It is a great challenge to help a loved one struggling with alcoholism, drug problems, diabetes, heart disease, an eating disorder or other destructive behavior. Sometimes a direct, heart-to-heart conversation can start the road to recovery. But when it comes to alcoholism, a more focused approach is often needed. You may need to join hands with others and take action through a structured intervention.

People who struggle with addictions are often in denial about their situation or are unwilling to seek treatment. Often they don’t recognize the consequences their behavior has on themselves and others. Many people used to say that nothing could be done with alcoholics until they had “hit bottom,” but intervention does, in fact, get some alcoholics to accept help much earlier. And while many people believed that chemically dependent people had to be self-motivated to benefit from treatment, helpers practicing intervention are working effectively with the most resistant of addicts. An intervention is the single most effective tool for breaking DENIAL. An intervention presents your loved one with an opportunity to make changes before things get even worse, which they are bound to if no intervention takes place. Discover when to hold one and how to make it successful.

What is an intervention?

An intervention is a planned process involving family and friends and sometimes colleagues or others who care about a person struggling with addiction. During the intervention, these people confront the person about the consequences of addiction and ask him or her to accept treatment. It’s important not to wait until they “want help.” Instead, think of an intervention as giving your loved one a clear opportunity to make changes before things get really bad.

The intervention provides specific examples of addictive behaviors and their impact on the addicted person and loved ones. It offers a prearranged treatment plan with clear steps, goals and guidelines. Moreover, it spells out clearly what each person will do if a loved one refuses to accept treatment.

How do you proceed step by step in a typical intervention?  

An intervention usually includes the following steps:

A family member proposes an intervention and forms a group. It’s best if you consult with an Interventionist, a qualified professional counselor. An intervention is an emotionally charged situation. If you have any concerns that the intervention may trigger anger or violent behavior, consult an intervention professional before taking any action.

The group members find out about the extent of the loved one’s problems and search for treatment programs. The group may make arrangements to enroll the loved one in a specific treatment program.

The 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 treatment plan. A word of caution: Do not let your loved one know what you are doing until the day of the intervention.

If your loved one doesn’t accept treatment, each person on the team needs to pre-decide what action he or she will take. Examples include asking your loved one to move out or taking away contact with children.

Each member of the intervention team should detail specific incidents where the addiction has resulted in problems, such as emotional issues, financial issues or safety issues. Discuss the toll of your loved one’s behavior while still expressing care and the expectation that your loved one can change.

Without revealing it to the loved one, the group gathers at the pre-chosen place of intervention. Members of the core team then take turns expressing the facts, their concerns and feelings, in a respectful manner. The loved one is presented with a treatment option and asked to accept that option on the spot.  When intervention data is presented it created a window where denial is held at bay. This is the time to ask for immediate action and move towards treatment. Denial will return therefore the time factor is important. Each team member will say what specific changes they will make if the addicted person doesn’t accept the plan. This is not a threat. It is the separation of boundaries. Every individual has the right to live a healthy and wholesome life and this is making that clear.

Involving a spouse, family members or others is critical in helping 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 a relapse occurs.

A successful intervention must be planned carefully to work as intended. A poorly planned intervention may not work. Your loved one may feel attacked and become isolated or more resistant to treatment.

Why should you consult a professional for an intervention?

Consulting an Interventionist), an addiction specialist or a mental health counselor can help you organize an effective intervention. It’s a good idea to get professional help if your loved one has a history of serious mental illness, suicidal behavior, taking several mood-altering substances, is in denial, and tends to minimize his or her situation.

The main purpose of intervention is immediate action.

The main goal is to get the user to let down defenses long enough to see what the use of alcohol/drugs is doing to self and others, to listen to the recommended treatment plan, and to accept help without delay. A major task of the helping-professional is to break through that tightly bound system of defenses so that those who care about the user can take effective action to help him or her and equally important, to help themselves.

Who should be on the intervention team?

An intervention team usually includes four to seven people who are important in the life of your loved one. They could be your family members or friends. You may include relatives, community leaders, bosses and teachers. Don’t include anyone who your loved one dislikes, anyone who has an unmanaged mental health issue or a substance abuse problem, or anyone who might sabotage the intervention. This includes anyone who may not be able to limit what he or she says to what you agreed on during the planning meeting. If you think it’s important to have someone involved but worry that it may create a problem during the intervention, consider having that person write a short letter that someone else can read at the intervention.

How do you find a treatment program to offer at the intervention?

A more severe problem may require admittance into a structured program or a hospital. If a treatment program is necessary, it may help to make arrangements in advance for admittance. Do some research.  Read this booklet by Nida. ( and also ask a trusted addiction specialist, doctor or mental health provider about the best treatment approach for your loved one and recommendations about programs. Find out what steps are required for admission, such as an evaluation appointment, and whether there’s a waiting list. Be wary of treatment centers promising quick fixes. Avoid programs that use uncommon methods or treatments that seem potentially harmful. If the program requires travel, make arrangements ahead of time. Consider having a packed suitcase ready for your loved one.  

How can you help ensure a successful intervention?

It’s possible to conduct an intervention without an intervention specialist, but having expert help is preferable. An intervention professional will take into account your loved one’s particular circumstances, suggest the best approach and help guide you in what type of treatment and follow-up plan is likely to work best.

Don’t hold an intervention on the spur of the moment. It can take several weeks to plan an effective intervention. However, don’t make it too elaborate, either, or it may be difficult to get everyone to follow through.

Make sure you choose a date and time when the addicted person is least likely to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. First thing in the morning is normally a good time but there are individual differences. Research your loved one’s addiction or substance abuse issue so that you have a good understanding about what’s going on. Appoint a single person to act as a coordinator. Having one point of contact for all team members will help you communicate and stay on track. Make sure each team member has the same information about your loved one’s addiction and the intervention so that everyone is on the same page. Hold meetings or conference calls to share updates. Stage an intervention rehearsal. Here, you can decide who will speak when, sitting arrangements and other details so that there’s no fumbling during the real intervention with your loved one. Have calm, rational responses prepared for each reason the addicted person may give to avoid treatment or responsibility for his or her behavior. Offer support to your loved one that makes it easier to engage in treatment, such as arranging child care or attending counseling sessions with him or her. Be honest, but don’t use the intervention as a forum for hostile attacks. Avoid name-calling and angry or accusing statements.

Stay on track during the intervention. Deviating from the plan can quickly derail an intervention and has the potential to make the situation worse. Don’t give your loved one time to think about whether to accept the treatment offer, even if he or she asks for a few days to think it over. Doing so just allows your loved one to continue denying a problem, go into hiding or go on a dangerous binge. Be prepared to get your loved one into an evaluation to start the treatment immediately if he or she agrees to the plan.  

What if your loved one refuses help despite an intervention?

Unfortunately, a few interventions are not successful. In some cases, a loved one may refuse the treatment plan. The addicted person may erupt in anger or insist that he or she doesn’t need help or may be resentful and accuse you of betrayal or being a hypocrite. Emotionally prepare yourself for these situations while remaining hopeful of positive change. If your loved one doesn’t accept treatment, be prepared to follow through with the changes you presented. Oftentimes, children, partners, siblings and parents are subjected to abuse, violence, threats and emotional upheaval because of alcohol and drug problems. You don’t have control over an addicted person’s behavior. However, you do have the ability to remove yourself — and any children — from a destructive situation. Even if an intervention doesn’t work, you and others involved in your loved one’s life can make changes that may help. Ask other people involved, to avoid enabling the destructive cycle of behavior and take active steps to encourage positive change. Stopping enabling increases the possibilities of an intervention being successful.