An Intervention Overview

Many people who struggle with addiction refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem and resist any suggestions that they need professional treatment.

If someone in your life fits this description, you may be deeply concerned about their welfare but unsure how you can help.

One option you may have considered is staging an intervention. In the right circumstances, an intervention can be extremely beneficial. But before you decide to take this step, it’s extremely important to educate yourself about how to prepare for and conduct a safe and successful intervention.

What Is an Intervention?

An intervention is a structured, planned event that is conducted for the purpose of convincing a loved one to get treatment for a substance use disorder (which is the clinical term for addiction).

Typically, an intervention consists of a small group of close family members or trusted friends sharing how they have been impacted by their loved one’s substance use, often accompanied by a clear request for the person to enter a treatment program.

Who Should Participate in an Intervention?

Participation in an intervention should be limited to adults who have a close personal relationship with the person who is the focus of the event. There is no set limit on the number of people who should be involved in an intervention, but it’s best to keep the group relatively small so that everyone has the opportunity to share their concerns.

Many people also choose to involve a member of the clergy, a therapist or counselor, or a professional interventionist. This person can serve as a mediator and ensure that everyone follows the agreed-upon procedures for the intervention.

How Do I Prepare for an Intervention?

Topics to consider while preparing for an intervention include:

  • The list of participants
  • Whether or not to include a professional
  • When and where to hold the intervention
  • Who will speak, and in what order
  • What you hope to accomplish during the intervention
  • How to respond if the person reacts with hostility

Prior to the intervention, all participants (except for the person who will be the focus of the event) should meet to ensure that they understand the purpose of the intervention, the procedure the group will follow, and the goal they hope to achieve. If the objective is to get the person to immediately enter treatment, participants should research options and contact treatment facilities before the day of the event.

People who will be speaking during the intervention should write down everything they want to say, as if they were writing a letter to the person. They should practice reading this letter out loud ahead of time. This will help them remain focused during the actual intervention.

What Happens During an Intervention?

Every intervention is a unique experience, but it’s important to establish a procedure ahead of time and stick to it. Common elements of interventions include:

  • Expressing concern for the person’s health and well-being
  • Acknowledging that the person is in pain, and emphasizing the unconditional love and support of all participants
  • Reading the letters each participant has written
  • Clearly stating that the person is in crisis and needs to get professional help
  • Sharing information about treatment programs and facilities that seem to be a good fit for the person
  • Getting the person to commit to enter a treatment facility or program

Depending on the preparations you’ve made and the response of the person for whom the intervention is being held, the event may conclude with the person being driven to a treatment center to start receiving care.

What Should Not Happen During an Intervention?

In addition to knowing what to do during an intervention, it’s equally important to understand what behaviors to avoid. For example:

  • Do not allow the discussion to turn into an argument. Remember that the person who is the focus of the intervention is in crisis, and they may respond with anger. Prepare yourself to respond calmly and compassionately.
  • Do not make value judgments. When writing your letter, focus on specific ways you’ve been affected by the person’s struggles, and express how these experiences made you feel. But don’t attack or judge them for how they have acted in the past. Remember that addiction is a disease that can rob a person of the ability to control their thoughts and actions.
  • Do not issue any ultimatums. This is not the time to tell the person that you will cut them out of your life or otherwise punish them if they don’t get treatment. An intervention can be a difficult discussion, but it should always come from a place of hope and potential, not recrimination.

Perhaps most importantly, if the person refuses to enter treatment, don’t abandon further efforts to help them. Keep the lines of communication open, continue to offer your support, and plan to revisit the topic of treatment when appropriate.

How Can I Learn More?

Sierra by the Sea is proud to be a trusted source of valuable information for adults who need treatment and the loved ones of people who are struggling with substance use disorders. For additional information about how to convince a treatment-resistant person to get the professional help they need, please contact us directly at your convenience.

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Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– Michelle Beaudoin, MA, MFA, NCC, CADC-II
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