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Staging an Intervention

When a family member struggles with substance use, you may be unsure how to address the impact on his or her physical and emotional health. Some families may decide to stage an intervention to convince the person to seek help for addiction. During an intervention, you gather the person’s close family and loved ones without telling him or her the purpose of the meeting. When the subject of the intervention arrives, the group will gently but firmly address the substance use and offer support for the person to seek treatment.

Careful planning can improve the likelihood that an intervention session will have the intended effect. Review this guide to help you prepare to stage an intervention for a loved one’s substance use disorder. 

Gather a Support System

Before moving forward with an intervention, seek support from a health care professional, therapist or social worker who has significant experience with substance use. You may even want to consult a professional interventionist to guide the planning process and facilitate the session with your family member. If you do work with a clinician during the intervention process, consider having the session at his or her office. This provides a neutral location. 

Carefully consider your family member’s potential reaction to an intervention before proceeding. If he or she has discussed or attempted suicide, takes several mood-altering drugs, has a severe underlying mental health issue, or has a history of violent behavior, consult with a professional to determine the best course of action.

Meeting with a clinician can also be helpful when family members do not understand the nature of addiction. A physical or mental health provider can offer information about substance use disorder and refer loved ones to helpful resources.

Other than professional support, the intervention should involve only the person’s closest friends and family members. Limit the group to no more than six individuals. A larger intervention can be overwhelming and the person may feel attacked. Avoid including individuals who may detract from the purpose of the session, including:

  • Loved ones who have their own untreated substance abuse issues
  • Family members who will be overtaken by emotion and unable to stay calm during the session
  • Anyone who may tell the subject of the intervention about the planned session
  • Anyone who will be unable to set or hold boundaries if the subject does not agree to go to treatment
  • Anyone who may use abusive language or berate the person with substance use disorder

Outline the Process

The intervention should follow a clear structure so the person receives your intended message. Your support system can help you develop each aspect of the session, which should include the following steps:

  • An introduction and greeting by the professional support person or designated family member who will facilitate the intervention. He or she will welcome your loved one and state the purpose of the session: To encourage your family member to seek clinical treatment for substance use disorder.
  • Each participant should get a turn to discuss the impact of the person’s drug or alcohol use. This impact statement should be specific but brief, highlighting a negative outcome without berating the person. Each loved one should also express the positive aspects of the relationship and their wishes for the person to recover from addiction and become physically and mentally healthy.
  • The facilitator should present the person with a clear plan for detoxification, treatment and recovery. Ideally, you should arrange an appointment for the person with a rehabilitation program in the area to obtain immediate help after the intervention. If you have a therapist or clinician as part of your intervention team, he or she can assist with placement in an appropriate rehab facility. 
  • Each participant should state a clear boundary about how the relationship will continue and the consequences if the person chooses to continue using drugs and alcohol. For example, you may decide to withdraw financial support from an adult child or ask your spouse to move out of the family home if substance use continues. Make sure you are prepared to hold this boundary, which should not be an ultimatum or an empty threat but a step to regain your own health and well-being.

In addition to this basic outline, take notes about what you plan to say to your loved one during the intervention. Encourage other participants to bring written notes as well to keep the session focused. Each person should speak for no more than five minutes. 

If you work with a professional interventionist, he or she may use an evidence-based model to run the session. Common models include:

  • The Johnson Model, the original intervention structure, which requires that the subject does not know about the session in advance
  • The Field Model, which requires facilitation by an interventionist trained in crisis situations when a person poses a danger to oneself or others
  • The Systematic Family Intervention, in which the family gathers for a session guided by a professional

Practice in Advance

Meeting before the intervention and running through what each person will say and do can help the process go smoothly. It also gives the facilitator a chance to make sure each person’s planned remarks are appropriate and productive. Review where the intervention will take place, who will transport the person to the session and what will happen after he or she arrives. 

During your rehearsal, pay attention to body language. Practice using a warm, open posture as you speak. This includes leaning toward and looking at the person to whom you’re speaking, keeping your arms uncrossed and hands unclenched, and delivering your message in a calm, straightforward yet supportive tone.


Have Realistic Expectations

Your loved one may not respond favorably to your intervention attempt. He or she may feel betrayed, angry, guilty or ashamed. With poor planning, an intervention can backfire, increasing the person’s isolation and creating resistance to the idea of treatment. Based on your family member’s habits, choose a day and time when he or she may be sober. However, doing so does not guarantee a positive outcome. Try to stay calm and avoid responding to an angry reaction with your own anger. 

Prepare yourself for the reality that your loved one might not be ready to seek treatment for substance abuse. Avoid bargaining with your family member. If the person does not agree to go to treatment, you must hold the line on your intended boundary.

Most experts recommend asking for an immediate decision after an intervention. Otherwise, the person could go on a drug binge, leave the area or otherwise avoid facing the issue. 

Many interventions end when the subject retreats to a private space or leaves the gathering completely. You may need to stage more than one intervention before your loved one attends treatment. 


Care for Yourself

Whether or not your loved one accepts the offer of treatment, you should have a plan in place for self-care. The mental and physical effects of substance use disorder impact the entire family unit. Think about connecting with a spiritual organization, therapist or support group to work through your feelings about your family member’s addiction and address your ability to maintain a healthy distance from his or her substance use and hold your boundary.

Clean Recovery Centers offers the support your family member needs on the journey to sobriety. Our facility on Florida’s beautiful West Coast provides a range of programs including medical detoxification, residential substance use treatment, community-based transitional housing and intensive outpatient treatment. All participants benefit from our unique three-phase approach to addressing the mental and physical factors influencing addiction. In fact, many of our participants experience life-changing results within six months of entering our program, which incorporates family therapy, martial arts and other specialty areas. 

If you’re planning an intervention for your loved one, reach out today to learn more about Clean Recovery Centers. We can help you initiate the intake process in case your family member accepts the offer to pursue treatment.


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