Introduction: Drug & Alcohol Intervention

Intervention Defined

First, one should have a clear idea of what is meant by intervention, especially when speaking in the field of substance abuse. Merriam’s Dictionary defines it as the act or fact of “taking action” about something to affect its outcome.

The desired result is that the person accepts help. There are hundreds of programs and many philosophies or approaches to treatment. The person doing the intervention and family members should agree on the program or treatment approach that will be best for that person.

The result of the chosen program or approach will determine success or the percentage of relapses.

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Why Do a Drug or Alcohol Intervention?

When a family member or a close friend is suffering, much less dying, we normally want to help and make things better.

With drug addiction and alcoholism, it’s not that easy. It can be difficult to convince someone to seek help. The changes in the personality do not help in understanding it; “He is not the same person I knew.”

There is no doubt that addiction is strenuous, not only for the family or close friends but also for the person with an addiction. Admitting you have a problem is not easy under any circumstance. You will find that a person has solved a problem using mind-altering substances. They feel better when intoxicated than sober.

Every year, people die from substance misuse of some kind, but you can make a difference. You don’t have to wait until someone hits rock bottom to act. A drug or alcohol intervention is an alternative route to take.

A well-planned intervention can make a difference. When done right, this approach has been successful for many families. But sometimes, the support and guidance of an experienced professional interventionist are necessary. 

First Action: Asking Questions

When family members have agreed to do an intervention, they should equally have a treatment facility set up for the person. Before the intervention, someone should contact the chosen centre. Find out what the admittance procedures are, along with any financial obligations required. You should ask questions about their treatment approach, recreation, family contact, outside contacts, personal items, etc. Everything the person would need to know to accept treatment.

Remember, we are talking about the person’s life, so don’t hesitate to ask questions. If the treatment centre you have in mind seems a bit off, the family should consider another facility. The persons you are attempting to help will achieve sobriety by focusing on recovery, not bad food or an upsetting environment. It is not a decision to take lightly.

 Aperson handing out money.

Enabler Defined

First Step in
Helping Someone

Ahandreaching out to another.

Planning an Intervention

A Person’s Ruin 

The person with addiction has things in their past or present that seem devastating and have something to do with drugs. One example is a person who lost his best friend to drug use. Another example is a person on the brink of losing their spouse and children over drug or alcohol addiction. In other words, what is the thing that is ruining their life? Ruin is defined as “The cause of the disastrous disintegration of someone’s life.”

A family member can look at a person’s life and see hundreds of reasons why they should quit using.  But unfortunately, these reasons are not REAL to the person with an addiction. 

However, the individual encounters problems or conditions that are real or significant in their life. What is “being ruined?” Something they can see as a reason to quit using. These are important to identify beforehand because they may remind the person why they must seek help. It can be a job, a marriage, a social life, personal confidence, or anything factual to them as ruining their life. Often, it can be a realization: “If this was no longer a situation, my life would be so much better.”

I’m Doing Alright

The addicted person doesn’t necessarily see their addiction the way we see it. For instance, they might have semi-serious health problems, no friends, and no job or income but feel like they are “doing OK.” Many will overdose on drugs, come very close to death, and are right back using the very next day. It may appear ridiculous, but it is only part and parcel of addiction.

With this in mind, the addicted will encounter added pressure from time to time. Events that force them to make an actual decision about whether to seek help or continue to use.

For example, pending legal charges leading to jail time, the threat of divorce, and uncertain job loss are all possible situations. A person who has enough pressure, a reality check of sorts, will want to fight the addiction and seek help. Although these may or may not work, some strains can come to bear that push the person to seek help.

Seeking Help to Avoid Jail 

It is easy to assume the individual is “only seeking help to avoid jail” or some other evaluation, which is true in some cases. The fact remains that most people will only seek help when someone or something pushes them out of their “addiction comfort zone.” 

Very few people who are addicted with access to money, a place to live, and no legal issues seek help. With people who stay quiet toward their usage, they “don’t have a problem.”

You should consider the next point, which is also important in planning an intervention.

Who Should Attend?

The Person Most Respected

If possible, the person in the family whom the person with the addiction respects the most should be there. The individual highly regards this person and whose opinions have weight. However, this individual must be fully supportive and informed about the plan.

Family members and close friends should be present. They should agree that the person needs help and show support throughout the process. 

Leaving out anyone who shows hostility toward the person is necessary. The process is about helping, not pointing fingers. When you know someone can’t restrain themselves from arguments and blame, do not permit their presence.

Who to Leave Out

Usually, the person who struggles with substance abuse has wronged most family members and friends. However, arguments and disruption will not benefit the process. It results in a failed intervention because the focus becomes the argument and not on helping your loved one.

You may need assistance establishing who should attend the intervention because it is a strategic factor. If you are uncertain and need assistance, please give us a call.

Hiring a Professional Interventionist?

Families will often hire a professional interventionist. It is advisable in many situations but not a necessity. It depends largely on individual circumstances. For instance, does the person have pending legal issues, medical conditions, gang connections, etc.? Or does the person deny completely any drug usage? 

These factors need consideration as they tend to complicate a delicate operation.

The next important step in intervention is the appropriate time to set it up.

Timing: When Should You Do an Intervention?

Life Situation

What is the appropriate time for an intervention? Unfortunately, this has less to do with the family schedule and more with what’s happening in the addicted person’s life.

An example of a good time for an intervention would be just after a major event. Such an event could be an arrest for possession or getting caught in things like lying, stealing, cheating, etc. Often, after such an event, the person would show remorse or guilt. Another time could be when a spouse threatens to leave with the kids. It could be after ER for an overdose. 

Although you obviously don’t want to risk the person’s life by postponing forever. An intervention will be exponentially more effective after such events when the individual is down and feels their world is falling apart.

Choosing the Appropriate Time 

Even in the absence of these situations, an intervention can be successful, especially if the person is close to their family. They see each other daily, so every little situation is known. The life of an addicted person is a major roller coaster. The only way they can deny their problem successfully is to hide it from those who love them.

But family members are aware of the person’s problems. A good start is knowing things are out of control despite the person denying any problem. 

Important Timing & Planning

A good time for an intervention is when the person is sober. If the person has used for a few days straight, it is best to wait until after they have had a chance to recuperate.

Attempting an intervention while a person is high will usually fail. Because they are unaware of their problems, and their attention will be fixed elsewhere.

In general, the appropriate time for an intervention is all-important and needs planning. Still, at the same time, the person’s life is very unstable, so opportunities present themselves quite frequently.

 A thumb up and one down.

Dos & Don'ts

Backing Off
From Help

 A stop sign.

What is the Message of the Intervention

The intention should be clear. It should be unwavering. The family should express concern but not sympathize. Sympathy is a form of agreement and can backfire by justifying drug addiction or alcoholism. So, you should avoid it at all times, instead, show concern.

Without showing anger, upset, or fear, the person should “recognize” that everybody present knows about their drug or alcohol use. It should be said that they need substance abuse treatment. Don’t permit family problems and life’s troubles to get the attention. Stay focussed on the point that the addiction problem needs fixing. That is where the family’s preparation pays off. If the person refuses to listen or understand and still denies it, there is always plan B.

Next, Plan B when one refuses help.

Orchestrating an Intervention

Refusal: A Possible Outcome

A well-organized intervention typically leads to the addicted person agreeing to seek help. However, it’s important to acknowledge that in some cases, the person may refuse assistance for various reasons. 

You should discuss this potential outcome beforehand. You should  ensure that the family collectively understands the alternative course of action, often called “plan B.”

When an Intervention Falls Short

If the intervention fails due to any circumstance, and the individual continues to reject seeking help, it’s important to recognize that, statistically, the problem is likely to deteriorate rather than improve. So, what steps should the family take at this point?

The family is aware of the individual’s addiction and has presented the evidence. Therefore, any message the family says at this point carries significant weight. The person refuses treatment, and they intend to continue substance use and retain control over their own life. They may even state they can control it and stop on their own, etc. Yet, you know this has not worked in the past.

Intervention: What is Plan B

Two Possible Approaches 

Scenario #1: Maintaining the Status Quo with Disappointment:

In this scenario, the family acts disappointed and carries on as usual. However, this approach may inadvertently signal to the addicted family member that persisting with drug use is acceptable. It can also lead to increased resistance to future interventions, as the individual now feels they have the upper hand.

Scenario #2: Setting Firm Boundaries:

Alternatively, the family can respond by making it clear. Through both words and actions, they understand the addict’s choice but will no longer provide financial or emotional support unless they decide to go for treatment. This approach leaves the person responsible for their life, even though they cannot manage it effectively. Over time, they may realize that treatment is the best course of action and reach out for help.

Both approaches carry risks, and the family should carefully evaluate the pros and cons of each before the intervention. One undeniable fact remains: as long as the individual continues to use drugs, they are jeopardizing the most precious thing they possess—their life and the love of those around them.

Ahand preventing communication.

Five Steps
Through Denial

Drowning in

 A with face in hand.

The Key Factor in Intervention

Ultimately, the critical factor is that the person must make the personal decision to seek help, driven by their own reasons. The most rigidly enforced approaches tend to falter because the individual has not willingly committed to recovery.

Typically, the person starts to combat their addiction when they face enough external pressure. People refer to this pivotal point as “hitting rock bottom.”

However, it’s important to note that various versions of hitting rock bottom can exist. Some may be more severe than others, but each can potentially motivate individuals to change their ways. The outcome depends on the circumstances that unfold at that moment.

Intervention is a critical moment where the person may either decide on treatment or navigate the situation and return to drug use. In the final analysis, the family often spots the incident and uses it to achieve treatment or misses and waits.

Further reading:

If You Require Assistance

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need guidance in locating an Interventionist or an addiction treatment facility. You may also want support for addiction-related issues. Our services are both free and confidential. We specialize in aiding families in identifying the most suitable private rehabilitation centers.

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Marc J. Bernard

Substance Use Disorder & Recovery Professional,
Referral & Consultation Counsellor

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