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Updated on August 25, 2022
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What is an Intervention?

An intervention is where the loved ones of an addicted person confront that person on the need for treatment. It is usually done in consultation with a doctor or addiction counselor.

A member of the person's faith can be there to provide support as well.

It might also include an interventionist to direct the conversation. An interventionist is an expert on mental health and addiction. It is a recognized profession within the addiction treatment field. 

A professional interventionist may hold an advanced degree in psychology or social work. Certifications are required. They can specialize in various areas, such as alcohol abuse, drug addiction, or mental illness.

When interventions are carefully prepared and done with the guidance of a competent, trained specialist, loved ones are usually able to convince the person with substance use disorder that the only choice is to accept help.

- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Interventions are effective in dealing with a variety of issues.

Types of interventions include confronting a person about:

  • Alcohol addiction
  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Illicit drug use
  • Compulsive eating
  • Compulsive gambling
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What Happens During an Intervention?

The most common type of intervention is the direct method. In the direct method:

  • Loved ones gather to confront the person and ask that they accept treatment.
  • They provide specific examples of the person’s destructive behavior and its impact on them.
  • The person receives an offer of a prearranged treatment plan with clear directions about the next steps. 
  • Loved ones describe what will happen if treatment is refused.

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How Do Interventions Work?

Though no two interventions are alike, the guidelines are often the same. Interventions include the following steps:

  1. Create a plan. An addiction professional can create a plan for how to proceed.  
  2. Gather information. Research should be done into the nature and extent of the problem. Available treatment options must also be considered.       
  3. Form a team. Planners reach out to other invitees to discuss what comes next.  A rehearsal intervention might be helpful. Everyone should agree to keep the intervention details secret from the addicted person.
  4. Determine consequences. Decide what to do if help is not accepted.
  5. Use notes. Each attendee speaks about how the person’s behavior has affected them. Notes can help keep the conversation focused. They make it easier to talk about emotional topics.
  6. Stage the intervention. Invite the person to the intervention without discussing the reason. During the intervention, each person expresses their concerns and feelings. Then, the participants ask the addicted person to accept the offer of treatment. 
  7. Follow up. A follow-up course of action is planned to help those involved move forward after the intervention.

There must be careful planning and execution for an intervention to work. If not, it can result in the subject feeling attacked and refusing help.

The better planned and executed an intervention is, the more likely it is to succeed.

Who Should Be a Part of the Intervention?

People in attendance at an intervention include those who are important to the person with the disorder. It's usually four to six family members or friends the person loves, respects, or depends on.  

Part of planning an intervention includes deciding who should come.

Though the list of attendees may vary, those who should not attend an intervention include:

  • Anyone who the person with the disorder dislikes
  • Those with substance abuse or mental health issues of their own
  • Those who used drugs or alcohol with the person
  • Anyone who might not be able to stay on track and only discuss pre-arranged topics
  • Anyone  might sabotage the intervention

If someone important in the person’s life cannot attend, they should write a letter. Review it in advance and read it to the person with substance use disorder during the intervention.

It's not necessary to have an interventionist in attendance at the intervention, but it may help. 

Families may lack the vocabulary or experience to convey to the addicted person the need for change. The addiction may also be causing tension between the addicted person and the wider family. 

In these situations, the interventionist can act as a mediator. This ensures the discussion remains productive and does not turn into an argument. 

Here are some other reasons to hire an interventionist:

  1. The addicted person has a mental illness — Alcohol or drug addiction often coincides with mental illness. This can include depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, among other disorders.3, 6

An interventionist can help the family understand the issues the addicted person is facing. They can also help the addicted person get admitted to a dual diagnosis treatment facility. These facilities specialize in treating both addiction and mental illness.

  1. Rehab has been tried before — If the person has been to rehab before and relapsed, it may be time for a new approach. An interventionist can help the family strategize to ensure a positive outcome.
  2. The person has a violent history or is suicidal — Alcohol or drug addiction can make a person’s state of mind fragile. They may be more anxious and impulsive than usual. If confronted with their actions, they respond with anger. 

If they turn the anger outward, they could be violent; inwardly-directed, they could be suicidal. An interventionist can help participants frame statements to avoid triggering negative emotions.

Contact a professional if there is any chance the addicted person will react violently.

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Tips for Holding an Intervention

Plan ahead to allow quick action if the person accepts treatment. For example:

  • Discuss the best treatment options with a professional and have a specific program in mind
  • Find out if the person's insurance provider covers treatment
  • Gather information about the admission process for the chosen program
  • Make travel arrangements. Consider packing a suitcase for the person with substance use disorder.

A successful intervention does not involve vague promises to get help. It's about immediate action based on discussions in the intervention. Do not give the person time to think about accepting treatment. 

Prepare in advance to get them an evaluation if they agree.

Things to Avoid During an Intervention

As emotionally charged as an intervention might be, it's essential to have a plan in place. Know what to avoid when confronting a person with substance use disorder.

For instance, interventions should not:

  • Occur in the spur of the moment
  • Be so elaborate that people can’t participate or understand what’s required of them
  • Be overrun by “organizers” or “leaders” – one point person works best
  • Include a bitter attack on the person – take action from a place of love

Participants should do research so they understand the various aspects of the issue. Everyone should agree in advance to stick to the plan and focus on the agreed-upon best outcome. 

No matter the response, participants should remain calm and keep the conversation on track.

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What if the Intervention Doesn’t Work?

Unfortunately, not all interventions have the outcome loved ones are hoping for. Even with intervention and discussion of serious consequences, a person might still refuse help.

Sometimes it’s necessary to try an indirect intervention. This involves family members interacting with the person in a gentler manner. An indirect intervention allows loved ones to deal with the person in a manner conducive to healing.

Another option is a forcible intervention. In this case, the addicted person is forced into treatment.

This doesn't mean the intervention has failed, though. One of the benefits of interventions is it brings the person's loved ones together. This allows them to agree to no longer enable destructive behavior. 

This way, the person is more likely to get the help they need in the future.

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Updated on August 25, 2022
6 sources cited
Updated on August 25, 2022
  1. Association of Intervention Specialists - AIS - Certified Interventionist.Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS), 24 July 2019.
  2. Boles, Sharon M., and Karen Miotto. “Substance Abuse and Violence.Aggression and Violent Behavior, vol. 8, no. 2, 2003, pp. 155–174.,
  3. Cerullo, Michael A, and Stephen M Strakowski. “The Prevalence and Significance of Substance Use Disorders in Bipolar Type I and II Disorder.Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, vol. 2, no. 1, 2007,
  4. Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction.Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 20 July 2017.
  5. Substance Use Disorders.NAMI, 2020.
  6. Winklbaur, Bernadette. “Substance Abuse in Patients with Schizophrenia.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, vol. 8, no. 1, 2006, pp. 37–43.,

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