Does an Intervention work and how do I do one?

In our experience interventions can work, but only if the addict or alcoholic is ready to get the help they need. Unfortunately, many people who are in the midst of their addiction also live in a state of denial. They tend to put the blame on others, or name outside circumstances as the cause of the negativity in their life instead of naming their drug of choice. Simply put, the addict is living in a distorted reality where their perception of life overrides factual evidence. Even when their own family and friends present the facts to them at an intervention, the addict may still refuse to accept it or take responsibility. A person usually needs to “hit rock bottom” before they acknowledge the problem, and that often means jail, hospitals, or institutions.

Go to rehab, or you are not welcome here

Some addiction field advocates suggest using “tough love” in your intervention method. This requires the family and friends of the addict to basically say, “Go to rehab or you are not welcome here”. Others support the “unconditional love” approach that avoids pushing addict into more shame/guilt or instilling the fear of losing their relationships should they refuse recovery assistance at the intervention. You will have to decide what intervention approach is most appropriate as it is case-specific.

In our experience a combination of not enabling the addict’s negative behaviors, and setting boundaries, works best. We may also need to overcome our own denial or negative stigma surrounding our loved one’s addiction. The sooner we overcome, and band together with our family/friends to hold the intervention, the better! Addiction is a disease, and a progressive one at that, which greatly affects the frontal lobe of the addict. It’s critical the intervention held in a timely fashion as it may limit or mitigate the potential to damage this choice part of the brain.

How do I proceed to an intervention?

A professional interventionist is a great resource for planning and holding interventions. He or she will typically help you prepare before the meeting, serve as a moderator during the intervention itself, and provide assistance in transitioning your loved one into a rehab program.

Even if the intervention fails, the events will still “plant a seed” in the mind of the alcoholic/addict that they have a problem. By witnessing first hand the measures that were taken to hold the intervention, the alcoholic/addict may feel less afraid or stigmatized about asking for help in the future.

If you are ready to proceed in holding a loved one’s intervention we suggest you don’t do it alone. Find strength in numbers and seek professional help. Interventions are more effective when an experienced person is on hand to guide the family and friends on participating in a loving and effective manner.

An intervention typically includes the following steps:

  • Make a plan. A family member or friend proposes an intervention and forms a planning group. It’s best if you consult with a qualified professional counselor, an addiction professional, a psychologist, a mental health counselor, a social worker or an interventionist to help you organize an effective intervention. An intervention is a highly charged situation with the potential to cause anger, resentment or a sense of betrayal.
  • Gather information. The group members find out about the extent of your loved one’s problem and research the condition and treatment programs. The group may initiate arrangements to enroll your loved one in a specific treatment program.
  • Form the intervention team. The planning group forms a team that will personally participate in the intervention. Team members set a date and location and work together to present a consistent, rehearsed message and a structured plan. Often, nonfamily members of the team help keep the discussion focused on the facts of the problem and shared solutions rather than strong emotional responses. Don’t let your loved one know what you’re doing until the day of the intervention.
  • Decide on specific consequences. If your loved one doesn’t accept treatment, each person on the team needs to decide what action he or she will take. For example, you may decide to ask your loved one to move out.
  • Make notes on what to say. Each team member describes specific incidents where the addiction caused problems, such as emotional or financial issues. Discuss the toll of your loved one’s behavior while still expressing care, love and the expectation that he or she can change. Your loved one can’t argue with facts or with your emotional response to the problem. For example begin by saying “I was upset and hurt when you drank, used drugs etc…”
  • Hold the intervention meeting. Without revealing the reason, your loved one with the addiction is asked to the intervention site. Members of the team then take turns expressing their concerns and feelings. Your loved one is presented with a treatment option and asked to accept that option on the spot. Each team member will say what specific changes he or she will make if your loved one doesn’t accept the plan. Don’t threaten a consequence unless you’re ready to follow through with it.
  • Follow up. Involving a spouse, family members or others is critical to help someone with an addiction stay in treatment and avoid relapsing. This can include changing patterns of everyday living to make it easier to avoid destructive behavior, offering to participate in counseling with your loved one, seeking your own therapist and recovery support, and knowing what to do if relapse occurs.

A successful intervention must be planned carefully to work as intended. A poorly planned intervention can worsen the situation — your loved one may feel attacked and become isolated or more resistant to treatment.

For assistance in finding a qualified interventionist please contact us at

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