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Intervention for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

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In 2020, nearly 60% of the U.S. population aged 12 or older were estimated to have been currently using tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs.1 There are many reasons that someone may feel the need to use substances. Some of these reasons may include an escape from daily stressors, curiosity, or peer pressure.2 While more than half of the population may report using substances, it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between drug or alcohol use and addiction.

Addiction is a complex disorder that is diagnosed by healthcare professionals as a substance use disorder (SUD).3 Like with any disease, it can take a while for someone to come to terms with the illness, and it could be associated with a significant amount of denial.3 In many cases, compulsive substance use isn’t something someone can “just quit” easily. Being addicted to a substance is something a person will often struggle with for the rest of their life.3 Due to the complex nature of substance use disorders, as well as the potential risks and adverse health effects of continued substance use, medical and psychological assistance may be necessary for people to quit drinking or using drugs, as well as to help them maintain sobriety.3

There are numerous consequences that addiction can have on an individual, some of which may impact family and friends.4 Some of these consequences include impaired judgment, health concerns, legal and financial issues, job loss, higher stress among loved ones, and isolation from friends and family.4

If you notice signs of a SUD in a loved one, it can be challenging to determine the next steps. For some people, having a difficult conversation is all that may be required in order to bring your concerns to their attention. For others, a different form of intervention may be necessary. Continue reading for information related to initiating and conducting an intervention effectively and how to talk to a loved one about drug and alcohol addiction.

What Is an Intervention?

An intervention can be described as an opportunity to bring awareness to the unhealthy life patterns associated with problematic substance use.5 Interventions are often first sought or suggested by loved ones hoping to help initiate recovery attempts. A professional with experience and knowledge of drug and alcohol addiction treatment may assist with carrying out an intervention.6

An intervention can be initiated by friends or family members having a difficult conversation expressing their concern.7 In certain cases, a productive conversation may be all that is needed to encourage a loved one to make the decision to enter a drug or alcohol addiction treatment program. However, in many situations, it may be most effective to have a trained professional involved to discuss the person’s options and handle any potential conflicts.5

People who may initiate an intervention are the following:5

  • Significant other
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Colleagues/peers
  • Employer

Consulting With an Addiction Professional or Interventionist

An interventionist is a trained professional who can facilitate difficult conversations between people experiencing SUDs and their family/loved ones.5 Interventionists support, educate, provide guidance, offer resources, make referrals to other interventionists, and assist in providing direction and training for people who need it.5 An interventionist typically holds a certification in conducting interventions for substance use disorders, providing them with the necessary skills to navigate the situation.5

An interventionist provides an objective point of view to help connect people to treatment.5 Their presence could make a person more likely to listen to their family’s concerns and effectively offer support to both parties.5 To find an interventionist to aid you, visit the Association of Intervention Specialists to locate someone with the appropriate credentials.5

What Are the Steps Involved in an Addiction Intervention?

Now that you have a better understanding of the terms intervention and interventionist, you may be wondering how to plan one. Each situation can be different due to the varying circumstances of each person, but there are general steps that someone can follow when planning an intervention.

Research is the most important step. It allows you to identify what resources are available to you and your loved one. It can also be beneficial to figure out what approach or method of intervention you may want to take.5 While researching, you may want to determine whether you wish to have a trained professional onsite during the intervention.8 Some may prefer to have a one-on-one conversation with the person by themselves or with the family unit.8

Another important aspect to research would be the person’s treatment options. There are many different types of treatment for a SUD.7 Researching these will help you provide your loved one with various choices. It helps to meet the person where they’re at, so that if they aren’t ready to go to rehab, there may be another option they might be willing to try instead.7 You may also want to research treatment options or treatment centers that would accept your loved one’s health insurance.7

It will need to be decided who will present at the intervention. It is important to consider who your loved one may want to present. Then, you will need to determine the appropriate place and time for conducting the intervention. The interventionist can assist in this process.5

Finally, develop a plan for when the intervention is complete. Prepare yourself and other loved ones for what you may do if the person isn’t receptive to your efforts.9 It would be ideal to determine what consequences or boundaries you want to implement collectively as a group for the person.9 Some might include helping or not helping the person financially, boundaries around your interactions while they’re using, and decided methods of communicating with the person.9

You may also discuss how you will collectively respect your loved one’s boundaries around continuing the conversation on their substance use.9 Suppose the person decides they only want certain people active in their addiction recovery. In this case, it’s important to honor that request without getting defensive.9 Remember, the goal is to get the person into treatment, and they have a right to decide who is a part of their treatment process.

Types of Drug and Alcohol Interventions

Some common types of intervention strategies include the following:

  • Johnson Strategy: A method in which the person’s social contacts confront them about their substance use in the presence of a therapist. Typically, consequences are outlined by those people if the person refuses treatment.10
  • Family Systemic Model: The goal of this model is not just for the person with a SUD to seek treatment, but to help the family system itself as well. The three main components that make up this model are communication, support, and encouragement.11
  • ARISE (A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement): Provides family members with a series of steps to take to help encourage the person to obtain long-term treatment and usually begins with telephone coaching to invite the person with a SUD to a meeting.

Learn about interventions for alcohol addiction.

Is an Alcohol or Drug Intervention Necessary?

Interventions can be highly beneficial. Some people may be aware of how their substance abuse impacts themselves and others. At the same time, some may be resistant to the idea that their substance misuse has become an issue. Each intervention will go differently depending on the receptivity of the person and the level of self-awareness they have surrounding their substance abuse.12

Interventions can motivate a person to seek treatment.12 Research has continually shown that urging from family members or employers has successfully advanced people into treatment and recovery.12 Even if the person declines to go to treatment, the act of intervention can make them aware of your concerns for their well-being.12 The family’s concerns may lead to the person seeking treatment independently.12

SUDs are treatable and can be managed long-term.12 The principles of treatment include detox, medication, therapy, and preventing relapse.12 Individuals can work with a medical doctor and/or addiction specialist to find the right type of medication and therapeutic intervention.12

SUD treatment is available in different forms.13 This allows a person to have more choice in their treatment, ultimately putting them in control and able to decide what they feel comfortable with.13

When Is the Right Time for a Substance Abuse Intervention?

An intervention may be more beneficial during the early stages of a substance use disorder.13 According to National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the earlier that treatment is offered in the disease process, the greater the chances of positive outcomes are.13 Early treatment can also reduce the risk of overdose, brain damage, and more.12

It would be a good idea to plan an intervention around when you believe the person will be most receptive.8 You may want to consider when the person will not be under the influence of intoxicating substances.8 You may also want to avoid an intervention if they’re tired or in any situation that may be a less than ideal one for having a difficult conversation.8 If you decide to work with an interventionist, they can help you through this planning and process.5

How to Talk to a Family Member or Loved One With a SUD

Communication tips for the conversation may include the following:8

  • DO:
    • Express concern and be direct, but stay calm and be patient.
    • Use an active voice and a level tone.
    • Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements (i.e. ‘I feel sad when you drink’ rather than ‘you always upset me when you drink’).
    • Listen openly and without judgment—the person’s feelings are valid.
    • Offer help, including suggesting treatment options or a willingness to attend group therapy or family therapy.
  • DON’T:
    • Lecture or criticize.
    • React defensively.
    • Be confrontational.
    • Use stigmatizing language.
    • Blame the person.

How to Find Drug or Alcohol Addiction Help

Recovery from addiction is possible. Treatment can start anyone battling substance misuse on the path to a happier and healthier life. Rehab centers are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual needs. You can use SAMHSA’s Behavioral Services Locator to search for treatment centers. Many state government websites will also provide local drug and alcohol resources to those in need. To find your state government’s website, do a web search for your state name and ‘.gov.’ Once your state website is located, substance use resources shouldn’t be hard to find, and they should provide further phone contacts for your assistance.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted rehab facilities across the country. Contact an admissions navigator with AAC today to discuss your specific needs and find an option that is right for you. They can help you check your insurance benefits and locate a rehab center in your area. You can call us free at .

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Senior Web Content Editor
Jennifer Fifield is a Senior Web Content Editor at American Addiction Centers and an addiction content expert for drugabuse.com and recovery.org. She holds a bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism and a master’s degree in Health Promotion Management. Jennifer has served as a content editor on numerous articles, web pages, and blog posts within the medical, dental, and vision industry. She has 15+ years of experience in higher education including writing/editing, administrative, and teaching positions within the health/wellness, accreditation, and health communications areas.
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