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How to plan a family intervention for drug or alcohol abuse.

Updated on September 26, 2011

a family intervention

It can be incredibly frustrating for friends and family to watch someone they care about destroying their health, career and family through substance abuse and addiction, and it often feels as though unless the addict themselves decides to get help on their own, there's not much anyone can do.

Nagging, shaming and threatening don’t do much good, and can even be used by the addict as an excuse for further substance abuse; but families do have a powerful option to convince a reluctant addict of the need for help.

The intervention

Addiction and recovery statistics are often produced by those in business to profit from them, and as such are not always reliable; but the consensus of addictions professionals seems to be that there is no other more effective way for family and friends to convince someone to get help than a well run and caring intervention.

An intervention is a non confrontational confrontation! What this means is that although the addict will be forced to hear a lot of painful and poignant testimonies, and these are directed at him or her…for the intervention to have the best chance for success the tone of the meeting must be non confrontational, respectful and loving.

Who should be involved in an intervention?

Anyone close to, or influential in, the life of the addict should be invited to participate in the intervention. The intervention is so effective because when the addict is confronted with the simultaneous testimonies of all meaningful people in their life, they can no longer use denial defense mechanism against the weight of the contributed evidence.

All family possible should attend, and close friends and work peers may also be invited. Those too far away to attend in person may choose to call in and participate, or have their thoughts read through a written letter. Children should also be invited to participate, as they are also affected by the behaviors of the addict, deserve to have their voices heard, and can offer some very compelling testimonies.

What should be said?

Everyone in attendance should speak, and they need to tell the addict how that person's substance abuse has affected their lives and damaged their relationship. They need to give concrete examples, explain the hurt and worry caused and the anger felt. They need to demonstrate that they speak out of love and concern, and also need to give some clear consequences for the addict should they refuse to accept offered help.

What's the goal?

The goal of an intervention is to convince the addict to accept treatment help for their abuse behaviors. Treatment should be pre arranged for them, and if the addiction is serious enough, they should be convinced to proceed immediately from the intervention to a waiting treatment facility.

The point is to remove all obstacles to entry, so bags should be packed, responsibilities arranged for, and accommodation at the ready.

Potential problems

A poorly run or confrontational intervention will not likely do much good, and can even make things worse. Because of the behaviors too often associated with addiction, many of the participants may have conflicted emotions about the addict, and may feel some anger or shame mixed in with love and concern.

It is vital that the tone of the intervention stay non confrontational, and most experts advise that everyone involved do at least one practice trial run before the day of the event. By practicing what is going to be said and how things will run, things will go more smoothly when it really matters, and people can overcome feelings of apprehension over the event.

Should you get professional help?

There are a lot of intervention services that offer their professional expertise and experience to assist in the running of an intervention. These can be expensive though.

They offer expertise, will organize meetings and practice sessions, will help the family to select appropriate treatment, will run the intervention and ensure that the tone and proceedings stay as planned, and they will even arrange for transport to a waiting treatment facility.

If the family cannot seem to organize itself, if the negative emotions of family members threaten to derail the process or if the family just wishes outside council, it may be a good idea to consult with a professional; but it is not necessary, and many families do a great job without any outside assistance.

It's important, it can work and it's worth doing

Even if an intervention does not convince an addict to accept the need for treatment, the act of the intervention empowers the family, and there can never be a return to the way things were.

Interventions work most of the time, and even if someone doesn’t concede to treatment immediately, they often will with time. Family interventions are the best and most loving thing a concerned family can do for a person struggling with substance abuse and addiction.


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    • profile image

      On the outside 

      7 years ago

      As someone on the outside of a family with an alcohol abuser, this article has been very helpful. Tank you for some insights.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      The principles of an intervention are very concrete and simple. An intervention is not to get an addicted individual off of drugs or alcohol. It is not to get him living a self-fulfilling life, happy and whole while free from drugs and alcohol. It is not the time to emotionally, spiritually or chemically heal or treat him. It is to get him into a treatment program where the professionals can treat him so he may live a life clean and sober with healed wounds and stability with his chemical imbalances.

    • profile image

      Brother of an addict 

      10 years ago

      This article gave me no info, anyone who has seen the A&E broadcast could have wrote this. Thanks for nothing.


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