Young Woman With SchizophreniaAn intervention is a meeting held between a person suffering from an addiction, that person’s loved ones, and an addiction specialist. Interventions are typically held when the person suffering from addiction is in denial about the situation or unwilling to seek help. There are several different models of interventions, and the approach used varies between specialists. The goal of all interventions is to bring awareness to the situation and encourage the individual to accept help.

It is possible to conduct an intervention without the assistance of a professional, but consulting an addiction specialist is typically recommended. A counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, interventionist, or other mental health professional can keep the intervention on track and make recommendations as to what kind of follow-up treatment is likely to work best for the individual in need. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) recommends the use of a specialist particularly when the person suffering from addiction has a history of severe mental illness, a history of violence, may be suicidal, or could be taking multiple mood-altering substances. It is important to have support from a professional if you believe your loved one could react in a dangerous way.

According to NCADD, over 90 percent of interventions lead to the subject agreeing to accept help when the intervention is completed under the guidance of a trained and experienced professional. Some people may refuse help at the time of the intervention, but later agree to seek treatment.


Structure of an Intervention


Mayo Clinic recommends an intervention in certain circumstances, including when a person is struggling with alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, street drug abuse, compulsive overeating, and compulsive gambling. It can be difficult to acknowledge the problems addiction has caused in one’s life. An intervention presents a structured, nonjudgmental place to accept that a problem exists and to agree to seek help. Mayo Clinic reports that interventions achieve the following:

  • Provide the individual with specific examples of destructive behaviors and how those behaviors have affected loved ones
  • Offer a treatment plan, as well as clear steps and goals
  • Explain what the consequences will be if the individual refuses help

An intervention team usually includes 4-6 people who are important in the life of the person suffering from addiction. This may include family members, close friends, coworkers, clergy members, or teachers. The team should only include people who the person suffering from addiction likes and trusts. People who do not get along with the affected person, who have mental health issues or addictions that could interfere with the intervention, who might sabotage the intervention, or who may not be able to control their behavior and stick to the agreed-upon plan should not be involved.

While there are several models an intervention can follow, Mayo Clinic lists the following steps as being common among all of them:

  1. Make a plan: The family and friends of the person in need plan the intervention, usually consulting an intervention specialist.
  2. Gather information: Those involved in the intervention learn about the extent of their loved one’s addiction, research the condition, and choose an appropriate treatment program.
  3. Form the intervention team: Those who will be present for the intervention are chosen. This may include family members, friends, coworkers, members of the clergy, and a mental health professional. The person suffering from addiction is generally not made aware of the plan to hold an intervention until it occurs.
  4. Decide on specific consequences: The friends and family members of the intervention subject will need to decide what consequences will take place if the individual refuses treatment. Examples include being asked to move out of the home or losing financial support.
  5. Make notes on what to say: Those who will be present at the intervention prepare what they will say, usually including how the addiction has impacted their lives. It is recommended that participants use statements describing their own emotional response, rather than attacking the subject of the intervention.
  6. Hold the intervention: The individual is invited to an agreed-upon location, where the intervention team is waiting. Everyone present takes turns sharing their thoughts and feelings, and the treatment plan is presented, as well as the consequences that will occur if treatment isn’t accepted.
  7. Follow up: It is important to keep a support system in place during treatment for an addiction. This may include a spouse or close family member who can be involved in the treatment process and support the individual throughout the process.

A poorly planned intervention can worsen the situation rather than helping, so it is important to maintain a nonjudgmental attitude and stick to what you have planned to say, rather than becoming overwhelmed by emotion. An intervention that is not properly executed can cause the person to become more isolated or resistant to help.

An important aspect of successful interventions is that everyone involved is aware of how their own behavior has contributed to the addiction of one individual. All present for the intervention should be willing to make changes to their behavior and environment to assist the person suffering from addiction in recovery. Psychology Today recommends that the loved ones staging the intervention ask themselves the following questions:

  1. How can we encourage everyone involved to make positive changes in their lives?
  2. What has each of us been doing to contribute to our loved one’s addiction?
  3. What can the friends and family of the person struggling with addiction do to limit drug or alcohol abuse?
  4. How can we encourage our loved one to commit to recovery?



Choosing a Treatment Plan


Typically, part of an intervention is offering a specific treatment plan to the individual in need. The appropriate treatment is selected ahead of time, usually under the guidance of a professional.

Mayo Clinic lists the following recommendations for identifying an appropriate treatment plan and arranging treatment:

  • Consult a professional.
  • Contact national organizations or support groups for referrals.
  • Find out if your health insurance will cover addiction treatment.
  • Ask the selected treatment program what steps are required for admission.
  • Avoid programs offering “quick fixes” or unusual treatments.
  • Arrange any necessary travel ahead of time, and pack a bag for the individual.


Selecting an Interventionist

When selecting an interventionist, Psychology Today recommends asking the following questions:

  1. What fees do you charge?
  2. Are you willing to travel?
  3. What services do you provide? Examples include case management, transporting the addicted individual to the treatment center, and being a sober companion.
  4. Do you have a contract we would sign before the intervention?
  5. How do you measure success in an intervention?
  6. Do you provide assistance to the family while the person struggling with addiction is in treatment?
  7. Are you affiliated with a specific treatment center?
  8. What treatment programs do you typically refer clients to?
  9. Do you consider other mental illnesses the subject of the intervention may suffer from when recommending treatment?
  10. Do you conduct surprise or invitation interventions?
  11. What model of intervention do you use?
  12. What is your availability to consult with the family leading up to the intervention?
  13. Do you have client references?
  14. Do you continue to provide case management after the individual completes treatment?
  15. What kind of support can you provide if the individual refuses treatment?

Several organizations provide directories of addiction specialists and registered interventionists or provide referral services, including the following: