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Addiction Intervention

Interventions, especially when conducted by a trained professional, can provide a solution for family and friends to address addiction issues and ensure a planned path to recovery. In addition to helping addicts recover, intervention services can provide family therapy and ongoing resources to heal everyone involved.

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Addiction Intervention Overview

Addiction treatment has come a long way, but services like inpatient care or detox are only one part of the process. Often, getting a loved one struggling with addiction to accept treatment can be one of the most difficult parts.

A formal intervention typically involves a carefully planned process by family and friends, partnered with a doctor or professional interventionist. The intervention acts as a coordinated effort to confront and encourage a loved one struggling with drug abuse and addiction to accept offered treatment.

While interventions can be unique and highly specific to the people who need them, most aim to demonstrate deep love and concern alongside the pain and consequences of their drug addiction. Family members and close friends are encouraged to provide specific examples of destructive behaviors and their impact.

After addiction treatment options are clearly outlined with clear steps and guidelines laid out, family and friends usually state what will happen should the loved one refuse or accept treatment. Understandably, these events can become highly emotional and even aggressive. Working with a trained physician or licensed drug counselor ensures that common missteps are avoided and sets up the intervention for the best possible outcome.

Types of Interventions for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Several types of interventions have been developed over the years, catering to different situations and needs. That said, carrying out any of these methods without the help of a professional is not advised. In fact, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), interventions involving a trained professional result in the addict agreeing to go to treatment in over 90% of the cases.

The Simple Intervention

Not all interventions need to gather everyone in the addict’s life to address their alcohol addiction or substance abuse; sometimes, it only requires one person to bring about change. These simple, one-on-one interventions can be very effective when carried out alone or with the aid of a professional interventionist.

The Formal Intervention

When most people think of “intervention,” they often picture the formal or classical intervention. Classical interventions are typically based on the Johnson Model. These are planned meetings with all concerned family members and friends in a calm setting, focused on confronting the loved one’s addiction.

Before the intervention, the professional interventionist will discuss family and friends’ roles. They will also help everyone prepare for all possible outcomes. A professional present will support the addict and their support system during and after the intervention.

Family System Intervention

As the name would suggest, family system interventions focus on situations where different people within a family are battling with a compulsion, codependence, or struggle.

This type of intervention can help treat both dependence issues and family bonds. Instead of focusing solely on the recovery of the addicted loved one, the whole family participates in guiding and training, even after the intervention takes place.

Crisis Intervention

A crisis intervention becomes necessary when the addict becomes a danger to themselves or others. This kind of brief intervention often happens in response to sudden self-destructive behavior or mental health crisis and aims to provide short-term relief and safety for that person.

Crisis intervention may include tools to immediately cope with stress and trauma or a more traditional intervention involving family and friends confronting the addict. Regardless of its form, crisis intervention prevents serious harm or tragedy due to a crisis from addiction.

Johnson Model

The Johnson Model of intervention has seven central components that include:

  • Mediation Crew/Intervention Team: A group of friends and family members, known as mediators, comprise an easy-going group of personalities.
  • Planning: The best results occur when an intervention is carefully planned and organized. The last meeting should be appropriately planned and scheduled at a suitable and calm time and place for the person. However, intoxication, fatigue, and stress should not play a role.
  • Care-Focused: Loved ones should be assertive without intentionally hurting the person throughout the process. They should make the addict feel special and loved throughout the entire process.
  • Notes and Proof: Individual attendees write letters in advance outlining particular examples of how the addiction has affected their own lives. These notes must be factual, objective, and non-judgmental.
  • Focus on Addiction Only: Participants should only address issues about the addict’s addiction. They should not bring up other issues of the past.
  • Therapy as the Principal Intention: The primary goal of an intervention is to motivate individuals to proceed with treatment and stay with the program for a given period. Loved ones should prepare to enforce strict consequences if the addict refuses medication and/or therapy sessions.
  • Options for Treatment: A team of mediators conducts research, plans their strategies and provides three treatment options to the individual after performing a comprehensive assessment.
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Who Needs Drug and Alcohol Intervention?

Movies and TV shows give us a particular view of what interventions look like and who requires them, but each situation can be wildly different. In addition, the narrative that addicts must hit “rock bottom” to want help is common but untrue.

Not every addict needs or even has a “rock bottom.” Each person’s version of a rock bottom can look very different and happen at varying levels of tragedy. One addict’s rock bottom may be losing their job while another’s is a car accident leading to permanent damage. Waiting for this imaginary breaking point to arrive only prolongs the danger and suffering families might endure.

With that said, interventions can and should happen as soon as substance abuse or addiction is identified in a loved one. Whether that intervention looks like a one-on-one discussion with a trusted friend or a fully-mobilized group intervention with a professional, it’s never too early to stage an intervention for a loved one struggling with addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

The following symptoms do not necessarily mean an individual is struggling with addiction. Instead, these tools can identify early warning signs and investigate further if you notice a change in behavior and worry addiction plays a role.

Common signs of addiction include:

  • Problems at work or school (e.g., poor performance, lateness or absenteeism, and social dysfunction)
  • Loss of energy or motivation
  • Neglecting one’s appearance (e.g., not showering, wearing the same clothes for days, and having  bad skin, hair, or teeth)
  • Spending excessive amounts of money on the substance
  • Obsessing about the next time they use, ensuring a consistent supply of the substance, and worrying about the next source of the substance
  • Performing risky behaviors while intoxicated
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when unable to take to use the substance
  • Developing tolerance and requiring more of the substance to feel the original euphoria
  • Stealing to get the drug
  • Lying about consumption habits or getting defensive or aggressive when questioned about consumption
  • Compulsively taking the drug or being unable to stop taking it
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The Intervention Process

Not every intervention will look the same, but many follow a similar format. A trained interventionist or physician will assess the subject of the intervention, as well as the friends and family, to determine what approach works best.

Step 1: Make a Decision to Act

Families and friends realize they can no longer wait for their loved ones to ask for help or hit their bottom. Together, they decide that something has to change for everyone’s well-being. However, remember that decisions do not lead to anything unless followed by action.

Step 2: Professional Help vs. Doing It Yourself

Although there’s a possibility that a DIY intervention can lead to the substance user accepting help, this is not guaranteed. Without the guidance of a professional, there’s a low possibility the addict will make an effective decision on the treatment program. Doing it yourself also reduces the family’s ability to learn more about the addiction recovery process, letter-writing strategies, boundaries, objection handling, and manipulations.

The lack of professional help can also prevent the family from having a team of people to help address the difficulties that come with early sobriety attempts. Family and friends will also be without the ongoing support and recovery that professional help provides.

Not every family or friend group can hire or afford an interventionist, so any intervention is better than none. You can always check with local treatment centers to see if cost-effective options are available.

Step 3: Set Goals and Strategize

For interventions to succeed, extensive planning and preparation is essential. Loved ones should consider every possible outcome, from initial planning to selecting a treatment plan, along with the potential for treatment refusal.

Managing the addict’s potential manipulations and objections may not be easy for all involved, so everyone must be united in how they will handle pushback.

Step 4: Intervening with the Family and Substance User

The day of intervention arrives, and everyone has speeches, letters, and scripts ready. Once everything is said, be prepared for negotiations. You should have made a decision on boundaries and a treatment plan. Be prepared to take them to treatment or handle them rejecting treatment.

Step 5: Family Recovery

Most families and friends fail to consider how their feelings or actions affect the overall success of substance users. Without ongoing support and education, families likely handle problems the same way they did before the intervention.

Therefore, it’s essential that those attending the intervention also commit to their own education and healing; this better ensures success and long-term recovery for everyone involved.

Things to Avoid at An Intervention

Inventions can be delicate and tense, so who does and doesn’t attend may impact the overall direction and success of the effort.

For the smoothest intervention experience, don’t include anyone who:

  • Your loved one dislikes
  • Has an unmanaged mental health issue or substance abuse problem
  • Is unable to limit what they say to what you agreed on during the planning meeting
  • Might sabotage the intervention
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If Your Loved One Refuses Help After an Intervention

Unfortunately, not all interventions succeed. While this may be hard to handle, there’s a chance your addicted loved one may refuse the treatment plan. They may erupt in anger, claim help isn’t needed, act resentful, and accuse you of betrayal or hypocrisy. It’s important to emotionally prepare yourself for these situations while remaining optimistic that there will be a positive change.

If they don’t accept treatment, be ready to follow through with the changes you presented. Often, family members and friends are subjected to abuse, violence, threats, and emotional upheaval because of alcohol and drug problems. While you don’t have control over the behavior of your addicted loved one, you can remove yourself and others from a harmful situation.

Even if an intervention fails, you and others can make changes that may help. Work with the other people involved to avoid enabling the destructive cycle of behavior and take active steps to encourage your loved one to seek treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions About Addiction Intervention

What does intervention mean in addiction?

An intervention is usually a structured conversation between a loved one(s) and an individual struggling with an addiction. An intervention specialist or trained physician often supervises these.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of interventions?

Generally, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Interventions have the benefit of being carefully planned group approaches where loved ones can share their feelings. Loved ones can also prearrange treatment and create specific boundaries beforehand.

On the other hand, interventions can be highly charged situations that cause feelings of betrayal to develop. For some participants, this intensity is too much and causes them to back out. The Individual may arrive under the influence, affecting their ability to communicate and make decisions rationally.

What is the difference between an intervention and an interventionist?

An intervention is the name of the planned meeting where family and friends confront an addict and encourage them to seek treatment.

An interventionist is a highly-trained addiction professional specializing in planning and conducting successful interventions, plus providing education about addiction and recovery.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. Hunter, T. (2012, March 16). The Myth of Hitting Rock Bottom: The Power of Intervention. Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC). Retrieved January 20, 2024, from https://iprc.iu.edu/drug-info/featured-articles/196-the-myth-of-hitting-rock-bottom-the-power-of-intervention

  2. Loneck, B., Garrett, J. A., & Banks, S. M. (1996, August). The Johnson Intervention and Relapse During Outpatient Treatment. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Retrieved January 20, 2024, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8841685/

  3. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, July 20). Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 20, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/intervention/art-20047451

  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US), & Office of the Surgeon General (US). (2016, December). Early Intervention, Treatment, and Management of Substance Use Disorder. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved January 20, 2024, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424859/

  5. Urbanoski, K. A. (2010, June 20). Coerced Addiction Treatment: Client Perspectives and the Implications of Their Neglect. Harm Reduction Journal. Retrieved January 20, 2024, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2906422/

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