Intervention for Substance Abuse

When someone you love has an alcohol or substance abuse problem, it can be difficult to watch them progress on a downward spiral. Addiction affects everything it touches.

A person addicted to drugs or alcohol can be hard to reason with because addiction affects reason, judgment, decision-making abilities and emotions.

The costs of drug and alcohol use are staggering. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that illicit drug use costs the nation around $193 billion, while alcohol use costs about $249 billion each year.1 These costs, however, do not account for family problems, including domestic violence, loss of employment, academic performance and emotional damage. While some of these are social rather than financial consequences, the path of addiction widespread destruction.


Helping a Loved One Through an Intervention

Women holding intervention for friendHolding an intervention for a loved one struggling with abuse or addiction can be a vital first step in helping that person to reduce or discontinue drug or alcohol use.2 Interventions are primarily for encouraging an individual to stop substance use and to be open to seeking treatment. Many times people are in denial of the substance abuse problem or unaware of how their actions affect those around them. When planned carefully, an intervention can be very successful and, in the past, they have shown promise in helping to reduce or stop substance abuse, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.4

Interventions, as popularized by the TV show of the same name, are meetings in which friends, family, colleagues and other loved ones share with the addicted individual specific examples of destructive behavior, talk about their emotions and recommend to the person possible options for treatment.1 However, not everyone who is subject to an intervention is immediately receptive; therefore, it is important to have a plan to include several outcomes and responses.


Steps to Holding an Intervention

When you plan to hold an intervention, there are a few things to keep in mind before you actually meet with the addicted individual. If implemented carefully and with the person’s best interest in mind, it can be an eye-opening experience for everyone involved. The scope of problems that addiction creates and manifests is frequently unknown to the individual, and sometimes even to those close to them. The Mayo Clinic has outlined some very helpful steps to creating a successful intervention, including the following:3

  • Planning – Preparation for the intervention is one of the most important parts of the process. During the planning stage, you want to consider where to hold the meeting and who you want to have involved. You may want to consult with a professional interventionist or family mediator if you feel the person may be hostile or if you are unsure of how to proceed.
  • Gathering information – There are many levels of substance abuse and that should be taken into account when planning the intervention. What kinds of drugs are being used? How far has the abuse or addiction gone?2 Take this time to learn the extent of the individual’s problem with substances and research possible treatment options.
  • Getting your team together – Think about friends, family and colleagues who may have been affected by the person’s substance abuse. The Discovery Channel recommends at least three people present at the intervention but no more than 10 as that can be overwhelming.6 You want to include people who are positive influences on the person but not anyone who encourages or enables the negative behavior. Designate one person as a leader of the group. That person will keep the group focused throughout the intervention.

It’s also important to set a date and time for the intervention. Pick a comfortable atmosphere without interruptions or distractions. You may want to avoid the person’s home. Also, when choosing the time and place, try to make hold the intervention at a time when the person is likely to be sober. Some other tips include the following:

  • Set the consequences for refusal – Holding an intervention is great, but you’re likely to meet some resistance at first. Decide with your team what actions you will take should the individual refuse to get treatment.
  • Your message – Another crucial aspect of an intervention is what you’re going to say during the meeting. Form a unified message after you speak with your team in order to ensure you are all on the same page. A helpful tip is to write down your message so you can avoid heavily charged emotions during the meeting.
  • Meeting time – When present at the intervention, each person should take a turn explaining how the individual’s substance abuse has affected them. This is the time to tell the addicted person how you feel about his or her addiction. When communicating during the intervention, try to use positive language and “I” statements and have specific details about incidents that may have been problematic in the past. The more concrete examples you can provide, the more effective your message will be. It is best to stay away from negative language like “disappointed,” “ashamed” or “failed.” Also, address the importance of seeking treatment and what benefits that can provide to the individual. When confronting the individual with a treatment recommendation, it is important to ask for an immediate decision. Insist on getting a commitment to treatment, so it can begin sooner rather than later.
  • Post-intervention – If your loved one agrees to treatment, it is best to act quickly and stay involved. Be prepared to take them to a detox facility immediately, and be an active person in the recovery process. Stay in touch with the treatment center and the individual. A good support system is integral to helping a person stay in recovery and in preventing relapse.

Need Help?

Interventions have been essential in helping to reduce alcohol abuse and illicit drug use. On average, alcohol rates are reduced between 13 to 34 percent after interventions.4 They have also been shown to be helpful in reducing cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine use, according to HHS. Additionally, it’s estimated that around 90 percent of interventions are successful in helping a person to seek substance abuse treatment. Those are great odds.

If you or someone you love is fighting addiction, please let us help. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day at our toll-free helpline. Please call now and take your first steps to a life without addiction.


1Trends and Statistics.” NIDA. April 2017. Web. Accessed 2 July 2017.

2Introduction to Brief Interventions and Therapies.” NCBI. 28 March 2011. Web. Accessed 2 July 2017.

3Who should be on the intervention team?” Mayo Clinic. Web. 26 September 2014. Web. Accessed 2 July 2017.

4 Utley, Caitlin. “Family Intervention Tips.” How Stuff Works. Web. 5 July 2011. Web. Accessed 2 July 2017.