Tips for Performing an Intervention

Thanks to popular media, interventions have become a widely-known way to help people with addictions get into treatment programs. The problem, though, is that many people think these meetings are easier to carry out than they actually are.

In reality, an intervention is an extremely delicate situation that needs to be handled carefully to be safe and successful. If you're ready to take that step, the tips below from our substance abuse professionals can help.

Tips for Planning an Intervention

If you're ready to confront a loved one about their addiction, the tips below will help you do it right.

Do Your Research

Addiction is an illness. Just like you shouldn't urge a diabetic person to eat a doughnut, there are things you shouldn't do or say around people with addiction.

There are plenty of resources like the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence with helpful information. Educate yourself about your loved one's specific addiction (alcohol, opiates, stimulants, etc.) and encourage other friends and family members to do the same.

Carefully Choose Your Dream Team

One of the most important factors in a successful intervention is who is in the room.

Don't necessarily choose the people closest to the person with the addiction. Invite people who are meaningful to them but who you can also count on to be supportive in the right way.

You need people who have an effect on the person, but people who can approach the subject in a concerned and positive way.

Consider Hiring a Professional

An interventionist is a mental health professional who specializes in interventions. They understand the psychology of addiction and they can help you figure out what your loved one needs to hear to accept treatment.

If the person with the addiction has been seeing a mental health professional, you may wish to include them as well.

We understand that addiction professionals aren't in everyone's budget. Still, they can be a powerfully helpful resource, especially for people who have never conducted an intervention before. It's worth finding out if everyone can chip in to afford a professional's guidance.

Plan Your Words Carefully and Help Others Do the Same

What you say in the meeting is crucial. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Be specific about the effect your loved one's addiction has had on you
  • Encourage the person and make sure they know that you believe they can get better (and that they will have you by their side)

This is one part of the process during which a professional's guidance can be very helpful.

Decide on Specific Consequences

An intervention presents your loved one with a choice - either they can go to treatment and get better or there will be permanent consequences. It needs to be clear that their life will not continue on the same.

As you plan the intervention with the other people on the team, decide together on the consequences to lay out if the person doesn't accept treatment. They need to be clear and defined.

Set an Order for the Team to Speak

Think very strategically about the order in which each person in the room should speak. Think about how the person with the addiction may react to each person.

In many cases, if the person has a son or daughter (or someone they have a parent-like relationship with), this is the best person to have speak. It can also help to have their spouse go last, as this often prompts a positive action.

Keep in mind, though, that every situation is unique. It all depends on how the person relates to each member of the team, so plan carefully.

Practice Makes Perfect

Each member of the team should gather and practice exactly what they plan to say. You need to see how the order flows and make sure everyone knows their role.

Think About All the "What Ifs"

An intervention is a very emotional situation, and you don't want to be caught off-guard and have to react off-the-cuff.

Think about every way your loved one may react - anger, dismissal, denial, storming out, even attempts of self-harm. Make a plan for each scenario and ensure that everyone in the room is in agreement about the plan.

Choose a Time and a Place Free from Triggers

The intervention should take place in a neutral, welcoming environment that won't make your loved one defensive or agitated.

If possible, have the meeting at a time when your loved one is likely to be sober and at-ease.

Have a Treatment Center Ready for Immediate Admission

If you wait until your loved one accepts treatment, it may be more difficult to find an open treatment option than you think.

Research addiction treatment centers and have one standing by with an open bed so you can immediately bring your loved one in.

Tips to Follow During an Intervention

As important as the planning is, what you do during the confrontation is vital as well. Here are some tips:

Use Receptive, Welcoming Body Language

If your loved one feels like they're "in trouble," they'll become defensive and combative. Be conscious of the way you're sitting and of your facial expressions. For example:

  • Position your shoulders toward the person while you're talking to them and make eye contact
  • Don't cross your arms or legs
  • Avoid clenching your hands
  • If you want to emphasize a point, lean toward the person rather than raising your voice

Stay on Script

You've chosen the words you chose for a reason. Unexpected changes can throw you off (and throw off the other people on the team). Instead, it's best to stick to the script and follow through with your plan.

Stay Calm

It's very common for a person with the addiction to become angry during the confrontation. It's important that you don't stoop to their level.

In this situation, you (and everyone else on the team) need to stay calm and "be the bigger person." Sometimes a person will try to invoke an emotional reaction from you to divert the attention, but don't give in.

The Aftermath

Whether or not the attempt is successful, it's absolutely crucial to keep any promises you made.

If your loved one chooses not to accept treatment, follow through firmly with every consequence you threatened.

If they accept treatment, you need to remain dedicated and supportive throughout their lifelong recovery.

An intervention can be a turning point toward someone changing their life and recovering from their addiction to lead a happier, more productive life. If you're ready to take that step, contact our addiction specialists for guidance.



Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on March 27th, 2018.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
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