasons they can’t go to rehab, offer support that can make it easier for them to get the treatment they need. You may even want to offer to attend therapy with them so they can see that it’s a team effort—not you against them.

Hiring a Professional Interventionist

Sometimes it can be beneficial to hire a professional interventionist because you or others are uncertain as to how to hold an intervention, need tips for intervention, or even need to learn intervention strategies that you are not intuitively aware of.

Hiring a professional interventionist can help you have a successful intervention so that your loved one agrees to enter treatment. For example, you may require someone to help keep everyone involved focused and may want to rely on their skillset if either you or the family member use multiple substances, have a history of violence or suicidal or even self-harming behaviors, or have been diagnosed with a severe mental disorder like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

There are several ways to begin looking for and gaining access to a professional interventionist, including:

  • Get a referral from a therapist or medical staff
  • Ask members of your support system
  • Contact your insurance provider
  • Search on the internet
  • Contact a spiritual leader
  • Ask a social worker at a rehabilitation center or hospital

A wide range of professional interventionists are appropriate to assist you in seeking substance use disorder treatment:

  • Nurse educators
  • Nurses
  • Physicians
  • Psychiatrists
  • Licensed clinicians (psychologists, LMFTs, LCSWs, LPCCs)
  • Social workers
  • Substance use counselors

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Strategies for a Successful Intervention

Strategies for holding a successful intervention may include:

  • Planning the intervention in advance: It can take weeks to appropriately plan an intervention. Give yourself the time to do it right.
  • Planning when to hold the intervention: Setting a specific time and date can not only set you a deadline when preparing but also allow you to choose a time when your loved one is least likely to be intoxicated.

Conducting thorough research: Make sure you to research your loved one’s substance misuse or addiction so that you understand it.

  • Appoint a point of contact: Having one person act as the point of contact for all members of the intervention can ensure solid communication and goal-setting.
  • Communicate to everyone: Communicate to everyone that will be included in the intervention by sharing your research and plan so there are no surprises or missteps.
  • Rehearse the intervention: A rehearsal can be a good way to get the kinks out of the process and establish order.
  • Stay on track: Don’t change the plan mid-intervention. Stick to what you and your support system have planned and rehearsed, no matter your loved one’s reaction.
  • Request an immediate decision from you loved one: Don’t give them time to consider treatment. This is often used to continue denying their addiction or to go on a dangerous binge. Ask them to make a decision now, once the intervention is done. Offer to help them look for a rehab program in the area or in a preferred location.

 

Call 800-926-8143Who Answers? to find out more information on how to hold an intervention. Our treatment support specialist can also point you toward quality rehab programs for your loved one once they are ready.

Resources

  1. Seaman, J. (2013). The Process of Intervention.
  2. Smith, P.G., Morrow, R.H., & Ross, D.A. (2015). Field Trials of Health Intervention: A Tool Box, 3rd Edition.
  3. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2016). Facing Addiction in America.
  4. Harm Reduction International. (2022). What is Harm Reduction?
  5. McLellan, A.T., Lewis, D.C., O’Brien, C.P., & Kleber, H.D. (2000). Drug Dependence, A Chronic Medical Illness: Implications for Treatment, Insurance, and Outcomes Evaluations. JAMA, 284(13), 1689-1695.
  6. American Psychological Association. (2022). Johnson Intervention.
  7. Rural Health Information Hub. (2022). Opioid Treatment Program (OTP).
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (3rd Ed.).
  9. McCarty, A., Braude, L., Lyman, D.R., Dougherty, R.H., Daniels, A.S., Ghose, S.S., & Delpin-Rittmon, M.E. (2014). Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Programs: Assessing the Evidence. Psychiatry Services, 65(6), 718-726.
  10. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2022). MAT Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Words Matter – Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking About Addiction.
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