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Staging An Intervention

How To Perform An Intervention

If someone you care about is struggling with alcohol, drug addiction or other destructive behaviour, staging an intervention might be the best way to help him get better. People with serious addictive behaviours are often in denial. When heart-to-heart talks and other attempts to help prove ineffective, you can join forces with friends, family and a professional interventionist to confront the person with the truth and a detailed plan of action.

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Planning The Intervention

1.  Consult with a professional. To ensure the best chances for success, you should consult with someone who has experience helping someone who is suffering from addiction and conducting interventions. A professional interventionist will be able to guide you and other family members through the process, increasing chances that the intervention will be successful.1 You can meet with the professional beforehand to plan things out, and you may even want to invite him or her to the intervention to act as a facilitator. It’s especially important to consult with a professional if the following is true:

  • The person has a history of mental illness.
  • The person is likely to get violent in reaction to the intervention.
  • The person has exhibited suicidal behaviour.

2.  Form an intervention team. This should be composed of five or six people the person in question is close to and respects. His parents, siblings, trusted relatives and best friends are likely candidates. Invite people who have been impacted by his addiction and are invested in his future. It’s important to invite people who can be relied upon to be there for the person in times of need, since the intervention is just the first step on the road to recovery.2

  • Don’t invite anyone the person doesn’t like or trust. The person you’re trying to help could end up becoming upset and leaving instead of being receptive to getting help.
  • Don’t invite people who might disrupt the intervention by getting too emotional or coming to the person’s defense. For example, the person you’re trying to help might be close to his little sister, but if she ends up taking his side and telling people he doesn’t really need to go to rehab, she’ll be doing more harm than good.
  • If you think a certain person should be there, but might disrupt the intervention, have that person write a letter that can be read out loud instead.

3.  Find the right treatment plan. The treatment plan you put forward is a central part of what makes interventions effective. Just telling the person that you think there’s a problem isn’t going to be enough to help him stop the addiction. Laying out a well-researched treatment plan the person can begin right away is better than just saying, “You need to get treatment.”3

  • The treatment plan should incorporate ways your loved one can get professional help to overcome his addiction. This could mean going to rehab, getting psychotherapy, or beginning some kind of outpatient treatment program. Research treatment facilities and decide what makes the most sense for the person you’re trying to help. Figure out what steps are required for admission and have everything set up in advance. You may also need to figure out how the treatment will be funded.
  • Prepare a list of support groups that the person can sign up for right away. You might want to offer to drive him to the sessions.
  • Make sure the person gets to the treatment facility. If it’s an inpatient facility, have a plan of action for transporting him there. If it’s an outpatient facility, assign a loved one to be responsible for driving him to and from the facility on a regular schedule.

4.  Decide on consequences to put forward. Each person involved in the intervention should outline consequences that will be put into place if the person refuses the treatment plan. Difficult as it may be, each person must be willing to make a big change in order to help the person make a new start. The biggest goal is to help the person realize that his addictive behavior will no longer be enabled by loved ones.4 This will make it much harder for the person to continue his addictive behaviors.

  • If family members have been hosting the person or lending him money, consequences might include cutting off financial aid or asking him to find another place to live.
  • For those closest to the person, the consequence might be getting a divorce or changing the relationship in another way.
  • Consider legal consequences as well. For example, instead of bailing the person out of jail after a drunk driving incident, family and friends might vow not to help out next time. There will be no more “rescues.”

5.  Choose a location and time. Once the intervention has been planned out, settle on a date and time when everyone can be there. Pick a private place where the person feels comfortable, like a loved one’s home. Each person who is to be present at the intervention should understand the gravity of the situation and be sure to arrive at the designated time. Having a no-show could end up being disruptive to the intervention.

6.  Have a rehearsal. The intervention meeting can be very emotional. It’s very important to keep things on track during an intervention, and rehearsing the entire session will help people stick to the plan when the time comes. If you plan to have a professional interventionist there to guide the session, see if you can schedule a rehearsal with everyone present.

  • Communicate openly with one another and take notes on what the person is doing that is harmful to himself and others. Gather the facts about the person you are dealing with. Make confidentiality a clear rule for all partakers in the meeting.
  • Consider creating a list of actions and behavioural patterns that will no longer be tolerated. Next to each activity, write what your action will be if the person continues these behaviours.
  • Have people write down what they plan to say. It’s not necessary for them to memorize their lines; this isn’t a performance. The important thing is to cover all the bases without straying too far from the program.
  • Anticipate the person’s reactions and have responses ready. If he reacts defensively or with anger, everyone should be prepared to handle it without disrupting the intervention.

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Having The Intervention Meeting

1.  Invite the person to the meeting without telling him what it is. If you tell him what’s going on, chances are he’s not going to come. Come up with a plan for having him go to the meeting spot without knowing what’s going on, i.e., you could invite him to come to your house for dinner, or meet at a friend’s house to hang out. Make sure the plan doesn’t seem contrived. Ask the person to do something that’s not out of the ordinary.

  • Everyone should already be gathered by the time the person gets there. When he arrives, state that it’s an intervention and tell him that everyone has something they want to say.

2.  Have each member speak. Following the rehearsed format for the meeting, the group leader or professional interventionist should ask family and friends to read their prepared statements. Give all present the chance to say how the person’s actions have personally affected their lives, and how much they love him and want things to get better.

  • Yelling or acting angry and confrontational is not advised. The person you’re trying to help might just get up and walk away if this takes place. People should keep these feelings to themselves for the sake of having a successful intervention.5
  • It’s fine to express some amount of emotion. Expressing sadness and hope that things will get better could help move the person to action. It’s OK to cry.
  • Avoid trying to lighten the mood or otherwise derail the serious discussion taking place.

3.  Present the treatment plan. After everyone has spoken, the group leader or the interventionist should present the treatment plan to the person. Make it clear that the plan has been thoroughly researched and recommended by experts, and say that everyone believes it’s the person’s best hope for getting better. Ask him to make an immediate decision to accept the plan.

  • Discuss what will happen if the option isn’t taken. It should be made clear that if the option isn’t taken, there will be consequences.
  • Be ready for the person to express anger, start crying or even laugh. Stress the seriousness of the situation and don’t back down.

4.  End the meeting with concrete next steps. As soon as the intervention meeting is over, the person should begin treatment of some kind. This might mean physically escorting him to a facility where he can start detoxing or undergoing treatment. Have the person make a commitment to going through the entire treatment process and doing whatever it takes to stop the addiction from progressing further.

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Following Up After the Intervention

1.  Support the person if he chooses treatment. It might be a while before you can determine whether the intervention was successful. Even if the person is initially receptive to treatment, there’s a long way to go before things will feel stable and secure again. Help him feel connected and supported throughout this difficult period. It’s important for everyone involved in the intervention to do their part.6

  • Many people feel cynical and negative during recovery, complaining about the treatment facility, the therapist, the other members in the support group, and so on. Do not give in if the person asks to end the treatment plan early. Resist the temptation to commiserate, since this can damage his resilience.
  • Don’t accept half measures. The person may argue that just two weeks of rehab was enough to cure the addiction, or that going to counselling three times a week is too much. Do what you can to help him stick to the original treatment plan that was approved by a professional, since half measures don’t usually work.

2.  Be prepared for the person to refuse treatment. Sometimes denial and anger end up winning the day, and the person decides not to get treatment. There’s no way to force someone to get treatment if he just isn’t ready. The most you can do is strongly encourage him to do so and make it clear you’ll support him along the way.

  • Even if the person refuses treatment, this doesn’t mean the intervention was pointless. Now he knows that his family and friends think there’s a serious problem.
  • By getting these issues out in the open, family can stop the process of enabling the person’s addiction.

3.  Enforce the consequences. As painful as it might be, it’s important to enforce the consequences that you planned to put in place if the person refused treatment. Allowing him to just continue living the same way as before the intervention is never going to help. Until he has full control over his addiction, there’s always danger that a crisis will happen.8 The best thing you can do is cut off funding, break up with him, or do whatever you know will create a significant life change that may help him take a new path.

  • If another crisis happens, take advantage of it. For example, if the person ends up in jail or in the hospital, use that experience to show him that he really does need treatment. Having a second intervention may be helpful.
  • Remember, you are helping him to heal. Sometimes, we need to endure the pain of a loved one in order to provide him with the help needed to get well.

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Sources And Citations

This is an excerpted version of an article previously published on






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