Addiction rarely only affects the person struggling with it. When drugs or alcohol become someone’s priority, friends and family can be left in the dark. This changes relationships, causing strain in some, and dependency or enabling behavior in others. As friends and family, it can feel like you have no control over the situation.
When someone is dealing with addiction, it must be their ultimate choice to get help. This ensures that they have the best chance of becoming sober and staying in recovery for the long term. While this is the loved one’s decision, there are still options for friends and family to express their concern and love in a controlled environment. This environment can also help the family seek care for themselves to better understand what they can do. We call this controlled environment an intervention.
Many of us have a preconceived notion of what an intervention is due to movies and television. While those are examples of some intervention techniques, there are many different approaches available for families dealing with addiction. An intervention can help a family come together to help their loved one and move towards a path of healing. If you worry that you’re losing a loved one to addiction, an intervention could help.
What Is the Purpose of an Intervention?
There is a misconception that someone has to hit rock bottom before they will change, as well as a varied understanding of what rock bottom truly is.1 This thinking reflects back to a mindset where addiction was a series of bad choices, not a disease that requires treatment.2 We now have a better understanding of the way addiction truly works, and why care and compassion can go much further than punishment. An intervention is an opportunity for friends and family to advocate for recovery and express their love and concern for a person struggling with addiction. The hope is that through this process, the loved one will seek treatment.
So, what is an example of an intervention? An intervention is a chance to interrupt a person’s destructive patterns with the help of a professional interventionist. This can become a new starting point for everyone involved. There are different models an interventionist may choose to follow, including the Johnson Model, the ARISE Intervention Model, and the Love First Model. These methods share the same goal of healing the family system and helping your loved one accept treatment.
What Does an Interventionist Do?
The interventionist is the person who leads the intervention process. The requirements to be an interventionist vary — many networks require certain degrees to qualify, while other interventionists may have gotten a start via their own journey to sobriety or by working in treatment centers. When selecting your interventionist, it is important to do some research first to ensure you’ve found someone you can feel comfortable trusting through this delicate process.
The interventionist develops a team of friends and family who can help to appeal to the loved one struggling with addiction. This person is there to provide support as well as education. It can be hard to understand that addiction is a disease, especially when dealing with emotional distress as well. As a result, the interventionist also provides guidance, keeping the intervention on track and positive. This person can then help to determine the best aftercare options for the individual.
When Is the Best Time for an Intervention?
Addiction is a chronic disease that involves compulsive drug or alcohol use, despite knowing the negative consequences.3 In many situations a person may be self-medicating through their addiction and may not even be aware that they have a problem. As such, there is no true “best time” for an intervention. In general, when you or other family members start to notice that your loved one can’t control their issue, and they have already stated they wouldn’t want help or think they don’t have a problem, this could be an ideal time for an intervention.
You can look for some of the common warning signs someone is dealing with an addiction problem, such as losing interest in normal activities and hobbies, behaving differently, or hanging with a new crowd. There are often physical symptoms too, such as weight fluctuation, tremors, bloodshot eyes, and bad breath.4
What Are the Stages of Intervention?
The exact stages of an intervention may vary depending on the method of your chosen interventionists, but most of the main stages are the same:
Find Professional Help
If you’ve decided your loved one needs an intervention, the first step is getting help. An intervention is all about support. You’ll want to contact a professional interventionist, as well as different friends and family members.
Form Your Team
There should be a core group of individuals who are organizing the intervention. This can include the interventionist, family, friends, and co-workers. It is important to be mindful of contacting others who may also be dealing with substance abuse. This can take the focus away from your loved one or give them a reason to refuse help since others involved also have addiction struggles. You will also want to keep the number of people involved to a minimum, as too many people can feel overwhelming.
With your core team of organizers, you can decide on the date, time, and location for the intervention to take place. You can choose somewhere neutral, or a space where you know your loved one will feel comfortable and can accommodate a group of people.
It is helpful to learn as much as you can about not only addiction but the resources available for both you and your loved one. An intervention is beneficial for more than just the person struggling with addiction—it is for everyone impacted by the addiction. Learn all you can about the process and programs that can provide support for everyone involved.
Create Impact Statements
Each member of the core group should develop a short impact statement to share with the loved one. This statement should be an open and honest expression of what addiction has done to the relationship with the loved one. It is important that the focus is love. The loved one should never feel personally attacked.
During the intervention, it is helpful to express the ways you are willing to help. This can include things like driving the person to treatment or attending support group meetings. Family therapy can help the whole family heal from the destruction of addiction. When helping, it is also important to set clear boundaries with that person in the event they decide not to seek treatment. You want to end the cycle of codependency and enabling.
An intervention can be a high-emotion event. Rehearsing beforehand helps you to find the rhythm of the intervention, determining speaking order and seating arrangements. This allows you to have a reliable system in place on the day of the intervention.
In many circumstances, interventions are successful, with your loved one willing to receive treatment.5 However, even a well-executed intervention can still end in a refusal to seek treatment. In either circumstance, it is important to follow up on the commitments and boundaries expressed in the intervention.
What Is an Example of Intervention?
An example of an intervention would be a situation where you’ve met with an interventionist, determined your core group, and have set a time and location for the intervention. Once your loved one has arrived, you’ll first want to greet them, introducing the interventionists and inviting them to sit with you. In most situations, the interventionists will orchestrate the actual intervention proceedings.
During the intervention, friends and family will have a chance to share their impact statements. This gives them the opportunity to share with their loved ones how much that person means to them and what the addiction has done to their relationship. Once everyone has had a chance to share, the interventionist can present treatment facilities or programs the family and interventionist feel will be the best fit for that unique person.
Keep in mind, however, not all interventions operate in this way. Interventions are more of a process for the whole family than they are one single event.
How Do You Intervene With a Friend?
Whether you are looking to help a friend or a family member, the process is the same. Friends can be just as impacted by addiction as the family. In some circumstances, a person’s friends may even have a larger role in their life than their family. As a friend, you still have the right to want to see your loved one get help. You can reach out to other friends or try to contact the family of the loved one to build your core team.
Intervention Helps Everyone
An intervention may focus on the loved one who needs treatment, but the process is designed to provide help and support for everyone involved. An invention can help friends and family by providing drug and alcohol abuse education. This allows them to move past stigmas that still haunt people struggling with addiction. An intervention also helps families to learn about local resources they can access and additional care that they might also need. This creates a greater sense of unity for those participating, creating a strong united front of support for the struggling loved one.
Personalized Intervention Help
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, an intervention could help show them the path to recovery. This starts with finding the help and support you need to develop a successful intervention plan.
My partner, Brad Langenberg and I started A Time to Heal: Family Interventions, to offer professional and compassionate substance abuse intervention services for the family.
We know that together we can help your loved one seize their best chance for long-term help. We also know that support for the family is key. We will be with you every step of the way.
- Kirouac, M., & Witkiewitz, K. (2017). Identifying “Hitting Bottom” Among Individuals with Alcohol Problems: Development and Evaluation of the Noteworthy Aspects of Drinking Important to Recovery (NADIR). Substance use & misuse, 52(12), 1602–1615.
- Heilig, M., MacKillop, J., Martinez, D., Rehm, J., Leggio, L., & Vanderschuren, L. J. (2021). Addiction as a brain disease revised: why it still matters, and the need for consilience. Neuropsychopharmacology, 46(10), 1715-1723.
- Dennis, M., & Scott, C. K. (2007). Managing addiction as a chronic condition. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 4(1), 45.
- Pasha, A. K., Chowdhury, A., Sadiq, S., Fairbanks, J., & Sinha, S. (2020). Substance use disorders: diagnosis and management for hospitalists. Journal of community hospital internal medicine perspectives, 10(2), 117–126.
- Tracy, K., & Wallace, S. P. (2016). Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 7, 143.
Experienced Chief Executive Addiction Recovery and Mental Health Professional
Business professional in the Addiction Recovery and Mental Health industry for the past 26 years. Caring, compassionate and strongly motivated to make a difference in the organizations I am affiliated with and welfare of the population we serve. Currently focused on advocating, educating and developing projects leveraging evidence based, real time technology to support individuals in recovery.