Addiction Intervention

By The Fix staff 12/13/14

Intervention, as defined by the American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary, is interference so as to modify a process or situation.


Addiction, also known as substance use disorder, involves using a variety of substances for coping with stressful situations. Addiction is a total physical and mental dependence on a legal or illegal substance, activity, or object according to the Mayo Clinic.  Dealing with an addiction involves more than an intervention and treatment process, as more than 50% of those with a severe mental illness suffer from an addiction according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.

When you begin planning an intervention, you need to consider the type of intervention that you will be using, which may be geared towards changing an alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, or other compulsive behaviors. An intervention is a gathering of people of value to someone with an addiction to encourage an addict to seek out treatment. However, many people with an addiction often begin the process in denial and react aggressively to an intervention.  Ultimately, an intervention gives a person the opportunity to change his life through a structured plan presented by those involved in the intervention. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency, more than 90% of those suffering from an addiction agree to get the help they need when an intervention is held in an appropriate manner.

An intervention can include family members, friends, coworkers, clergy, and trained substance abuse counselors.

Alcohol Addiction Intervention

Alcohol addiction interventions should be conducted when a person has not consumed any alcoholic beverages or recently gotten high, if at all possible. However, those planning the event can influence the environment by removing available sources of alcohol from the residence before the intervention and keeping an addict occupied. An alcohol addiction intervention can be one of the most difficult forms of interventions to perform as alcohol is not an illegal substance; many users view it as an “acceptable” coping skill for stressful situations.

Drug Addiction Intervention

Depending on the drug being abused, a drug addiction intervention can be a dangerous situation. The withdrawal symptoms can become apparent almost immediately, and aggression becomes a primary concern to everyone involved. It’s important for everyone involved in the intervention to express their desires and needs for their friend, loved one, or whomever else the addict may be to obtain the help that is being offered to them.

Traditional Versus Brief Interventions

Unlike an intervention to encourage a person to get treatment for an addiction, a brief intervention takes place throughout the course of treatment by a counselor, mental health worker, or a family member. A brief intervention serves to reiterate the reasons for obtaining treatment, which include family impact, effects of addiction on the body, and the positive changes that come with sobriety. In addition, the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse notes that brief interventions may be held by physicians or other medical staff when a person with an addiction is evaluated for other health reasons.

The Intervention Process

An effective intervention requires a knowledge of the intervention process involved in planning and having an intervention. Furthermore, you can make the process easier for yourself and your loved ones by following a few guidelines during the intervention. The intervention process clearly defines when a person should go to treatment and how family members continue to be an active participant of an intervention throughout treatment as well.

What To Expect During an Intervention

An intervention can be broken down into multiple step according to the Mayo Clinic.

The initial step of an intervention begins when you or someone else decides to hold an intervention for a loved one or friend. At this point, you will begin planning the process and may consult with an addiction specialist, mental health counselor, social worker, interventionist, or other professional counselor for advice.

Next, you will need to begin gathering information about the severity of the addiction. Take into account any known addiction problems, mental health issues, medical problems, and the problems arising from the addiction. Furthermore, you need to begin looking into the available treatment options or programs. For more information on locating available services, visit the National Council on Addiction and Drug Dependency.

You will then form the intervention team, which will actually be present and participate in the intervention. Rehearse the information you plan to present to your loved one with the addiction, and make sure your plan directs attention to your desire for your loved one to attend treatment. Avoid the desire to bring irrelevant information into play during the intervention; stick to the facts of the situation.

If the person does not accept treatment or refuses to acknowledge the help being offered, you need to have a defined list of consequences that will follow. Each intervention team member must present a specific set of consequences to your loved one during the intervention. For example, a change in living arrangements or child-custody may be used as a consequence. It will help if you take notes on what you plan to say during the intervention while you rehearse and prepare for the meeting.

Last, you need to actually hold the intervention. It does no good to plan a thorough intervention if you never go through with it. Do not tell your loved one about your plans, and keep all information about the intervention secret from everyone except for those directly involved in the intervention.

Tips for Making An Intervention Go Smoothly

The Mayo Clinic identifies the following key points to keep in mind while planning an intervention.

  • Check with your insurance policy to see what facilities are covered under your plan. The Affordable Care Act requires all insurance carriers to cover substance abuse treatment now, so you only need to find out where to go.
  • Begin taking steps to prepare for admission to the treatment, For example, you may be able to provide personal information about your loved one, plan a time for arrival, or see if there is a waiting list for admission.
  • Avoid treatment centers focusing on a fast treatment. Addiction treatment takes time, and fly-by-night facilities do exist.
  • Take necessary travel into consideration. If the facility is located outside of your home city or state, prepare travel arrangements to prevent your loved one from putting treatment off.
  • Take your time to carefully plan an intervention.
  • Make one person of the intervention team responsible for contacting other team members.

When Does a Person Go to Treatment Following an Intervention?

In order for addiction treatment to be the most effective, the thoughts and actions that occurred during the intervention must be fresh in the mind of the person with the addiction. Your loved one will need to go into treatment immediately following the intervention according to the Mayo Clinic.

What Should the Family Do While a Loved One Is in Treatment?

Your responsibility to help your loved one overcome addiction does not end when he or she enters treatment. You need to be an active and present participant during treatment, such as attending treatment meetings with your loved one's psychiatrist, social workers, or psychologists.

You may be able to visit your loved one during treatment, but you need to check with the policies of each respective treatment center for visitation limitations. In some cases, you may be unable to visit during the first few days of treatment.

After discharge from a treatment center, continue the efforts of your intervention by checking on your loved one's progress. Express your gratitude for his or her decision to accept treatment, and continue to be vigilant of your loved one's actions. Intervene if you notice substance abuse problems arising again, such as your loved one returning to the same social circles in which the addiction was promoted.

Will Addiction Treatment Be Painful?

Withdrawal symptoms may be painful, but medical professionals can help in providing treatment to control them. The benefits gained from stopping the pattern of self-destructive behaviors of substance use disorder far exceed the inconvenience of receiving treatment. To provide a safe environment during the detoxification process, many sufferers of substance use disorder use inpatient treatment centers to help them cope with the changes experienced during withdrawal. It's never too late to stop using drugs; premature death awaits someone who never stops.

Addiction Intervention is an essential step to helping your loved one when addiction grows out of control. By understanding how an intervention works, what you can do, and the common question of "will it hurt," you could change the life of your loved one. Above all other considerations, prepare for the emotions of an intervention as you find your voice amidst the blurred reality of addiction.

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