If someone you care about is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, addiction, or process addiction, an intervention can be an excellent resource. This formal, nonjudgmental method of confrontation first serves to help the individual recognize the serious nature of the issue and then to understand that treatment is the best option.

The acceptance of immediate treatment is a key aspect of an intervention, as is the loving participation of close friends and/or family members. Setting the right tone, conveying correct and helpful information, and encouraging health and healing over continued addiction can help someone you love to choose recovery.

Intervention Help

What types of interventions are there (drugs, mental health, education, family, etc.)?

There are a number of different types of intervention styles as well as a range of different situations in which an intervention may be an effective choice. Interventions have been staged for people who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse or addiction, an untreated mental health disorder, a process addiction (e.g., problem gambling, shopping addiction, etc.), and other issues as well.

An intervention is usually deemed appropriate when:

  • An individual is struggling with negative consequences that are extreme and life-altering due to compulsive engagement in a specific behavior or pattern of behaviors.
  • The individual recognizes that these consequences are a result of the disorder but is unable to stop engaging in the behavior alone.
  • The individual is in danger of causing harm – either to their own person or others – due to the disorder.
  • The individual has refused to get help or grows angry and/or unresponsive when asked to consider the suggestion of treatment.

The type and style should be determined based on the nature of the situation as well as the needs of the individual and family members.

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What intervention techniques are there?

There are a number of different types of techniques for holding an intervention. Some of these include:

  • Tough Love Model: The concept of “tough love” is based on the idea that strict rules with clear and consistent consequences can help to modify unwanted behaviors. In an intervention situation, this means clearly identifying what must change (e.g., drug and alcohol use), how change will occur (e.g., the person entering treatment), and what the person can expect from the family in terms of support along the way.
  • Motivational Interviewing: The focus of this type of intervention is on conversation. There is little or no planning in terms of what will be said during the intervention, and participants are there to encourage the individual in question to discuss the situation, identify the root of the problem as addiction, and talk about the options available for change.
  • ARISE Intervention Model: The focus of this method of intervention is the entire family, not just the person living with addiction. This style of intervention acknowledges that the entire family is harmed by addiction, and the focus is to get everyone on a healing path.
  • Field Model: An aggressive style of intervention, the Field Model does not plan the event in secret but also puts the full weight of the decision to create change on the individual in question based on the litany of harm caused by untreated addiction. Treatment is offered, an interventionist usually runs the event, and if the person does not get help, changes to the status quo are implemented.
  • Animal-Assisted Model: Animals have been successfully used in therapy, and they have also proved useful in the context of an intervention. It can be a useful tool to help the person in question feel more comfortable and available to discuss tough issues.
  • Invitational Model: Rather than stage an intervention that is a surprise to the person at the center of the event, the Invitational Model includes the person living with an addiction from the start. This is rarely an effective choice, however, because if the person were receptive to the idea of treatment, it is unlikely that an intervention would be necessary.
  • Love First Intervention Model: A letter written by each participant is the primary mechanism in this type of intervention. The letter may highlight an event in the past year that was harmful to the person and caused by addiction, as well as a request that the person undergo treatment and a statement as to how the relationship or current circumstances will change if the individual decides not to get help.
  • Johnson Model: In this style of intervention, a professional interventionist works together with a team of family members to present the issue of addiction and the need for treatment to the person living in addiction. Facts and evidence that clearly define both the existence of the disorder and the need for treatment are emphasized.
  • Systemic Family Model: This method of intervention takes the approach that addiction is a disease that is “contagious,” in that it negatively impacts everyone in the family. In cases where drug or alcohol abuse and addiction are issues for more than one family member, this approach can be useful in helping everyone to undergo treatment that is appropriate and begin the healing process.
  • Confrontational Intervention Model: Another rarely used approach, the Confrontational Model is designed to put the person living with addiction on the defensive and create a feeling of obligation to seek treatment.

In most cases, an intervention is a straightforward process in which the concerned family members gather to share about how their loved one’s addiction has changed their lives and to ask that person to accept the offer of help.

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What credentials should an interventionist have?

An interventionist should be educated in the nature of substance abuse and addiction treatment. A certification in family mediation can be helpful in conjunction with a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field. A master’s degree may provide even more specialization training.

Many interventionists have a personal history of drug and/or alcohol abuse and know firsthand what it takes to overcome the disorder and move forward. Others have a great deal of experience in staging interventions.

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What are the steps of an intervention?

Depending upon the style of intervention chosen, the steps to make it happen will vary. In most cases, however, staging an intervention involves the following steps:

  • Hire an interventionist: In some cases, families choose the rehab program that will work best for their loved one and that facility offers the services of an interventionist on staff to assist with getting that person to treatment. In other cases, hiring an independent interventionist is the first step. Either way, take the time to ask questions, and make sure that you feel comfortable with the interventionist you choose and that that person is qualified for the job.
  • Choose the participants: Meet with the interventionist to determine who should be included in the intervention. The interventionist will ask you questions about different family members and friends who are potential candidates and work with you to create an effective team for the intervention.
  • Hold a planning meeting: When you have determined who will take part in the intervention, gather everyone together with the interventionist, with the exception of the person at the center of the intervention, and make sure that everyone understands the function and structure of the event and is prepared to take a positive role.
  • Enroll the person with addiction in an appropriate treatment program: Prior to the intervention, it is important to enroll the person in a drug rehab program with a start day on the day of the intervention. This will empower the individual to immediately enter treatment after the intervention.
  • Pack and prepare: To make the transition into treatment a smooth one, family members are encouraged to pack a bag for their loved one that will include everything needed for treatment – leaving out everything that isn’t needed or appropriate– and make all travel reservations as needed for the person headed to treatment as well as the traveling companion.
  • Stage the intervention: The intervention itself may take an hour, or it may take all day – it all depends on whether the person is sober upon arrival and how the conversation unfolds.
  • Follow through: At the end of the intervention, the individual in question will determine whether or not immediately entering rehab is the best choice. If the person says “yes,” family members should facilitate that process immediately. If the person says “no,” family members will be tasked with following through on changes that ensure no one is enabling continued drug and alcohol use.

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Who needs to be involved in an intervention?

Ideally, fewer than five people should take part in an intervention to ensure that the person doesn’t feel overwhelmed or ambushed. The people who are closest to the individual should take part – namely, the spouse or partner, parents, siblings, or close friends. In some cases, it may be appropriate for a religious leader to take part or the person’s boss (especially if it is a workplace intervention). An interventionist or family mediator can help plan and stage the event.

It is important to note that the presence of some individuals, no matter how well-meaning and supportive they may be, may not be a positive choice. Remember, the goal is to help the person recognize that addiction is a disorder and that immediate medical and psychological care is needed. Thus, anyone who may detract from that process should not attend. For example:

  • Young children
  • Anyone who is living with a personal drug or alcohol addiction
  • Anyone who cannot control extreme personal emotions (e.g., anger, etc.)
  • Anyone with whom the individual does not get along

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How should it be handled if an intervention doesn’t go as planned?

It is impossible to predict how an intervention will unfold. Addiction is unmanageable; thus, people who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol may behave erratically as a result. If the person is not sober upon arrival, a common occurrence given the nature of addiction, participants will need to wait for the person to be coherent and responsive.

If the person exhibits extreme denial that there is even an issue that requires an intervention, the focus will turn to the objective facts of the situation. Highlighting the personal situations and consequences that the person and others in the family have experienced as a direct result of ongoing drug and alcohol use is a good start. Following up with medical evidence that describes how long-term substance abuse can physically alter the structure and function of the brain comes next. It is important the person recognize that addiction is a medical disorder; only in this way will it become clear that treatment is needed.

Should the person attempt to leave, it should be made clear that consequences are unavoidable. The rest of the family and others will no longer provide the support – financial and emotional – that has enabled the ongoing addiction. Family members will need to follow through on this promise. The hope is that the person will stay to hear everyone out. If the person doesn’t stay, the hope is that over the course of the following weeks or months, the individual will realize that treatment is necessary and request help.

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Can you have an intervention without hiring a professional?

Yes. It is possible to have an intervention without hiring an interventionist. However, many families opt to hire a professional for the following reasons:

  • An interventionist alleviates some of the pressure during this time of crisis and puts control in the capable hands of a professional who has been in this situation before.
  • A family mediator can provide a resource for personalized answers to questions that come up during the process of staging an intervention.
  • An interventionist offers an air of formality, authority, and objectivity to the intervention itself. When a healthcare professional is present, the person living in addiction may be more likely to realize that this is serious and that things will not be allowed to continue in the same way.
  • During the intervention, the interventionist can help to keep all participants on track, positive, and focused on the goal of the event.
  • An interventionist may even be available to escort the person living with addiction to the chosen treatment program after the intervention.

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How do you set ground rules for an intervention?

Ground rules can be determined with the interventionist prior to the intervention itself. These ground rules should be communicated to all participants at the planning session and then established again when the intervention begins. The idea is to let everyone know up front that the intervention is a nonjudgmental and supportive event designed to help the person struggling with addiction connect with lifesaving treatment services. Ground rules should be specific to the person and the circumstances but often include:

  • Staying positive and avoiding judgment
  • Avoiding discussion of points of past contention and focusing instead on the future and treatment
  • Avoiding turning the conversation to personal issues
  • Identifying addiction as a medical disorder and not a moral failing

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When should someone get into treatment after an intervention?

Immediately after the intervention is over, the person should be able to get into the car and go directly to rehab. Capitalizing on the momentum of the intervention and the positive focus can help the person to overcome any fear or reservations around the changes ahead long enough to get into the program and take some positives steps forward.

This is not negotiable. Many people at the heart of an intervention will request to attempt to stop using alone or to postpone entry into treatment until this errand can be completed or that loose end can be tied up. The unfortunate truth is that if it were possible to get clean alone, the intervention would not have been necessary, and those who wait to enter rehab are taking a huge risk with their health and personal safety.

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How much do interventionists cost?

Cost for intervention services vary radically depending upon a number of factors, including:

  • Whether the interventionist is independently hired by the family or hired as part of a package of services provided by the rehab program
  • The level of education and experience that the interventionist has
  • The timing of the event (emergency intervention versus preplanned)
  • Whether or not the interventionist will be escorting the individual to the rehab program
  • The region
  • Whether or not health insurance coverage is available, and if so, the amount covered by the policy