Planning an Intervention? 5 Things You Need to Know

addicted woman in intervention
Before holding an intervention for your loved one, make sure you know what you're doing.

Watching a loved one suffer from addiction can be a difficult and painful experience. You want to offer your help and support, but aren’t sure where to start.

If you’re considering planning an intervention for your loved one’s addiction, here’s what you should know.

#1. What is an Intervention?

An intervention is a formal or informal meeting of friends, family, and/or professionals in hopes of inspiring behavior change. In cases of drug addiction, loved ones will meet with the individual, with or without professional assistance.

They will discuss the reality of the situation and how the addictive behavior is affecting their lives, and encourage the person to seek help for their addiction. An intervention is a combination of education and support with the goal of providing the addict with a structured opportunity to create positive change.1

#2. When is an Intervention Needed?

Those suffering from addiction are often in denial and struggle to face the harsh reality of their addiction. While it is best for them to choose to seek help on their own, this is not usually the case. Many require the support of their friends and family in order to finally take the initial step toward recovery. An intervention may be necessary if your loved one presents with any of the following:

  • Experiences personal, social, financial, and professional difficulties as a result of their addictive behavior.
  • Remains unable to control use despite problems it is causing.
  • Fails to see the predicament they have placed themselves in and remains in denial.
  • Continues to be unreceptive to family members or friends’ feelings or opinions regarding addictive behavior.

#3. Who is Involved in an Intervention?

An intervention typically involves some combination of the individual’s friends, family, and loved ones. In some cases, a professional intervention is needed and may include interventionists, counselors, therapists, sponsors, and other addiction professionals.

When staging an intervention, make sure to choose the right group of people to participate. Do not include anyone who supports or condones drug use in any way. Choose people who truly love and care for your loved one and have their best interests at heart. If you feel that friends and family alone are not sufficient to encourage the addict to seek treatment, ask for the help of a professional.

#4. How Do I Plan an Intervention?

It is important to properly plan an intervention in order to maximize chances of success. When you plan your intervention, consider the following:

  • The group: Consider which friends and family members to involve and contact professionals if necessary.
  • The location: Choose a space where the person will feel comfortable and safe. A home or other private location is better than a public place.
  • The information: Educate yourself as much as possible on your loved one’s drug addiction. If you do not understand what you’re dealing with, you’ll likely have difficulty conveying your points. The more you know, the more help you can provide.
  • The message: Know what you are going to say before you say it. Take some time to talk it over with the group and get clear on what it is you are going to say to them. Avoid “you” statements that put blame on them. Instead, use “I” statements that convey how you feel and illustrate to them how their behaviors have personally impacted you.
  • The follow-up: Be prepared for follow-up. What are your plans after the intervention? If you are encouraging your loved one to seek treatment, have a treatment plan ready. Do research and find a treatment center that is appropriate and affordable. Ideally, you may be able to get your loved one into treatment the same day as the intervention, so be prepared and make all the arrangements beforehand.
  • The worst case: Prepare for the worst-case scenario. It is possible that your loved one will continue to deny the problem and refuse your suggestion to seek treatment. Plan ahead for this and decide what you will do. Is there an ultimatum? A backup plan? Ultimatums do not harm your loved ones, but help encourage them to make the right decision. You may want to stop any enabling behaviors and limit access to finances, housing, or any other support you provide that enables addictive behaviors to continue.

#5. Why Do Interventions Sometimes Fail?

While some interventions do fail, most of them are a success. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, over 90% of people who attend a professional intervention, more than 90% will make a commitment to seek help.1 That said, some people do refuse help.

Interventions may fail for many reasons, including:

  • Being improperly prepared. Without proper planning, there are many things that can go wrong during an intervention.
  • Hosting the intervention in a place where the individual does not feel safe. Do not approach your loved one out in public or in a place where they would feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. Find a setting where they will be most receptive to maximize chances of success.
  • Staging an intervention while they are high or experiencing withdrawal symptoms. While it may be difficult, try to approach the individual when they are sober so he or she can truly process what you are saying.
  • Staging a group intervention before approaching them one on one. Group interventions can be intimidating for many people. Sometimes it is best to approach them one on one before getting multiple people involved.
  • Coming at your loved one from a place of judgment, anger, blame, shame. Being defensive, confrontational, or aggressive will only make them more defensive and confrontational. Interventions are most successful when loved ones offer compassionate support, nonjudgmental assurance, patience, and understanding.
  • Not ensuring the proper follow-up. If you finish your intervention and your loved one agrees to attend treatment, but they aren’t prepared to enroll immediately, it is possible they will continue to use drugs and never follow through with a detox or recovery program.
  • Not seeking professional help when it is truly needed. While some interventions may be successful with only the support of family and friends, there are times when professional assistance is not only helpful, but necessary.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) recommends that families and friends seek the support of addiction professionals when their loved one:

  • Is depressed or suicidal.
  • Is taking several mood-altering drugs.
  • Has a history of violence.
  • Has a history of severe mental health issues.

Sources

1. NCADD: National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. (2015). Intervention: Tips and Guidelines.

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