Staging an Intervention–A ‘How To’ Guide
If you have a loved one who’s living with alcohol or drug addiction, it’s natural that you’d want to help. When it’s done the right way, an intervention can be a powerful tool for getting your loved one help.
That being said, it’s critical that your intervention is well-thought-out. Going into an intervention without a solid plan is asking for trouble.
After all, an intervention is a confrontation, and without a careful approach, it can go wrong. It’s easy for your loved one to feel attacked in an intervention setting, especially if it’s an atmosphere that doesn’t feel safe.
If you’ve never ran an intervention before, then you’re probably unsure how to go about it. Planning your intervention methodically is the best way to start.
You’ll need to:
- Meet a professional who can help you run your intervention as safely as possible
- Choose trusted loved ones and friends to be part of your team
- Meet with everyone who’s involved a few days beforehand to rehearse and plan
- Write down statements that objectively show how your loved one’s actions affect everyone else
- Go through with the intervention according to plan as closely as possible
- Set some boundaries that make it clear there are consequences for staying on drugs
- Help find treatment information to make it easier for your loved one to decide to get better
With these 7 steps, you can hold an intervention that gets through to your loved one. Here’s how:
#1: Work With a Professional Intervention Counselor
If you’re not a drug and alcohol counselor, you probably haven’t run an intervention before. Luckily, that’s why professional counselors are an option.
A professional intervention counselor will talk to you about:
- Your loved one’s drug use and relapse history
- Who you plan to involve in the intervention
- The best practices for holding an intervention
- What to do before, during, and after the intervention
In many cases, the counselor can even be part of the intervention. Having a counselor present at an intervention can be valuable. They can serve as the neutral third-party who can resolve any disputes.
The counselor will usually listen and guide the discussion, and step in if any conflict comes up. They’ll leave most of the speaking to you and your intervention team unless they’re needed.
#2: Build a Trusted Intervention Team
Your next step will be to put together your intervention team. This is a team of people who care about your loved one and want to see them get better.
Your intervention team should include people who:
- Are important to your loved one
- Are trustworthy, empathetic, and non-judgmental
- Are on good terms with your loved one
You should avoid inviting people who:
- Are confrontational or likely to start an argument
- Are on bad terms with your loved one
- Are part of your loved one’s social circle that uses drugs
Everyone who’s part of the intervention team should be on the same page about how the meeting will go. If anyone is argumentative or not following the plan, then they shouldn’t be included. Likewise, anyone who might make your loved one feel attacked shouldn’t be included.
#3: Hold a Pre-Meeting to Plan & Rehearse
Before the actual intervention, have a pre-meeting (or several.) At this meeting, you’ll plan out all the details, including:
- What order you’ll speak in
- What you’ll say and how you’ll say it
- What you’ll do if your loved one tries to halt the intervention
It’s very important for an intervention to go according to plan on your end, since it won’t always go to plan on your loved one’s end. If your loved one tries to leave prematurely or start a fight, you have to know how to proceed.
Having a plan (and making sure everyone is aware of the plan) helps ensure that the intervention goes as well as it possibly can.
#4: Use Impact Statements
Have you ever heard of an impact statement before? This is a statement that takes the form “When you do X, I feel Y.”
It helps to express how you’re hurt by your loved one’s substance abuse without laying blame or being accusatory. These statements are a neutral way to tell your loved one that their actions have real effects on the people that they love.
For the best results, everyone on your intervention team should write and rehearse an impact statement. That statement will be a big part of their contribution to the intervention.
#5: Follow Through on Your Pre-Meeting Planning
Before the actual day of the intervention, it’s important to rehearse!
Everyone should have a clear idea of their roles and responsibilities when going into the intervention. Rehearsing should come after you’ve done all of the planning so you can cement those plans into place.
After a rehearsal or two, everyone on your team should be able to act according to plan during the real intervention.
If you have a complicated intervention with lots of impact statements, or if you suspect that your loved one will not be receptive to the intervention, then consider doing some extra rehearsing.
#6: Set Consequences
In many cases, an intervention won’t go anywhere without consequences. That’s not always the case, but if your loved one hasn’t hit rock bottom, they might still believe that they don’t have a problem.
Consequences are an added incentive to seek treatment. They can help your loved one understand how their actions affect you. Some examples of consequences include:
- “I can’t lend you money if you don’t go to inpatient”
- “We can’t stay married if you don’t follow a treatment plan”
- “I can’t live in this house with you if you keep using drugs and alcohol”
In a small, intimate intervention, everyone with an impact statement can come armed with a consequence too.
In larger groups, only the people who are closest to the person should bring consequences, to avoid overwhelming your loved one with too many demands.
For instance, consider having significant others, parents, and best friends bring consequences to the table.
Either way, consequences need to be real. If you say that you can’t stay married if your loved one keeps drinking, but don’t follow through, then there’s nothing keeping your loved one sober.
Be prepared to follow through on any consequences that you impose. Don’t set consequences that you don’t mean to follow through on. That can set your loved one’s recovery back by making them feel like there are no consequences for using drugs.
#7: Do the Research on What Comes Next
If you get through the intervention and your loved one is interested in getting treatment, congratulations!
You should already be armed with treatment research for your loved one, which can include:
- Treatment center information
- Cost and financing information
- Research on the best treatment options
After an intervention, your loved one may be too drained to follow through on getting treatment. It’s best to do the work for them ahead of time.
Before the intervention, figure out where your loved one should go, how to finance it, and what the best treatment plan might be.
Your loved one is more likely to get treatment immediately after the intervention. The more time that passes after intervention, the less likely that they’ll go to treatment. Try to have arrangements made and a bag packed so you can leave right away.
Not All Interventions Work the First Time—Be Prepared
Newsflash: many people with substance use disorders (SUD) need more than one intervention in their lives.
That’s because SUD is a disease with a high relapse rate. Between 40% and 60% of people with SUD have a relapse after their first treatment, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse. Some sources cite even higher rates of relapse, similar to asthma and diabetes (in the 80% to 90% range).
Even if your loved one takes well to the intervention and goes to treatment, you may have to do this again in a few months or years.
Don’t be discouraged by the prospect of having to intervene again. Your loved one with SUD can recover with your care and support, but sometimes recovery is interrupted. If it doesn’t work long-term the first time, then the next course of action is simply to try again.
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