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Drug Intervention Programs

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What Is a Drug Intervention?

“A successful intervention is an opportunity for an addicted individual to accept help from concerned loved ones and take the first step toward recovery”

Drug problems affect not only the user but the individual’s entire network of friends and family. Several family-oriented drug interventions have been developed over the years to provide concerned loved ones with a structured, solution-oriented process to help motivate someone who has a problem with drug or alcohol abuse to seek help. Family, friends, and others involved in the person’s life use the intervention to demonstrate the extent of the effects of substance abuse or alcoholism and related behaviors.1

A successful intervention is an opportunity for an addicted individual to accept help from concerned loved ones and take the first step toward recovery. Often, an interventionist is invited to serve as a guide and educator before, during, and after the intervention.2

Is a Drug Intervention Necessary?

Some people struggling with substance abuse and addiction can and do recognize the extent of the problems stemming from drug abuse and seek treatment without the need for an intervention. Many, however, are reluctant or unable to realize that drugs are responsible for the problems in their relationships, health, or work and often ignore the safety issues related to drinking and driving and other high-risk behaviors.

It is common for addicts to deny that drugs are the source of the difficulties they face. They may instead blame other people or circumstances in their lives. When that happens, studies show that methods such as the Johnson Intervention can break through the denial and help these individuals engage with treatment.1

How Effective Is an Intervention?

The following video from Howcast discusses the factors that can affect the success of an intervention.

Credit: Howcast

When Is The Right Time?

A long-held belief is that an addict must reach rock bottom before they will be ready to seek help, but this is a myth.3 Research shows that the most effective way to help a loved one who is struggling with a substance use problem is to intervene early before their addiction gets worse.4 A skilled interventionist can help you communicate effectively with your loved ones and improve the chances that they’ll agree to treatment. And by intervening early, family and friends can help their addicted loved ones before irreversible damage occurs.4

Before starting the intervention, a few things should be in order. If possible, loved ones should plan ahead for the intervention. This can include:

  • Meeting with the interventionist to go over questions.
  • Securing a spot in a treatment program.
  • Helping to iron out details like childcare to reduce the number of obstacles to your loved one saying ‘yes.’
  • Packing a bag for their loved one – including enough clothes and personal hygiene items for the entire length of stay at the treatment center.
  • Ensuring there is adequate transportation to rehab following the intervention.

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A Professional Intervention Can Help

“The truth is that an intervention is a conversation with a lot riding on it.”


When it comes to staging an intervention for a loved one who has been abusing drugs or alcohol, it can be tempting to do it without professional help. Some individuals may wonder if using an intervention specialist is necessary if it’s simply just a conversation with a loved one.

The truth is that an intervention is a conversation with a lot riding on it. Oftentimes, addicts are in denial about their substance abuse and may react angrily, and even violently, when confronted.

Unmoderated interventions can be counterproductive. A professional interventionist can help to ensure that the invention runs smoothly, giving your loved one the optimal chance of choosing to get help.

Since interventions can be intensely emotional, an interventionist can help ensure that the conversation stays positive, effective, calm, and on track. You may want to express the hurt and anger you’ve felt from your loved one’s actions, but remember, the intervention is not about you. The sole purpose is to get your loved ones the help they need. A professional intervention works to keep accusations and name-calling out of the equation, keeping the central focus on the long-term health of the addicted individual.

So, what’s the best way to approach a loved one about their addiction? Here are some tips:5

  • Try to talk to the person about their addiction: Having a one-on-one conversation may be less intimidating than staging an intervention with several people. Find a time when you can be alone and free of distractions or interruptions. Tell your loved one that you’re concerned about their behavior and ask if they’re open to hearing your thoughts.
  • Use non-blaming language: Avoid raising your voice or getting angry. Come from a place of empathy and understanding. Your loved one is not the enemy. The drug is the enemy. And your goal is to help them get treatment. You can bring up 1-2 specific examples of times when their substance abuse negatively impacted their life or your life.  If they’re receptive to hearing your thoughts and concerns, you can ask if they would be willing to seek professional help. They may not be open to discussing this option. They may become defensive. If this happens, let it go for the time being. Don’t threaten or shame them. Instead, start talking with other family members and concerned parties to begin planning an intervention.
  • Find an interventionist and meet with them beforehand: You can discuss what’s going on with your loved one and what you’re concerned about. If you plan on inviting other loved ones and family members to the intervention, make sure that you all meet to discuss how the meeting with go.

Finding an Interventionist

Addicts in denial are the most typical candidates for an intervention. Most substance abusers don’t even recognize that they have a problem. Some aren’t in denial at all but may be fearful of undergoing treatment because they know they’ll have to endure withdrawal.5 Maybe they’ve heard horror stories from others, or they have felt withdrawal set in once or twice on their own and the last thing they want is to experience it again. Addressing these fears during an intervention is vital to the success of moving your loved one towards treatment. And a good way to learn how to communicate about your loved one’s denial or fears is with the help of a trained interventionist.

Experienced interventionists have the knowledge and training to help families, friends, and coworkers participate in the intervention in a helpful and nonjudgmental manner. They typically:2

  • Conduct pre-intervention preparation.
  • Serve as moderators during the intervention.
  • Provide assistance in transitioning individuals into rehab programs after successful interventions.

Intervention Follow-Up: John

In the following video, John, a former alcoholic and crack cocaine addict discuss the positive changes in his life since his own intervention.

Credit: A&E

Intervention Models

According to the Association of Intervention Specialists, more than 90% of interventions result in an agreement to treatment.2

Interventionists implement various models. One of the oldest and most common models is the Johnson Method, created by Dr. Vernon Johnson in 1973. While studying recovering alcoholics, Dr. Johnson found that generally:6

  1. An addicted person does not have one major life-altering moment that causes them to quit.
  2. The majority of someone quitting involves small, negatively impacting events that build up over time.
  3. The successful intervention involves a plan to help the individual with a substance use disorder.
  4. The intervention involves well-thought-out consequences of what would happen if the person does not seek treatment.

These discoveries led him to develop the Johnson Intervention. The Johnson Intervention is what we commonly think of when we hear “intervention.” This method focuses on a caring confrontation in which the addicted person is not blamed or judged but shown empathy. The addiction and the need for substance abuse treatment are the only focus; there should be no emotional outbursts about issues from the past—any issues resulting from the addiction should be discussed calmly and in a detailed way. Letters to be read aloud are encouraged. During a Johnson Intervention, the group focuses on a consistent, collective expression of caring and support for the individual. Options for treatment are planned ahead of time so that engagement in that treatment can begin as soon as possible.6

Some studies show that when a person is coerced into treatment, they have higher relapse rates and lower retention rates.1 To address this, many other models have been created, and now there are a number of alternatives to the Johnson Method, including Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) and unilateral family therapy (UFT).1

CRAFT helps the circle of those that love the addicted person to make positive changes in their lives and how they interact with the addict. Over time, substance abstinence becomes more compelling to the addicted person and they may be more likely to enter treatment. UFT suggests that family members can help their loved one by changing their own behaviors.1

Another model is the ARISE model. It differs from traditional models like the Johnson Method in that it invites the addicted person to be heavily involved in the process from the beginning. It is based on the idea that there should be no secrets, no surprises, and full transparency throughout. The model focuses on introducing the entire family to recovery and healing, with no shame or blame involved.7

American Addiction Centers maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.

Preparing for Success and the Possibility of Failure


At the end of a successful drug abuse intervention, the individual will enter a treatment program. It’s likely that the person’s motivation to seek help is high at that point, so having a plan of action for implementing the best treatment option is crucial.

An interventionist can guide the family in choosing the best treatment model for the situation and make preliminary arrangements in anticipation of a successful outcome.

Keep in mind that all is not lost if the intervention fails. During an intervention, you may have told your loved one that you will no longer tolerate certain behaviors. When a person has to confront and listen to the ways in which drinking or drug use has negatively affected family and friends, it can be extremely difficult. It may take your loved one time to let all of the information sinks in and for them to want to make a change. But intervention may plant a seed that will bear fruit in time.

By providing your loved one with information about available treatment options, the intervention may increase the likelihood of future treatment. Interventions are never easy, but they could make the difference between life and death. It’s not too late to find a skilled specialist who can assist you and your family in addressing your loved one’s substance abuse.

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Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, is a professional counselor who has been working for over a decade to help children, adolescents, and adults in western Pennsylvania reach their goals and improve their well-being.

Along the way, Eric worked as a collaborating investigator for the field trials of the DSM-5 and completed an agreement to provide mental health treatment to underserved communities with the National Health Service Corp.

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