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What Is an Alcohol Intervention?

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Interventions for drug and alcohol use disorders can take a variety of forms. In the most basic sense, an intervention is a potential point of transformation.1 Interventions can be used to help loved ones struggling with alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Addiction is defined as a disease that is a result of a combination of factors, including biology, living situation, history, and brain functioning. People who struggle with addiction make habitual decisions that are harmful to their well-being and continue to use substances despite detrimental outcomes.2

Addiction can have a negative impact on not only the person struggling with substance use, but also on the entire family. Fortunately, treatment is available to individuals who struggle with AUD. Interventions can be a useful tool in supporting your loved one, and the specifics of interventions will be explored in greater detail in this article.

Alcohol Intervention: An Overview

It is important to understand the difference between an alcohol intervention and psychotherapies that are utilized as part of a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program. Behavioral therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), are used in substance abuse treatment programs. An intervention is designed to motivate a person who is struggling with AUD to enter a treatment program.1

Interventions occur before addiction treatment begins. Oftentimes people struggling with SUD may be resistant or hesitant to get the help they need. Anyone can suggest an alcohol intervention, including friends, loved ones, employers, and work colleagues.

By definition, an alcohol intervention is an interruption of your loved one’s damaging, and potentially catastrophic, life choices and patterns of behavior.1 The intervention typically takes place in a structured meeting tailored to the unique needs of the person struggling with AUD, with the goal of motivating the person to agree to treatment.3

Interventions are led by a licensed and trained interventionist. The interventionist acts as the leader of the intervention and:1

  • Trains, educates, and supports the family members/loved ones.
  • Orchestrates the intervention.
  • Facilitates aftercare.
  • Implements effective intervention techniques.
  • Provides resources and referrals to addiction services needed that are beyond their training and expertise.
  • Offers appropriate treatment options to both the person struggling with AUD and the family members.

Interventionists play a vital role in the successful administration of an intervention. An interventionist doesn’t know you or your loved one personally. They can therefore keep an objective stance and manage any anger, frustration, or sadness from your loved one during the intervention. They can also help keep the primary goal of the intervention at the forefront.1 In addition, an interventionist has received extensive training and is an expert in intervention strategies and working with families who are impacted by drug and alcohol addiction.1

Now that you have read about the benefits of an interventionist, you may be wondering what to do next. If you are considering an intervention for your loved one, you can locate an interventionist by visiting the Association of Intervention Specialists website.

How Does an Intervention for Alcohol Use Disorder Work?

Interventions have proven to be highly effective. In fact, close to 90% of interventions are effective at motivating a person to start a substance abuse treatment program.1 It can feel intimidating to talk to your loved one about their alcohol use. Each situation will vary. However, strategies that may help include:

  • Starting a conversation with your loved one when they are not under the influence of alcohol and using factual observations and “I” statements, such as “I think,” “I feel,” and “I’ve noticed.”4
  • Showing your support by offering to transport them to and from treatment, helping them identify appropriate treatment programs, including support groups and therapy, and spending time with them doing things that don’t involve alcohol use and where alcohol isn’t present.4
  • Listening to your loved one and being patient with them. Change takes time and can be challenging at times.5

Do your research ahead of time to help identify effective communication strategies that can work for your loved one and your family. Explore different interventionists with a focus on those who have experience working with families that share similar challenges.

Before the intervention, it is important to have an idea of appropriate alcohol addiction treatment centers that are suitable to your loved one and their unique needs. Also, consider other factors, such as insurance coverage and levels of service offered by the treatment facility. If your loved one can benefit from a specialized program, such as treatment tailored to veterans or the LGBTQ+ community, that is also something to consider when identifying suitable treatment facilities.

An important step in the intervention process is identifying family members and other individuals (coworkers, friends) who will comprise the intervention team.3 The intervention team must express their concerns from a place of love and compassion to avoid an intervention that is harsh, judgmental, and critical; this can result in the person responding with defensiveness and the situation ending in denial of the problem at hand.3 A trained interventionist can help prevent this from happening.

If your loved one chooses not to enter a treatment facility, it is important that the team remains united and sets boundaries so that dysfunctional behaviors are no longer supported and reinforced by the team members.3 This can include identifying consequences that the team is willing to enforce if the loved one doesn’t agree to treatment. Remaining unified is important in motivating your loved one to enter treatment. Even if the person doesn’t agree to enter treatment during the intervention, the possibility of choosing treatment in the future is increased when the intervention team remains unified.3

Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) is a treatment designed for loved ones of someone who is struggling with SUD.6 Through behavioral strategies, general assumptions, and collaboration between the family and person struggling with substance use, CRAFT seeks to:6

  • Improve family functioning and decrease aggression.
  • Encourage and support abstinence.
  • Educate family members on how to effectively support their loved one in treatment and recovery.
  • Improve the quality of life for all family members.
  • Educate the family on how to effectively respond to relapse.

Types of Alcohol Interventions

There are several intervention strategies available, each one having a unique approach.

The Johnson Strategy:7

  • Is confrontational in nature.
  • Doesn’t place much emphasis on the family’s well-being.
  • Involves 2 educational meetings with the family members and friends before the intervention.
  • Requires that the intervention session include at least 1 or more members of the family/support system.

Family System Model:8

  • The goal is to motivate the whole family to engage in treatment and heal as individuals and as a family unit.
  • Teaches the family how to communicate, support one another, and encourage one another.
  • Before the intervention, all meetings occur without the family member.
  • Consequences are given during the intervention and upheld if the family member chooses not to enter treatment.

A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement (ARISE) model:9

  • Includes phone communication with the family member to encourage them to attend a face-to-face meeting.
  • Involves in-person preparation and education with the family members.
  • Teaches the family members how to set and enforce boundaries.
  • The goal is to motivate the loved one to enter treatment.

Is an Alcohol Intervention Necessary?

There is no denying the devastation that addiction can cause on individual and family levels. Having your loved one agree to enter a drug and alcohol treatment program after their intervention is a significant achievement. Keep in mind that if your loved one doesn’t agree to enter treatment as a result of the intervention, it doesn’t mean that the intervention has failed. Because of the intervention, your loved one is now aware of the issue and how it is negatively impacting their lives and the lives of those around them. The family system is forever changed because of the intervention occurring.1

Some people may be more open to an intervention because they realize that they have a problem but don’t know what to do about it. Some individuals may not acknowledge their problem with alcohol or the consequences of their alcohol use, so they may be less open to an intervention. Addiction is a chronic disease, so time is of the essence.10 Because addiction is progressive, the sooner a person enters treatment, the better their chances are of achieving their recovery goals and having a successful treatment experience.11

Goal of an Alcohol Intervention

Getting a loved one to agree to begin treatment is the goal of any intervention.1 Addiction is a treatable disorder, and the likelihood of successful treatment outcomes generally increase when:11

  • A person’s treatment plan is tailored to their unique needs and addresses physical, mental, legal, and other challenges the person is experiencing.
  • Treatment involves services and treatment settings that are specific to the person.
  • Treatment is available when the person is ready to enter treatment.
  • Evidence-based behavioral therapies are included in the treatment plan.
  • The person stays in treatment for a long enough period of time.
  • The treatment plan is monitored and modified according to the person’s changing needs and progress in treatment.
  • The person is evaluated and treated for any underlying mental health disorders.
  • Medication is available when appropriate.
  • Treatment begins after a successful alcohol detox.

Treatment can occur in a variety of settings, and treatment plans can include more than one treatment setting. Common settings included in substance abuse treatment include:12

  • Medical detox. Medically monitored withdrawal from substances.
  • Inpatient treatment. Medically monitored services in a facility or hospital where rehabilitation starts. This usually occurs after detox.
  • Residential treatment. Longer-term, live-in rehabilitation treatment.
  • Outpatient treatment. Occurs at a separate location and the person lives and sleeps in their own home.

Behavioral therapies can be used in inpatient, outpatient, and residential treatment settings. Behavioral therapies help teach a person how to problem-solve, strengthen relationships, learn the skills necessary to prevent relapse, and develop insight into the causes of their AUD.11

Clinically Assessing the Need for Addiction Treatment

After the intervention is complete and your loved one decides to enter treatment, they will undergo an assessment by an addiction specialist or physician. Careful considerations will be made for the need for medically managed withdrawal and possible medications for addiction treatment. During the evaluation, a doctor or addiction specialist will:12

  • Assess your loved one’s relationship with alcohol, including past and present alcohol use.
  • Assess the person’s overall physical health and wellness.
  • Assist with the creation of the substance abuse treatment plan.
  • Identify any medications that may be suitable.

Many trained medical and addiction professionals are involved in the treatment of your loved one to ensure the highest chance of successful treatment and alcohol misuse recovery. Various treatment professionals can include:12

  • Doctors.
  • Social workers.
  • Psychiatrists.
  • Psychologists.
  • Alcohol counselors.

How to Find Help for You or a Loved One

If you are struggling with alcohol use, or you care for someone who is, help is available. At American Addiction Centers (AAC), we understand the importance of providing effective treatment for alcohol and drug use disorders.

Benefits of effective treatment include developing a healthy support system, utilizing FDA-approved medication that can help prevent relapse and reduce cravings for alcohol, and learning the skills necessary to reduce problematic behaviors, while increasing healthy behaviors.13 An intervention is an important first step in harnessing the benefits of substance abuse treatment.

American Addiction Centers has admissions navigators available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When you call for free at , you can speak to a compassionate AAC representative today who will answer any questions you may have, help you locate appropriate treatment centers, and verify your insurance coverage. Get the help you deserve now.

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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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