How do I Stage an Intervention?

Last Edited: February 16, 2020

Caroline King

Clinically Reviewed
Jim Brown, CDCA

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Intervention techniques to communicate with your loved one.

It is estimated that around one in three people have at least one member in their family who has an alcohol problem. This is usually the person’s significant other. Alcoholism has the potential to significantly damage relationships, while causing chaos and stress at the same time. It’s important to know how to deal not just with an alcoholic spouse, but also with the feelings the nonalcoholic partner is experiencing. Knowing when and how to stage an intervention can mean all the difference.

How Do I Stage an Intervention?

Staging an intervention is very important tool that can give people the motivation they need to seek help for a drug or alcohol addiction. Dealing with someone who is suffering from an addiction is incredibly difficult. In some cases, simply having a good heart to heart can be all that is needed to solve the problem. However, most people with an addiction are in firm denial, and they need a more focused approach. This is what an intervention can provide.

Since most individuals who suffer from an addiction are in denial, they don’t want to seek treatment for a problem they don’t believe they have. Their addiction takes precedence over everything else, which means they no longer see how their behavior negatively impacts themselves and those around them. Organizing an intervention requires a structured method of encouraging them to make the changes they need before things get worse. This is something that must be carefully planned, preferably with a professional interventionist. It can involve anyone who has ties to those who are addicted, with people coming together to confront them about their behavior. There are some principles to intervention, including:

  • That they should discuss specific examples of where the patient’s behavior has been destructive and how this has made an impact on others
  • That they should come up with a treatment plan, including clear goals
  • That they should indicate the consequences that will happen should the patient not accept the help that is being offered

How to Stage A Typical Intervention

A  number of steps are involved in a staging an intervention. It is very important that the patient is not aware of this process until the time of the actual intervention has arrived. The steps are:

  1. A plan is formulated when someone suggests that an intervention may be useful. This should be done together with a licensed professional such as an interventionist, drug counselor, or social worker. Interventions are volatile and highly charged, and there is a chance that the person concerned will react aggressively or angrily, so it should not be taken lightly.
  2. Information is gathered. Those participating in the intervention will look at the situation and what treatment is available. They may also contact various treatment centers to make arrangements for possibly admitting the person.
  3. The intervention team is formed. These are the people that will actually be present at the intervention itself. A date, time, and place will be chosen, and the group will agree on what the message will be and how it will be presented.
  4. The team agrees on the consequences. This is a tough part, because loved ones have to stick with their consequences as well. Common consequences include taking away contact with children or having to move out of the home.
  5. Notes are made on what each person will say during the intervention. This includes descriptions of specific incidents, and how this made them feel. They must be presented as facts, and formulated in the first person. People can say “I was very frightened when you drank alcohol and …”
  6. The intervention takes place. It is important that the concerned person is invited to this event without knowing that there will be an intervention. Once there, he or she will be presented with all the facts, shown the treatment option, and told about the consequences. The person concerned must then decide what to do on the spot and if the proposed treatment is not accepted, the consequences must also be implemented on the spot.
  7. Follow up meetings take place. This will ensure that the patient, assuming that the proposed treatment has been accepted, knows a support network is available to help him or her. This will ensure that the person will remain in treatment, and this will reduce the chances of relapse as well. Family members will then require therapy themselves to come to terms with what has happened.

Staging an intervention can go smoothly, but only if they are planned and managed properly, and if those taking part in it stick by the consequences they listed.

A Specialist will help with Staging an Intervention

It is important to work with an intervention specialist to increase the chances of a successful outcome. Some people are trained specifically as interventionists, while other possible experts who can help include drug counselors, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists. While you are within your rights to not work with a specialist, this is usually not advisable. If your loved one meets any of the following criteria, it is imperative that you seek professional help for both their safety and your own:

  • If they have a history of mental illness
  • If they have a history of aggressive or violent behavior
  • If they are suicidal or have suicidal tendencies
  • If they take more than one substance

If you have any worries that your loved one may react violently, or that there is a possibility of self-harm you MUST seek help from a professional.

How to Plan an Intervention?

Planning an intervention should be a stepped approach. As such, the steps are:

  • Find an interventionist, who will help to manage the communication between those involved. This expert is also trained to break through the patient’s denial cycle. If you were to confront an addicted person without help from an expert, there is a chance that you will actually make things worse, mainly due to this denial.
  • Form the intervention group, who will then be responsible for creating a strategy. There isn’t a set blueprint that works for every intervention. You need to come together and discuss the needs, capabilities, and desired outcomes. You must also think about which family members to include if any. Children may be too young or grandparents may be too frail to take part, due to the emotional impact that an intervention will inevitably cause.
  • Learn about the addiction and rehearse the intervention. This is also where interventionists are so important, as they will provide everybody with the resources needed to actually understand the problem of addiction that their loved is dealing with. It is an opportunity to practice what you are going to say, so that you do it in a way that will have an impact. It is important to do this in a non-accusatory manner (talking in the first person, as previously mentioned), so that the loved one doesn’t become more defensive.
  • Choose the date, time, and place for the meeting, which should be in a safe, comfortable, and familiar environment. In doing so, the concerned person, who will likely be shocked when first presented with the intervention, will at least feel somewhat at ease. Make sure, if at all possible, that the time is one when the patient is sober.
  • Know that anything can happen. In an ideal situation, everybody tells their story, presents a treatment option, and discusses the consequences. After this, the addicted person will burst out into tears, apologize, and immediately go to treatment. In reality though, the concerned person can react in a number of different ways. One of the common reactions are extreme anger and aggression, which is why you must be prepared (and ready) to phone 911 if the need arises.

Staging an Intervention based on Communication

This is a hugely important element. If you say the wrong things during an intervention, you will only push your loved one away. This person will quickly realize that he or she has entered an intervention, which will likely cause a defensive reaction. It is important that you diffuse this straight away, making the person more receptive to what you actually have to say

Start by saying something positive, such as:

“Thank you for all the love over the years.”

Showing immediately that you care about the person is very important, because it will make him or her feel more worthy. The concerned person will also be more receptive to the idea that you genuinely want what is best for him or her. Don’t be afraid to say “I love you” either. Those with an addiction often feel isolated because, deep down, they know they have pushed everybody away and put their substance abuse above all else. Hearing that that they are still loved and cared for can be the trigger they need to accept that they need to make a change.

Tell the Person About the Impact of His or Her Behavior on the Children

If there are children in the relationship, saying that you are worried about their well being can also be very powerful. Cite research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which demonstrated that people can have a genetic predisposition to become addicted. In fact, 50% of a person’s susceptibility to becoming addicted comes from the genes. Children in households with addictions are also more likely to witness verbal abuse, violence, insecurity, and poverty. No matter how much people will try to protect their children, if there is substance abuse going on in the household, the children will be aware  and they will model their behavior based on that. This can include being overly protective of a parent, but it can also mean that they are more likely to turn to drugs themselves, seeing that these substances as a way to cope with difficult times. That is a lesson no parent would want children to learn.

Tell Him or Her that You Will Be There All the Way

Another thing you can tell your loved one is that you will be there for them every step of the way. The American Journal on Drug and Alcohol Abuse published a study that discussed codependency, whereby the non-addicted spouse also becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol. If one of the two parties has successfully gone through treatment, this can be a huge motivating story, as there is someone who truly understands how the process works and what to expect. Not everybody can have someone at the intervention who has gone through treatment. This is why it is important to be educated on process of treatment, so that you can show that you understand what your loved one will go through and that you will be supportive.

Tell Him or Her that the Treatment Has Been Proven to Be Effective

Do also tell your loved one that getting treatment works and can be very successful. Addiction is a chronic disease, as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. This means that just like with other chronic diseases, such as asthma and diabetes, people go through relapse periods before going back into remission. A relapse is not synonymous with failure; it means that further support is needed. It is very important that you get your addicted loved one to understand that just because he or she may relapse does not mean that the treatment is not worth going through. If your loved one does go to treatment, this will be discussed at length with him or her. However, hearing it from loved ones can be much more empowering. During the research period in the planning stages of the intervention make sure that you find statistics on relapse and what the next steps could be taken to remedy the situation. Remind the loved one, again, that you will be there every step of the way.

Tell Him or Her that Addiction Is an Illness and Not a Choice Not a Lifestyle

You should also tell your loved one that you understand that addiction is not a lifestyle choice, but a disease. Someone who has an addiction will have been labeled as lazy, worthless, stupid, weak, and more; that isn’t true. Being told by people you care about that the situation is not your fault, just as having cancer or the flu is not a person’s fault, can also be very empowering. Addicted people may be in denial, they are not stupid. They have internal voices going off telling them that they should change, but other internal voices making it impossible for them to do so. If they are told that people understand that they are unable to make those changes without help, it can be very important. Comparing it with another illness can help to make things clearer. Those who break their leg in an accident will not heal by simply telling themselves to keep walking. They will need professional help to fix the issue, before they can return to their normal life.

What an interventionist can do is help you create this type of message. It is a message of love, caring, and support. But it is also a serious message, and this is why it is so important to also have real consequences ready.