Staging an Intervention

An intervention is a deeply personal family experience, a planned honest moment in which family members and concerned friends gather in support of a loved one who is struggling with addiction and in need of immediate treatment. Because it is not uncommon for someone living with an addiction to deny the need for treatment and also to deny the very existence of the disorder, it is sometimes necessary to stage a formal intervention with the goal of helping the person in need to connect with resources and medical care that will help them heal.

Goals of an Intervention

The primary goal of an intervention is simple: to change the status quo. It is clear to all who participate, with the exception of the person at the focus of the intervention, that the day-to-day experience at home is harmful to all and must change. This understanding is shared by all who take part, and the goal of the intervention is to communicate this truth to the person living with addiction in no uncertain terms. Whether or not the individual agrees to get help, things will – and must – change as of the intervention. The intervention is a turning point.

In order to accomplish this huge shift in experience, there are several small goals that should be reached during the intervention. These include:

  • Clearly demonstrating that addiction is an issue: Each person at the intervention is given the opportunity to speak, and it is important that part of their “share” includes a short mention of a way in which life or their relationship with the individual was negatively impacted due to addiction. Similarly, noting how things have changed since drug and alcohol use became habitual, identifying losses and “near misses” in terms of overdose or accident caused by drug use, can all help to make it clear to the individual that addiction is indeed the root problem that requires change.
  • Identifying treatment as an acceptable option for addiction: Addiction is a medical disorder, and because it alters the very structure and function of brain cells, it is necessary to undergo professional medical addiction treatment in order to recover. It is not expected that a patient would spontaneously heal from diabetes or cancer through volition alone; thus, it is not expected that an individual living with a similarly chronic substance use disorder simply decides to suddenly get better. Comprehensive professional treatment is a necessity. It is at an intervention that this truth should be made known to the person in need of help if for no other reason than to clarify that they are not to be “blamed” for their disorder and that treatment is not a punishment but a necessary next step due to the nature of the problem.
  • Identifying immediate treatment as the only choice for the individual: The time is now for treatment. There is no other option. Agreeing to postpone for any reason will increase the amount of time that the person is at risk, and family members will be harmed due to continued drug use. Treatment must begin immediately after the intervention.
  • Identifying changes that will take place: Whether or not the person chooses to undergo treatment, participants should make it clear that there will be definitive changes made to the status quo that will promote healthier living. The specifics will vary according to the individual and situation but can include no longer giving the person money or other support for any reason, filing for separation or divorce, moving out, etc. If the person chooses not to accept help, family members will need to be prepared to distance themselves and no longer support the ongoing addiction.
  • Transporting the individual to drug rehab: Should the person agree to get help, the goal is to get them through the door of the rehab program that has been chosen in advance.
  • Implementing changes as outlined in the intervention: Should the person refuse treatment, family and friends must be prepared to implement the promised changes. The hope is that, once the person is exposed to the consequences of addiction, they will agree to get help and enroll in treatment.

Professional Interventionist

A professional interventionist may be the right choice for some families as they prepare to stage an intervention. It is not uncommon for caregivers to feel exhausted at the point that it becomes clear that an intervention is the necessary last resort, and it can be a relief to hire someone to manage the details as well as run the event.

Additionally, the very presence of a substance abuse treatment professional sends the very clear message that this is not something to be ignored or taken lightly. An air of formality comes with having an addiction treatment professional in the room, leading the event, and helping all participants to communicate effectively and stay focused on the task at hand.

Types of Interventions

Depending on the professional interventionist you and your family connect with, you may be introduced to any number of different types of addiction intervention models. These include:

  • Systemic Family Model
  • ARISE Intervention Model
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Invitational Model
  • Johnson Model
  • Confrontational Intervention Model
  • Tough Love Intervention Model
  • Love First Intervention Model
  • Animal-Assisted Model
  • Field Model

However, in general, there are four most commonly employed types of interventions that can be performed with or without the help of a professional interventionist. These can help to keep things simple at a time when family life is most chaotic. These include:

  • Classical Intervention: Beginning with a planning session held prior to the intervention itself, this is the most common form of intervention. All participants are educated on the goals of an intervention and given the opportunity to ask questions and prepare what they will say in advance. They can also discuss the changes they will make should the person refuse treatment.
  • Simple Intervention: In some cases, especially where isolation of one or two family members with the person living with addiction has occurred, it may be necessary to stage a simple intervention with only one other family member present. Ideally, a professional interventionist will be there to manage the intervention, ensure that the conversation stays on track, and make it clear that things must change.
  • Crisis Intervention: In some cases, an overdose, arrest, or accident can throw the family into crisis, one that is identifiably and inarguably caused by the ongoing substance use disorder. Using the momentum of this event to help the person recognize the need for immediate treatment can be useful and help all involved to make the best of a bad situation.
  • Family System Intervention: It is not uncommon for more than one family member to struggle with a drug or alcohol problem, and when this is the case, it can be a good idea to stage an intervention for all family members living with the issue. When all individuals in need of treatment heal, the family has an easier time healing as a whole.


Whether there are dozens of people or a single family member who would like to take part in the intervention, it is essential that all involved:

  • Understand the goals of the intervention
  • Refrain from using the intervention as a forum for airing old arguments, attacking, or becoming overly emotional
  • Be supportive of recovery and avoid judgment
  • Not have their own substance abuse issue


The setting should be private, generally a home where the person struggling with addiction would come naturally and feels safe. Family members may need to stand by and wait for the person to sober up before beginning, so it is a good idea to choose a location that can comfortably accommodate all involved.

What to Say

Each person will have the chance to share their thoughts and hopes for a future without addiction with the individual in question. They will also be able to talk about how things are different, why they see the need for change, and the choices they will make to protect themselves from further emotional and/or physical harm. Participants may have been inadvertently enabling the person’s addiction in the past by providing support of any kind. It is important that this no longer occurs after the intervention, and participants can and should define clearly the personal changes they will make to avoid further enabling behaviors.


There are a number of details that go along with an intervention, which will vary depending on the type of intervention chosen:

  • Choose who will bring the person to the intervention.
  • Do not disclose to the person in question that the intervention is being planned or taking place.
  • Hide cars at the intervention location, parking out of sight.
  • Enroll the individual struggling with addiction in a drug rehab program prior to staging the intervention, and be sure that the admission date is the same date as the intervention itself to facilitate immediate treatment.
  • Pack a bag for the person, including everything they will need at treatment.
  • Plan for all transportation to drug rehab for both the family member in need and a companion to make sure they get where they are going easily.

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