Drug & Alcohol Addiction Interventions: How to Stage an Intervention
By The Recovery Village
Medical Reviewer Jenni Jacobsen, LSW | Editor Theresa Valenzky
Last Updated: May 16, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
Knowing how to stage an intervention is important if you have a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction, as it can be the first step toward their recovery.
When loved ones live with an addiction, friends and family members may consider holding an intervention to express their concerns and encourage their loved one to seek treatment.
Interventions offer a unique form of addiction help that can create positive change for the addicted person and their loved ones. Interventions do come with risks, so people interested should make informed choices and consider working with a professional to ensure the intervention is as effective as possible.
What Is an Intervention?
A drug intervention is a structured and planned process that culminates in a meeting. During this meeting, friends, family, coworkers and other important people speak honestly and directly to the person with the addiction to share their concerns.
By communicating the negative effects of the person’s addiction and substance use, the loved ones hope to encourage the person to seek formal treatment. If the person with the addiction refuses treatment, loved ones come to the meeting prepared to outline the consequences of this decision. These could include family members asking the person to leave home or communicating that they will no longer be a part of the person’s life unless they enter a rehab program.
When Is An Intervention Necessary?
With any substance abuse treatment, early interventions are best. This means it’s helpful to have an intervention at the first signs of addiction.
Alcohol Addiction Intervention
The diagnostic term for an alcohol addiction is an alcohol use disorder. Individuals with an alcohol use disorder experience lasting brain changes from alcohol misuse. They will have difficulty cutting back on drinking, even if they desire to, and will drink even when it is dangerous or causes health problems. People with an alcohol use disorder may experience withdrawal symptoms like tremors, nausea, sweating and sleep problems when not drinking. Someone showing these signs of alcohol addiction may require an intervention to encourage them to seek treatment.
Drug Addiction Intervention
When someone has a drug addiction, treatment professionals will diagnose a substance use disorder, which is the clinical term for an addiction. Some signs of a substance use disorder include being unable to stop using drugs, continuing to use drugs even when it disrupts work or interferes with important relationships and giving up other hobbies and activities in favor of drug use. When a person begins showing these signs, it may be time to conduct an intervention before the addiction grows more severe.
Types of Interventions
Just like therapy, there are different types of interventions that people can use to convince a loved one to seek addiction treatment.
The Simple Intervention
A simple intervention is a one-on-one confrontation in which a single person approaches a person with an addiction to express their concerns. If you have a person in your life, such as a parent, child, sibling, friend or spouse, who lives with addiction, you might consider speaking to them one-on-one to encourage them to seek treatment.
The Classical Intervention
The classical intervention is probably what most people picture when they think of drug and alcohol interventions. This is the traditional intervention method in which a group of concerned loved ones comes together collectively to confront a loved one about their addiction.
Family System Intervention
You have probably heard people state that addiction is a family disease, and there is some truth to that. Sometimes, a person’s addiction continues because family members engage in enabling behaviors, such as providing the person with the addiction with money or hiding their addiction for them. A family system intervention addresses the behaviors of the entire family to help them stop enabling addiction.
Crisis interventions are born out of necessity soon after a dangerous situation occurs. These interventions may lack the planning and structure of others. At a crisis moment, such as after a drug overdose or an arrest, family members may come together to convince a person it’s time to seek treatment.
There are different types of interventions and various specific intervention models.
The idea behind a Tough Love Intervention is that the person’s addiction will improve if family members stop enabling them. This intervention is often employed when a person’s addiction has led to severe consequences, such as violent behavior or multiple arrests. Family members come together to tell the person with the addiction they must get help or significant changes to the person’s life will result. This could include being asked to leave their home, losing custody of their children or losing relationships through divorce or breakup.
The Confrontation Model refers to an intervention approach in which a person is asked, on the spot, to go to treatment. Family members come together and confront the person with a surprise meeting to share their concerns and offer the person the opportunity to get treatment. This approach typically requires a person to go to treatment immediately following the meeting.
Johnson Model of Intervention
The Johnson model of intervention involves caregivers confronting a person about addiction. With this model, you determine which individuals from your loved one’s social life are willing to participate in the intervention. The group comes together for two planning meetings to learn about the consequences of enabling addiction and develop a plan for the intervention. Your group then holds the intervention meeting with the help of a professional, confronts the person about substance misuse and asks them to seek treatment.
The Love First Intervention model occurs in three phases. During the first phase, loved ones come together and receive training on the Love First model, including how to write a letter to express their concerns to their loved one. They also provide historical and background information on the person with the addiction. In the second phase, the intervention team reads their letters and edits them to rehearse for the intervention meeting. The team also plans for multiple scenarios that could occur during the intervention, including the person with the addiction refusing to participate.
Finally, in phase three, the intervention meeting is held, with the clinical interventionist leading to answer the person’s questions and manage any denial or resistance. During this meeting, loved ones read their letters to the person with the addiction, expressing their concerns. If necessary, the interventionist calls upon loved ones to read their “bottom line letters,” which spell out the consequences of not seeking treatment. The underlying goal of a Love First Intervention is to come from a place of love and concern so that a person wants to go to treatment.
The Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) intervention model teaches families how to communicate with someone who misuses substances, practice self-care and use positive reinforcement to encourage healthy behaviors. The model also teaches the family how to get a person with an addiction to seek treatment, but it does not use surprise confrontational meetings.
The ARISE intervention method is considered an “invitational intervention.” With this method, family meetings increase in intensity over time to guide your loved one toward seeking treatment. The person with an addiction is invited to meetings from the start, so there are no surprises. Contrary to a more confrontational approach, ARISE is gentle and loving.
How to Stage an Intervention
Interventions are complex productions and, because of this, require a multistep approach. It’s important to formulate an intervention team and engage in planning before holding the intervention.
Finding Your Intervention Team
No one can complete an intervention single-handedly; they need a team. The best teams are composed of a professional and a group of people dedicated to the well-being of their loved one. Some may prefer only a family intervention and omit the professional, but interventions may be difficult to carry out without a trained and experienced intervention specialist.
You can contact a local addiction treatment facility to find a professional who can carry out an intervention. Beyond this, it is important to consider who will make up the rest of your intervention team. Often, the people closest to the person with the addiction, including parents, siblings, spouses and close friends, are a part of the team. Children may also participate in an intervention, when appropriate.
Things To Say and Not Say During an Intervention
As planning develops, people will wonder what to say during the intervention and what not to say to an addicted person. Of course, there are no universal words for a successful intervention, but people should focus on:
- Speaking plainly, clearly and honestly
- Showing emotions like anger, frustration, confusion and sadness caused by substance use and addiction
- Communicating the negative influence addiction has had on all parties
- Offering words of love, support and encouragement
- Stressing hope and optimism that the situation can improve through sobriety
At the same time, people should avoid:
- Losing their message due to becoming overly emotional
- Physically lashing out against the addicted person
- Provoking the addicted person to become violent or aggressive
- Lying or deceiving the addicted person
- Overly focusing on certain aspects of the past that have little to do with addiction and substance use
- Arguing with the person with the addiction
In interventions, navigating what to say and what not to say is a balancing act. This struggle justifies the importance of hiring a professional to offer direction and assist with preparation to ensure the intervention is as effective as possible.
An intervention specialist is a professional who leads an intervention meeting and helps loved ones overcome common challenges, like resistance and anger, that can occur during the intervention process. With their experience and training, intervention specialists will be familiar with the issues that commonly arise during an intervention and the best ways to manage them. Including an intervention specialist could be the difference between a successful and a chaotic intervention.
People interested in finding an interventionist should use caution. Since there are few regulations governing interventions and interventionists, there could be tremendous inconsistency from one professional to another. People should always check for references and interview candidates before agreeing to any plan. An addiction treatment facility or other behavioral health organization would employ a quality intervention specialist. They will have training and experience in the addiction field and an understanding of the nature of addiction.
Effectiveness of Drug Interventions
Some claim a 90% success rate with interventions, but measuring intervention success rates is challenging because there are no independent groups that accurately measure intervention outcomes. Interventions are likely more beneficial than attempting nothing to help a loved one.
Another issue with measuring intervention success is deciding what constitutes success. People may have a variety of goals linked to interventions like:
- Having their loved one end all substance use forever
- Having their loved one engage in addiction treatment
- Ending their unhealthy relationship with the addicted person
- Expressing the pain and hurt the addiction has caused
One person’s intervention success could be seen as a failure to others. Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process that is challenging to measure short-term, but some studies have evaluated the outcomes of interventions. For example, a 2010 study showed that the CRAFT model is about twice as effective as the Johnson model for motivating people to go to treatment. In the study, about two-thirds of people who were part of a CRAFT intervention entered treatment.
What can be concluded from the study is interventions can be effective for getting people to go to treatment, especially if the chosen intervention method is a good fit for your family.
What If Your Loved One Refuses Help?
It is possible that after all the hard work, planning and emotions put into the meeting, the loved one will refuse help after the intervention. Though this decision will be puzzling and frustrating, it can happen.
In these situations, it is essential that each team member sticks to the plan of consequences they outlined during the intervention meeting. Just like a person cannot expect a child to change their behavior without rewards and punishments, family members cannot expect a person addicted to substances to change if they continue to enable unhealthy behavior.
If the person with the addiction refuses help, loved ones will have to follow through with consequences. Some may include:
- Cutting back or eliminating communication
- Ending financial or emotional assistance
- Forcing them to move out of a shared space
- Losing their job
- No longer taking responsibility or covering up their mistakes
- Initiating the divorce process
Hopefully, your loved one will decide to accept the offer for addiction treatment and take advantage of the many helpful options available.
Get Help For Your Loved One in New Jersey
If you’re searching for treatment for a loved one in New Jersey, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers a full continuum of addiction treatment options. We provide treatment in the Greater New Jersey area and are just 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia.
Our experienced team of treatment professionals provides evidence-based treatment, and each patient receives an individualized treatment plan to meet their unique needs. Contact us today to begin the admissions process.
If you’re in search of information on how to stage an intervention for a loved one, the following resources may be helpful:
- IME Addictions Access Center: If you are seeking a professional interventionist to help with addiction in New Jersey, the IME Addictions Access Center offers addiction-related services 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Their representatives can link you to alcohol interventionists and treatment for alcohol addiction throughout the state.
- Families Anonymous: Families Anonymous offers support group meetings for those affected by a loved one’s addiction. You can locate a meeting near you on the organization’s website.
- ACOA: Adult Children of Alcoholics (& Drug Addicted)/Dysfunctional Family Systems (ACOA) provides support group meetings to those who grew up in dysfunctional homes because of substance abuse, or currently live in a dysfunctional environment due to addiction. Find support group meetings here.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): If you’re looking for treatment for a loved one, the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator on the SAMHSA website can help you find a treatment provider near you.
Al-Anon: Al-Anon offers mutual support group meetings to loved ones who have been affected by someone’s addiction. Locate a meeting here.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed June 11, 2022.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics.” July 2, 2018. Accessed June 11, 2022.
American Psychological Association. “Johnson Intervention.” 2011. Accessed June 11, 2022.
American Psychological Association. “Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT).” 2011. Accessed June 11, 2022.
ARISE Network. “An Overview Of ARISE® Comprehensive Care With Intervention.” 2020. Accessed June 11, 2022.
Love First, Inc. “Love First Intervention.” Accessed June 11, 2022.
Association of Intervention Specialists. “Learn About Intervention.” Accessed June 11, 2022.
Roozen, Hendrik; et al. “Community Reinforcement and Family Train[…]viduals in Treatment.” Addiction, 2010. Accessed June 11, 2022.