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Interventions Guide, the ultimate resource on interventions. Talk to an expert. Always private and confidential. 877-345-3281

What is an Intervention?

For many people who live with an addict, “confrontation” is a dirty word. Perhaps they’ve spoken to the addict about the addiction in the past, and that confrontation quickly spun into a fight that lasted for days. Or, perhaps they’re simply afraid to speak to the addict about something so very personal. They may be worried that the confrontation will drive the addict deeper into social isolation. While all of these fears may be understandable, and they certainly may be justified, some studies suggest that addicts don’t resent confrontations as much as their families may fear they do. For example, a study published in the journal Substance Abuse and Misuse found that 56 percent of people undergoing addiction therapies had been confronted by their loved ones, and in those confrontations, the loved ones detailed a series of “bad things” that would occur if the addict didn’t stop abusing drugs or alcohol. People who received more confrontations from family members reported stronger relationships with their families than people who did not receive such confrontations. The study doesn’t make this clear, but it’s likely that the addicts weren’t pleased with the confrontations at the time. But it’s clear that they don’t hold long-term concerns about those conversations, and it’s clear that they went into treatment as a result of those talks.

An intervention can help the person make the changes necessary to stop the addiction process for good.

For many families, an intervention is one of the final confrontations they have with the addicted person they love. An intervention, done properly, isn’t an argument. Instead, it’s a structured, planned and carefully executed conversation that’s designed to help the addict see the harm caused by the addiction.

The Theory Behind an Intervention

Hold an InterventionMost adults believe that they know themselves, understand their own problems and can make their own decisions. After all, the ability to take charge of one’s own destiny defines an adult as an adult. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, however, have another layer to punch through. Addictions can cause significant and long-lasting changes in the brain, and these changes can make it more difficult for the addict to see problems clearly and honestly. For example, a study in the journal Addiction suggests that people who use methamphetamine for many years develop changes in the structure of their brains, and they develop lower levels of a chemical the brain uses to pass messages from one cell to another. These changes could persist for years, making it harder for the addict to make decisions and control impulses. Some other forms of addictions cause similar brain changes.

A successful intervention is designed to point out that the cost of continuing with the addiction is too high, and the benefits of quitting are vast.

These brain changes may make it harder for the addict to make changes alone, but even people with severe addictions are still capable of following a logical train of thought and making a good decision as a result. Often, they just need a bit of motivation in order to make the needed changes. A study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review attempted to determine why people entered a treatment program for drugs and alcohol. Researchers suggest that addicts carefully weigh whether it’s less costly and more beneficial to end an addiction, or whether it’s less costly and more beneficial to leave things as they are. In other words, they are motivated to change or stay the same after they perform a very logical mental calculation.

Getting Started

An intervention, done properly, is more than a series of statements hollered across the dinner table. Instead, an intervention is a carefully orchestrated event that is planned weeks in advance. The conversation is much too important to leave to chance and ad-libbing, so these planning steps are of prime importance.

Some families choose to plan and hold their interventions alone, without any outside help. This is certainly a valid option, but in some cases, a professional may provide invaluable help. A trained intervention specialist can help the family with each and every step of planning, and the specialist may even provide valuable assistance in choosing the right treatment program for the addict. Families who have no idea how to start an intervention may benefit from this help. In addition, there are some people who are at high risk of becoming upset or violent during an intervention, according to the Mayo Clinic.

People who have the issues listed below should be approached with the help of an expert:

  • Serious mental illness
  • A history of violence
  • Abuse of multiple drugs
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Anger or denial

Forming a Team

Typically, an intervention team is made up of the addict’s close family members and friends. However, the intervention is designed to motivate the addict to change, so anyone who has any sort of pull with the addict is reasonable to include on the team. Members of the clergy, teachers, coworkers or neighbors might all be helpful people to include, depending on the addict’s relationships. Everyone who is included on the team must attend all the rehearsals, as well as the intervention itself. In addition, the participants must agree not to tell the addict about the meeting before it occurs.

People who cannot keep secrets or who cannot agree to make time for the hard work of planning an intervention shouldn’t be included on the team.

Next, the team decides who will lead the intervention, and they determine in what order the participants will speak. In some interventions, the person with the most clout speaks first. In other interventions, this person speaks last. This is a completely subjective decision. According to one study published in the journal Substance Abuse and Misuse, addicts were most often motivated to enter treatment programs when they were approached by their spouses or romantic partners. However, this may not be true in all cases.

Researching Stages

Get into a Treatment ProgramIn order to fully prepare an intervention, the family needs to develop a clear and honest picture of what the addict is abusing and how often. Counting empty bottles, looking over bank statements, checking doctors’ reports and observing drug paraphernalia in the house may help the family ferret out these details. Then, the family can research the health impacts those substances have on the addict. These details can be used during the intervention to help motivate the addict to change, and sometimes, the intervention specialist provides this medical background during the planning stages and during the intervention itself.

At the end of the intervention, the addict should enter a treatment program for addiction. In order to help facilitate that entry, the family may choose one or two treatment programs to present as options. Rehab International can help family members make an informed treatment decision. We have a network of reputable facilities, and we can help outline choices based on the family’s needs.

Once they’ve chosen a facility, families may choose to:

  • Fill out admission paperwork
  • Notify the facility of the addict’s intervention date and time
  • Obtain preauthorization from the addict’s insurance plan
  • Pay any admission fees
  • Arrange for childcare, pet care and house sitting
  • Determine who will drive the addict to the facility

In this way, the addict will have no reason to reject a treatment program after the intervention. All the details have been addressed.

Writing Letters

An intervention focuses on a series of letters. Each person in the room will read a letter that details how the addiction has been noticed, why it’s dangerous and what the addict should do about it. Specifics are key here. Most letters contain explicit details about instances when the addiction caused the addict to behave in some way that was unacceptable. Arrests, fights, impaired driving, injuries and yelling are all good instances to point out.

It’s important to keep the letters warm and caring.

As an article published in the journal Addictive Disorders and Their Treatment points out, helpful confrontations focus on the harm that can come to the person due to their addictions. Calling the person names is not helpful. Telling the person that heroin use can lead to death might be more effective. Each letter should also begin and end with an expression of love.

The family will read those letters out loud, over and over, in a series of rehearsal programs. The letters will be closely scrutinized here, and any statements that seem judgmental, hateful or otherwise unhelpful will be edited out.

The Big Day

Ideally, the intervention will take place when the addict is completely sober. In addition, the intervention should be held in a neutral location, such as an office, a friend’s house or a church basement. When the addict enters the room and is seated, the intervention begins.

The family begins to read their letters, and when each person is done reading, that person asks the addict to enter a treatment program.

As soon as the person agrees to enter treatment, the intervention is over. Similarly, if the addict walks out of the room and refuses to come back, the intervention is also over. This is rare, but it does happen. In some cases, the addict is just not ready to listen at that moment, but he or she may be able to think about and process the information presented, and choose to enter treatment a few days later.

If you have any questions about interventions or the addiction treatment that should follow them, contact us today.

We are here 24/7 to offer guidance.

Prescription Drug Addiction Intervention

When’s the Right Time?

The sooner your loved one gets the help he or she needs to fight prescription drug addiction, the better. Every day someone you care about continues in addiction is a day that he or she risks death by overdose or accident. Unfortunately, most who are struggling with addiction don’t want to hear that they need help. Sometimes, it can help you to increase the chances of success (a “successful” intervention is one that results in your loved one agreeing to go to treatment) if you opt to hold an intervention after a significant event, such as an overdose, a near overdose, an extreme illness due to withdrawal symptoms when your loved one ran out of the drug, an accident caused by negligence under the influence, the death of a loved one, or the overdose of someone else. The recent serious event can point out more effectively than any words just how deadly prescription drug addiction can be.

Another note about timing for prescription drug addiction interventions: hold them when your loved one has a clear head and is not under the influence of his or her medication. This may mean that you and other participants have to wait a few hours until he or she is no longer high, but it’s necessary in order for your family member to be able to listen and participate.

Do You Need Help?

Not everyone feels comfortable with planning and staging an intervention. You may feel that you just don’t have time to plan it properly and learn everything that you need to do. Or you may feel too emotionally close to the situation and too invested in the outcome to remain objective. Either way, if you feel unprepared, you can hire a professional interventionist to come to you, plan the intervention, run it, and then escort your family member to drug rehab.


Rehab International is a service provided by Foundations Recovery Network. As part of the Foundations Recovery Network, our goal is to provide science-based treatments to individuals suffering from issues of addiction and mental illness.

When you call you will be connected to a member of the Foundations Recovery Network who will assist in providing you with any questions you may have regarding the treatment process.

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