If you have a loved one struggling with addiction, you might be considering holding an intervention to persuade them to enter treatment.

Interventions can be scary and uncomfortable, but they can sometimes be a step in getting someone the help they need. They can also be a painful experience for everyone involved, which is why it’s important to know what to expect before, during, and after an intervention.

If you're not sure whether an intervention is the right thing to do for your loved one or are planning an intervention but don't know where to start, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about interventions.

What is an Intervention?

An intervention is a formal meeting of family and friends with a loved one who has an addiction to discuss their habits and offer support and advice.It’s a way for the people closest to the person with the addiction to show their concern, love, and support for that person during a crucial time in their life. The goal is to convince the person to accept the offered help, which often includes going through a detox and rehabilitation program.

Other Uses of the Term “Intervention”

You might also hear the term "intervention" used in a broader therapeutic or medical context. Psychologists and other health professionals use it to mean any effort undertaken to improve someone else's well-being. This includes a range of things that may or may not relate to addiction and substance abuse, from talk therapy for depression to medical intervention (medications prescribed by a psychiatrist).

There are many possible interventions in this sense of the word, but it is not the same definition of "intervention" we are talking about in this article. If you are reading other articles or studies about interventions, you should be mindful of the context and definition that they are using to avoid confusion.

Why Have an Intervention?

You might want to hold an intervention if your loved one exhibits signs of an addiction. You may have noticed them engaging in risky or harmful behavior, becoming isolated from you and the other people around them, or harming themselves.

Some examples of addictions that may be addressed by an intervention include:

  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Prescription drug misuse
  • Illicit drug use
  • Compulsive eating
  • Compulsive gambling

Is There Evidence that Interventions Work?

An intervention is not an evidence-based treatment. This means that there is insufficient evidence that interventions are an effective way to help people enter detox or rehabilitation programs or overcome addiction.

Expert opinions on the efficacy of interventions are mixed. An intervention may help offer support and encouragement to people using drugs or alcohol and help them seek substance abuse treatment. Still, it can also be a traumatic experience for some people. Interventions can make the person feel attacked and judged and can turn confrontational.

One expert, Andrew Saxon, M.D., a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington and member of the American Psychiatric Association's Council on Addiction Psychiatry, says, "Interventions are certainly nothing ever studied with any rigor. You can't say 'Yes, this is something that will work.’ I think certainly, it's not something that most psychiatrists would do, although some may do it rarely."

Anecdotally, many interventionists say that they have up to a 95% success rate at convincing the subject of their interventions to enter a treatment program, but these claims have not been substantiated.

What are the Different Types of Intervention?

Various types of interventions can be used to help someone who is using drugs or alcohol. The most effective intervention for a particular situation will depend on a variety of factors, including the loved one who is using, the substance they are using, and the availability of resources.

The Johnson Intervention

The Johnson Model, sometimes referred to as the "old-school" or "hard-line" approach to treating addiction, is the most common model of intervention you'll see on tv.

It involved surprising the subject of the intervention with a meeting of loved ones and helping them recognize the role that addiction plays in their life and identify the first steps they can take to overcome their addiction. The idea is that by surprising the subject, they do not have the opportunity to refuse to attend, but they can feel confrontational.

The Johnson Model was most popular in the 1970s and 1980s, but it's still used today by some inpatient and outpatient treatment centers.

The Invitational Intervention

Invitational interventions are less aggressive than the Johnson Model interventions and include the subject in the process. Rather than being surprised with a meeting, the person with the addiction is invited to join their loved ones and the interventionist in a series of meetings concluding with plans for entering formal treatment.

The ARISE (A Relational Intervention Sequence of Engagement) model is one popular example of an invitational intervention.

Family Systemic Intervention

Another alternative to the more aggressive Johnson Model interventions are family systemic interventions. Family systemic interventions focus on educating the entire family about the disease of addiction and the cycle of substance use.

Family systemic interventions aim to care for the entire family, not just the person with the addiction, and can involve working on communication, problem-solving, and collectively fostering sobriety.

How to Have an Intervention

If you choose to pursue an intervention, thorough preparation is key, including understanding what to expect. An intervention should not be a spontaneous or free-for-all occasion.

An intervention usually occurs in a group setting and typically involves family and friends discussing their loved one’s substance use and offering supportive advice. The goal of an intervention is to bring the person who is using drugs or alcohol into conversations about their behavior and behavior changes, so they can begin to understand the impact of their behavior and see the harm they’re causing to themselves and others.

The steps in holding an intervention will vary depending on which type of intervention you choose to have, but typically involve:

Making a plan, including consulting friends, family, and a professional about the best way to approach the intervention.
Gathering information about specific treatment plan options to offer your loved one if they agree to accept help.
Forming the team of people who will attend and run the intervention.
Deciding on consequences if your loved one refuses to accept help or seek treatment, such as asking them to move out.
Making notes on what each person will say at the intervention, including specific examples of how your loved one's addiction has taken its toll on everyone around them.
Inviting your loved one (sometimes without informing them it will be an intervention, depending on the type of intervention chosen).
Holding the intervention
Following up to ensure your loved one goes through with the agreed treatment plan.

Interventions can be the first step for people using drugs or alcohol into substance abuse treatment programs. As a result of the intervention, they may be convinced to enter detox, rehab, and ultimately long-term recovery.

When To Hold an Intervention

When should you have an intervention? As a loved one, you may be unsure when it’s the right time to have an intervention with a friend or family member who is using drugs or alcohol.

There’s no single best time to have an intervention with a loved one who is struggling with addiction. Interventions can be helpful at any stage of a loved one’s substance use and often work best when they’re planned and done at a time when the person who is using is likely to feel supported and safe.

As a matter of basic common sense, the earlier in the addiction process an intervention is held, the better. This provides the opportunity to help a loved one get the help they need earlier rather than holding off for an “ideal” time.

Where To Do an Intervention

An intervention is most effective when held in a safe, supportive environment.

As a general rule, an intervention is probably best held in a location free of distractions, where there are no strangers present, and where the person is using has a sense of privacy and safety. In addition, most participants can talk more freely when they’re in a comfortable setting with their loved ones.

For example, the home is a popular choice because it is familiar and private. Conversely, a neutral location might be best if you have reason to believe that your loved one would feel ambushed if the intervention was held in their own home.

Who Should Be Included in an Intervention?

One of the biggest questions surrounding interventions is who should be responsible for running them. The best answer to this question will depend on various factors, including the relationship between the person who is using and the loved one who is organizing the intervention, the substance use of the loved one who is using, and the availability of professional assistance.

Who Conducts the Intervention?

In some cases, family members or friends may feel comfortable running an intervention on their own. In other cases, it may be more helpful to seek the assistance of a trained professional.

It’s helpful to have a facilitator, known as an interventionist, who is not directly involved with the loved one’s drug or alcohol use to provide a neutral perspective and keep the focus on the person who is using. There are several trained professionals available who can help you run interventions in a way that is most effective.

If you’re interested in running an intervention yourself, it’s often a good idea to attend training on intervention strategies and practices. This will help you gain the skills necessary to be an effective interventionist and allows you to ask questions and learn from other participants.

What Should You Avoid at an Intervention?

There are several things that you should avoid doing at an intervention.
Don’t invite friends or family who are unable to control their emotions during the intervention, and who are likely to start screaming or crying.
Don’t stage the intervention at a time when the person with the addiction is likely to be using any substances. Try to encounter them sober.
Don’t go in unprepared. Successful interventions are well planned and tend to be heavily scripted to ensure they stay on track.
Don’t hold an intervention without having treatment resources ready for the subject if they ultimately agree to accept help.
It’s important to remember that interventions work best when kept positive and focused on support rather than condemnation. This doesn’t mean that you have to avoid talking about the negative consequences of the loved one’s drug or alcohol use, but it is essential to do so in a way that demonstrates support and understanding.

This is an opportunity to demonstrate that you care about the loved one’s addiction, and that you’re committed to their recovery. It’s also a good idea to avoid making accusations or attacking the loved one who is using.

What if This is the Second Intervention?

If this is the second intervention that you’ve attended, it’s also a good idea to take some time to process what happened the first time. This will help you identify any changes or improvements you should make to the intervention this time around. It will also give you a chance to think about how you can best support the loved one who is using. You may want to share something that you learned from the intervention the first time, or you may want to try something different this time around.

You should also decide whether or not you want to invite the same people who were at the first intervention to be present for the second one.

What Happens After the Intervention?

The purpose of an intervention is to help the loved one get the help they need. However, getting and staying sober is a journey, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

After the intervention has ended, it’s a good idea to take some time to process what happened. It can be challenging to think about what to expect after an intervention, but it’s important to remember that the actions that you took had a positive impact on the loved one who was using. The steps that you took may have resulted in your loved one deciding to use drugs and alcohol less often, but they also resulted in them becoming more aware of the negative consequences of their drug and alcohol use. This will help them to become more motivated to get sober.

Once the intervention is over, if your loved one has accepted help, the next step is to support them in their recovery. This may begin with entering a detox program, followed by rehabilitation, and possibly entering a sober living community to help facilitate their long-term recovery.

What Does Long-Term Recovery Look Like?

A successful intervention is only the first step in a lifetime of recovery. That's why sober living homes like Ethos Recovery exist to provide a structured therapeutic community that supports people as they navigate education, employment, and family relationships during recovery.

Ethos offers an all-male community in Los Angeles to foster accountability, camaraderie, and character development.

Learn how Ethos Recovery can support you or your loved one today