Structured Family Intervention for Alcoholism and Addiction

Last Edited: February 17, 2020

Matt Esaena

Clinically Reviewed

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

Give your loved one the wakeup call they need.

A structured family intervention is one of the most powerful tools to use in trying to get a loved one to accept help for alcoholism or drug addiction. This is because it is based on concern and love, which are the two things that may just break through the denial that people with an addiction often have. Organizing a structured family intervention, however, has to be done properly. It has to be approached with care, so that what shines through is not accusation and blame, but compassion, care and love.

Importance of Planning a Family Intervention

It is absolutely vital that a structured family intervention for an addict or alcoholic is planned appropriately based on effective techniques. Dealing with a loved one who struggles with a drug addiction or alcoholism, it is likely that you feel as if you have already tried everything.

What you may not realize is that the family members have actually been sabotaging their own efforts, subconsciously and unwittingly. Some may have accidentally enabled the behavior, others may have made empty threats, many will not actually have the right knowledge on what addiction is and how it should be treated and nobody was speaking from the same page. This is why it is so important to perform a structured family intervention in an organized way, preferably with the help of a trained interventionist.

When a structured family intervention is done properly, the family can become a unit again. It ensures that everybody works together and agrees on what the best approach is. This is why an intensive period of planning precedes the intervention itself. The process is planned and even rehearsed, before it actually takes place. Interventions can become volatile situations, it is important that every avenue, every possible reaction, is planned for, leaving nothing to chance.

The process of a structured family intervention has been extensively researched and perfected. Some people believe that they are discouraged from expressing love for the addicted person, as it was felt this would just enable the habit. It is now known that showing someone you care about and love them is actually the first thing that can help crush the denial; being tough and blaming them or being judgmental does not work. That said, you do have to take a tough love approach.

Structured Family Intervention & Codependent Relationships

When people are in a relationship with an addict, they often become codependent on the addict. It is human nature to seek out routines and repeat certain behaviors. Over time these routines and behaviors become ingrained and seemingly normal. For a drug addict or an alcoholic in a relationship, their addiction becomes comfortable and normal. Likewise, those who care for the addict become comfortable in the role of caregiver, when in reality, they are actually playing the role of an enabler, enabling the addict’s behavior.

When organizing a structured family intervention that involves a codependent relationship, the challenge is not only to get the addict into treatment, but also to get the enabler to accept their role in the situation. Only then, will it be possible for change to occur. Because of this, you must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a codependent person.

A codependent person will:

  • Think they are responsible for the addict’s thoughts, feelings, choices, actions, needs, wants, well being or lack thereof and destiny.
  • Feel guilt, pity and anxiety when faced with the addict’s problems.
  • Feel compelled to solve the addict’s problems, by rapidly making suggestions or giving unwanted advice.
  • Become angry when their advice does not change the problem.
  • Try to anticipate what the addict needs.
  • Struggle to comprehend why others do not care for the addict in the way that they do.
  • Find it difficult to say no, leading them taking on too much responsibility and doing things they don’t want to do.
  • Put their own needs secondary to those of the addict.
  • Struggle to understand what their own needs are.
  • Try to make everybody else happy.
  • Find it very easy to get angry when an injustice is done to someone other than themselves.
  • Feel guilty and insecure about accepting help from others.
  • Feel sad about the fact that they always give but never receive.
  • Find that needy people attract to them, while they are attracted to needy people.
  • Feel useless and anxious if not in the middle of some sort of crisis.
  • Drop everything they are doing to help someone else.
  • Regularly over-commit.
  • Feel under pressure and hurried all the time.
  • Feel, although they won’t express this, that others should be responsible for them.
  • Blame others and situations for their loved one’s addiction to drugs or alcohol.
  • Blame others for the way that they feel.
  • Feel others are driving them crazy.
  • Feel used, unappreciated, victimized, and angry.

All of that may seem quite depressing, as well as quite conflicting. To better understand, you must first understand the nature of relationships. Essentially, when two people form any sort of relationship they will do at least one of, if not all, of the following:

  • Inherit some of the qualities the other has.
  • Behave in ways that enhance the qualities of the other.
  • Behave in ways that diminish the qualities of the other.

Simply put, it means that when two people enter into a relationship, both of them will change. When one of the two is an addict, those changes are more dramatic. In fact, if you reword the three above actions when there is addiction in the relationship, it becomes:

  • They will take on some of the unhealthy behaviors the other has (such as using substances).
  • They will behave in such a way that improves the life of the addict (such as enabling their addition).
  • They will behave in ways that diminish the life of the addict (such as forcing him or her to seek help).

Planning a Structured Family Intervention

The first step in initiating a structured family intervention is to consult with an intervention specialist. The entire family needs to be on the same page in terms of how to address the situation and the intervention specialist will help make that happen. Each family member has their own unique relationship with the addict so each will have a different approach to the intervention in order to facilitate healing as a whole.

The intervention specialist will take time to educate the family on addiction and how it affects everyone. Recovery is a lifelong process, and it is very important that family members truly understand that. Family members will also learn how they may have had any part in enabling the addict. Once enabling behaviors are identified, family members can ensure they don’t repeat these behaviors after treatment.

It was once believed that an addict had to hit rock-bottom before they would be receptive to getting treatment. It is now known that this is absolutely not true. Though an addict who has hit rock-bottom (and survives) is definitely more likely to receive treatment, but waiting until that point, could cost them their life.

Here’s a general outline of how the structured family intervention will go:

  • Consult with an interventionist and form an intervention team.
  • Learn about the addiction and research appropriate treatment facility suitable to the addict’s needs.
  • Designate a date and time to facilitate the structured family intervention.
  • Determine consequences if the addict refuses help. Prepare to stick to those consequences.
  • Write letters to the addict explaining toll of their behavior while still expressing love and support that they can make a change.
  • Practice and rehearse the intervention.
  • Hold the intervention.
  • Follow up to ensure success.

Find an Addiction Intervention Specialist

Finding an intervention specialist should start with an understanding of what they actually do and why their work matters. It’s important to understand that they come from different backgrounds and each have an individual, unique approach. Find an interventionist that is registered and licensed. Express any concerns unique to your situation so the interventionist can accommodate appropriately.

Interventionist services are not cheap and there is no guarantee in the end. You may be investing thousands of dollars on an interventionist, only to realize your loved one will not take the help, remaining committed to the path of self-destruction. It is imperative that each family member understands that through this process, they are each doing everything they can to help the addict get to recovery aside from force. If the addict refuses help, it doesn’t mean that you have failed, but rather that you must continue trying with a variety of approaches.

Once you have an understanding of what an intervention is and how it works and you understand that the focus is on dignity and love, you will be better equipped to find someone who can actually help you complete the process properly. Structured family interventions, if done right, are incredibly powerful and have saved countless lives.

Structured Family Intervention for an Alcoholic

Alcoholism is a complex and chronic disease. Because alcohol is a socially accepted and legal drug, it can be even more difficult to break through the denial of an alcoholic. Making it even more important to get the intervention just right. This means:

  1. Planning properly. You must think about what you want to do, why you want to do it, how you want to do it, and what your expectations are. This is dependent not just on your own needs, but also on those of the alcoholic loved one. Make sure you speak with an interventionist, therefore, as this can help you plan and prepare for what is going to happen.
  2. Preparing yourself and others. An intervention is always done in a group, and you need to make sure that everyone in the group is ready. Interventions are volatile, highly charged, and incredibly emotional. You must learn not to become accusatory towards the alcoholic, and you have to be ready to face that they may resent you and feel betrayed by you.
  3. Getting the team together. It is vital that you have the right people on the intervention team. Friends, family members, colleagues, and others who care. The parent is generally the leader if the alcoholic is a child. The spouse tends to be the leader if the alcoholic is the partner.
  4. Setting the consequences. This is often the hardest to do because you have to make sure your consequences are severe enough to make the alcoholic want to make a change, but also that you stick to them if he or she refuses to get help. For families, common consequences are:
    • Having to move out
    • Losing parental visitation rights
    • Taking the person’s vehicle away
  5. Holding the intervention, where each member will speak a rehearsed message, but doing this in a way that is caring and compassionate.
  6. Showing the options for treatment. Have an opening ready for the alcoholic to go to immediately.

An intervention is about putting people on the spot and not giving them time to think or reconsider. Discuss the treatment options that are available and tell them they can go straight away. In some situations, it is okay to give your loved one time to think for a few days, but then it is even more important to stick to the consequences should he or she decide not to go.