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Chapter 4

How To Stage a Drug (Alcohol) Intervention for a Loved One

A group of people holding an intervention.

Updated on

24 Apr, 2024

Facing the reality of a loved one struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction is tough. It can leave friends and family feeling helpless, and unsure of how to help.

In these moments, a drug intervention can provide hope. It’s a compassionate and well-thought-out approach to encourage your loved one to seek the support they need.

Staging an effective intervention might feel overwhelming. That’s a completely normal and understandable feeling! This blog post will give you actionable steps for how to stage an alcohol or drug intervention with confidence.

Through knowledge, understanding, guidance, and compassion, you can work towards finding long-term recovery solutions for your loved one.

Educating Yourself on Alcohol and Drug Interventions

A foundation of knowledge and understanding can help you more effectively plan and work through an intervention. Let’s start with some basic and especially important concepts.

What is a Drug or Alcohol Intervention?

In simple terms, an alcohol or drug addiction intervention is an effort to encourage a loved one to enter treatment.

It’s important to recognize that interventions should encourage or motivate a loved one with addiction issues to seek treatment. That’s not the same thing as forcing or mandating.

The Mayo Clinic explains that interventions offer an opportunity to make changes and accept help before addiction issues get worse. Forcing or requiring your loved one to enter treatment can be counterproductive. Instead, interventions focus on asking a loved one to enter treatment and convincing them it’s the right thing to do.

That’s not to say interventions only involve positive motivations. Interventions always include statements from loved ones about how a person’s addiction has hurt or harmed them. Drug and alcohol interventions include reasonable consequences, too (i.e. “I will stop giving you financial support if you don’t enter treatment”).

Key Steps in the Drug or Alcohol Intervention Process

We’ll cover many of these steps in more detail throughout this article. For easy reference, here’s a brief outline of the major steps in an intervention:

  • A loved one identifies the need for an intervention. A family member or close friend recognizes the harm addiction causes their loved one and starts planning an intervention.
  • An alcohol or drug intervention specialist is contacted. Intervention specialists have experience with this process and provide helpful guidance that encourages a positive result for the intervention. While a specialist isn’t required, we recommend working with one. Infinite Recovery’s admissions representatives can help you determine if a specialist is needed and connect you with the right professional.
  • Research and education. Friends and family research the specific addiction involved to have a more informed perspective. They also look into alcohol and drug treatment programs that can support their loved ones (and, frequently, are accessible through insurance) and choose a provider. Finding a provider that addresses addiction itself and related mental health issues is especially important.
  • Deciding who will attend the intervention. The group that will participate in the alcohol or drug abuse intervention is formalized.
  • Choosing consequences and preparing statements. Participants decide on the consequences of their loved one declining treatment (such as ending financial support or requiring them to move out). They also craft messages to share with their loved one, highlighting the harm caused by addiction in a compassionate way.
  • The intervention itself. The intervention team holds the intervention with the loved one facing addiction issues, sharing the statements and explaining key information about the intervention program they chose.
  • Seeking treatment. If the loved one agrees to treatment, they begin that process.

Knowing When You Need to Hold a Drug or Alcohol Intervention

These signs can help you understand when your loved one likely needs an alcohol or drug intervention:

  • More casual conversations in the past about their addiction and treatment haven’t led to a positive change.
  • Physical and/or mental health, legal, professional, or personal problems related to addiction are increasing and getting worse.
  • Behavioral changes due to addiction are significantly impacting your loved one’s personal life or career.
  • Your loved one continues to deny an addiction issue that is increasingly clear to others in their life.
  • Friends and family members cannot continue to cope with or help address the many issues that come along with a loved one’s addiction.

The Importance of Being Informed About Addiction Before an Intervention

Addiction is a mental health issue, not a conscious and willing choice or decision. At the same time, addiction is harmful to both your loved one and their friends and family. Additionally, a range of other mental health issues can contribute to addiction issues.

Being informed about addiction and the problems it causes can help you find the right approach during the alcohol or drug intervention. It’s crucial to understand the scope and severity of the issue as well as separate the person from their health issues and behavior.

Learning about addiction can help you do exactly that. The National Institute on Drug Abuse shares a useful resource to help you better understand addiction.

An intervention professional leads an intervention.

Assembling the Intervention Team

Who Should be at an Intervention?

The intervention team are the people in the room when the intervention happens. That includes family members, close friends, and often an intervention specialist.

Attendees should genuinely care for the person experiencing addiction. Crucially, they also need the ability to explain how dealing with their loved one’s addiction has affected them without being vindictive or hostile.

In most cases, it’s best to keep the intervention group small. Having too many people present may feel overwhelming for your loved one. Focus on those closest to your loved one — people with whom they have a positive relationship — to start.

If a potential participant is dealing with untreated addiction issues of their own, it’s best to exclude them from the intervention. Avoid inviting people who may not be able to control their emotions and could lash out at the intervention’s target or interfere with the process as well.

When to Include an Alcohol and Drug Intervention Specialist

In many cases, including an alcohol and drug intervention specialist in this process can help keep things on track. Experienced counselors, social workers, and interventionists understand how interventions should work to maximize the potential of a positive outcome.

These professionals understand the high levels of emotion and general frustration that can come with untreated addiction. They can steer the process back toward its goal if it starts to go off track.

Additionally, these specialists can help to design an intervention strategy tailored to your loved one. They can help identify treatment options and facilitate the transport of your loved one to an alcohol or drug intervention program and treatment center as well.

Planning the Drug or Alcohol Intervention

Choosing the Right Time and Place for the Intervention

There may never be a truly perfect time for an intervention. However, certain times can definitely be better than others.

WebMD explains that, with some knowledge of your loved one’s habits and schedule, it’s possible to pick an effective time for an intervention. The goal is to identify a time when they don’t have any major responsibilities (like childcare or work), are less likely to be under major stress, and are more likely to be sober.

The place where you hold the drug or alcohol intervention should be comfortable for everyone, especially the person receiving the intervention. It should be easy to find and convenient enough for all attendees. It’s also important to choose a private space, so sensitive topics can be discussed freely.

The location could be the home of a participant or the office of the intervention specialist you’re working with, just as two examples.

Why You Should Rehearse the Intervention Beforehand

Interventions are emotionally charged. The concern at hand is both sensitive and incredibly important — the health and well-being of your loved one. The issues discussed are not particularly happy or positive. The response of your loved one may be unpredictable.

For these reasons, it’s especially important to rehearse the intervention. The intervention team needs to understand their own emotional responses to what’s said, so they can better manage those feelings in the moment. It’s also vital to ensure nothing in prepared statements or letters crosses a line or is too hostile to your loved one.

The Importance of Prepared Statements and Letters

Preparing statements for an intervention means knowing what will be said, and what to say, ahead of time. The topic of an intervention is complex and often difficult to discuss.

With prepared statements and letters, it’s easier to focus on your loved one instead of trying to verbalize complex ideas and feelings in the moment. That includes both statements about how addiction has harmed you and establishing consequences if your loved one doesn’t seek treatment.

An intervention in progress.

Anticipating Responses From Your Loved One

Responses to interventions, especially initial responses, are very mixed. Remember, you’re not holding a drug or alcohol intervention because of its guaranteed success. You’re putting in the effort because you truly and deeply care about your loved one, and because you know the benefits of a successful intervention.

How Can You Prepare for Different Reactions From Your Loved One?

With the help of an intervention specialist, you can prepare for both negative and positive reactions from your loved one. Specialists can draw on their experience to help you understand common reactions, as well as how you should respond to them.

You can also think about your loved one and how you know they’ve responded to conflict in the past. It’s not a perfect solution, but it can help you avoid knee-jerk reactions and stay focused on the goal of the intervention.

It can help to learn more about common negative responses, like denial and defensiveness. Harvard Health Publishing shares a guide about dealing with denial in yourself and others. VeryWell Mind offers a similarly useful guide about the concept of defensiveness.

An intervention reaches a breakthrough point.

Providing Treatment Options

If an intervention is successful, the next step is to begin treatment. To support your loved one’s recovery, it’s vital to have those next steps in place.

Secure an opening at a drug and alcohol treatment center ahead of the intervention itself. If the treatment center isn’t nearby, it’s also a good idea to have transportation arranged and, if possible, some luggage already packed.

Finding the right treatment option involves researching providers and choosing one that aligns with your loved one’s needs, starting with a detox program. Speaking with your physician or therapist can help. So can talking about potential treatment options with your intervention specialist.

Cost is a practical concern when it comes to intervention. Look for a treatment provider that accepts your loved one’s insurance. Reach out to discuss financial needs as well as treatment with these potential options.

Following Up and Moving Forward After a Drug or Alcohol Intervention

Many addiction treatment providers limit contact with those outside the program to one degree or another. This is an intentional choice to help people with addiction issues focus on recovery and build a foundation of sobriety. Generally, more interaction with the outside world is allowed and encouraged over time.

However, you can reach out to the provider for updates and get in touch with your loved one as their program allows. You may be able to send care packages or written letters, which can be especially valuable when in a controlled setting like a treatment program. Expressing support and encouraging your friend or family member can help them continue to make progress in treating their addiction.

Remember to take care of yourself following an intervention, too. Joining a support group for loved ones can help you talk through difficult emotions and complex feelings.

Interventions aren’t easy, but they are worth it for you and your loved one experiencing addiction. Infinite Recovery can help you find a professional interventionist, coordinate transport to our facility, and offer support (including regular updates to loved ones) throughout the intervention and recovery processes.

Learn more about our approach to interventions.

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