Is It Time for an Intervention?

By The Fix staff 03/19/18

The main message an interventionist wants to get across is that the person who’s at the center of the intervention is loved—and worthy of that love.

3 women in serious discussion.

Watching a loved one descend into the depths of addiction is a lot like watching one of those cave divers on a National Geographic documentary. In many ways, the whole thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why would someone keep taking insane chances with their lives, all alone in the dark? Still, they’re compelled to go down into the dark—and to go down deep. You can’t do anything but watch them disappear out of view, as they’re connected to reality by a very thin line of rope. You don’t hear or see them for hours. Maybe days. While they’re doing their thing underground, you feel helpless to do anything but wait. You certainly can’t leave or act like everything’s normal. After all, what if they get hurt? What if the rope breaks? Those are all of the thoughts that race through the mind of someone whose loved one is struggling with the scourge of addiction. But what happens when addiction turns the corner? In many ways, a loved one’s addiction can sometimes seem infinitely predictable, like you know all the dialogue before any of the speakers on the stage start speaking their parts. You probably feel like, no matter what, you know exactly where it’s all going to go.


Addiction eventually reaches a point where you don’t know if your loved one is ever going to climb back out of the dark. When you feel constantly overwhelmed, your patience is spent and your hope is all gone, you’re probably ready to try anything. Countless people have been in the exact same situation, as they’re left wondering where they can turn for help. You’ve completed all the research; you’ve done all the legwork. Let’s say your loved one is deep in the bottle and they simply can’t imagine a line without alcohol. For them, that’s just something that doesn’t compute. A sober life is a life not worth living, they’ve probably said. You’ve already checked and double-checked their behaviors to see if it fits the alcoholic paradigm. You’ve already read the answers about why it’s impossible for many alcoholics to simply stop their behavior. You may have even heard, over and over again, that they refuse to go to treatment. But right now, you need to get your loved one the help they so desperately need.

By now, the word “intervention” has probably floated through your brain a few times. But there’s a big gulf between knowing what the word means and knowing what actually goes into the planning and execution of a successful intervention. In fact, interventions are tricky, daunting, intimidating affairs. No intervention happens the exact same way twice. Unsurprisingly, there are several different schools of thought when it comes to interventions. Some of them emphasize the person who’s struggling and providing them a place where they experience an “eye-opening moment.” Other models seek to “educate and offer closure to the whole family.” In many ways, interventions are as delicate as they can be dramatically powerful in course-correcting someone’s future. They’re planned events where all of the loved one’s friends and family members come together to determine how they can help. They’re planned for a reason, too: the idea is that interventions have as much structure to them as safety—both physically and emotionally. The last thing the person who’s suffering needs to feel is defensive or threatened. Emotions will run high and the outcomes will be unpredictable. That’s why it’s vitally important to have someone coordinating the event who knows what they’re doing. Interventionists (or intervention specialists) are specifically trained to ease tensions, re-route conversations, and defuse aggression at virtually every turn. The main message an interventionist wants to get across is that the person who’s at the center of the intervention is loved—and worthy of that love. Embracing a life without alcohol or drugs is a tall order, sure, but it’s one worth considering, the interventionist acknowledges.

If a trained professional isn’t able to help you with this critical step toward recovery, A Better Today offers a 7-step guide to hosting your own intervention. The first step is to conduct research about substance abuse treatment options and sorting out everything that won’t work for you or your loved one. In many ways, this is the hardest part of the entire intervention process. It’s super-important that you locate a treatment facility that clicks with you on every level: not simply its location, but its safety and its promotion of long-term sobriety. You should also be asking what to look for in a treatment center. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not knowing what you don’t know. The second step is to assemble your intervention team, which means picking people whom your loved one trusts. You also need to keep size into consideration as you don’t want to have so many people at the intervention that it runs three or four hours long.

A Better Today advises that the next step should be knowing what each and every person will say at the intervention. Time should be dedicated to helping others come up with what they want to say—and how they want to say it. It’s also a good time to practice how to avoid blame or causing shame while, at the same time, offering support. The next three steps, frankly, are all logistics. It’s just about getting the timing right. Deciding when to host an intervention is almost as important as having the intervention in the first place. The time can set the tone as much as the direction of that person’s recovery. Additionally, it’s important to discuss whether you plan on having a surprise intervention or an upfront one. The surprise intervention always runs the risk of triggering aggressive behavior toward everyone, but it very often yields effective results when it comes to getting them to listen to your concerns. Whatever method you choose, on the day of the intervention, anyone who takes part in it should read their speeches and sentiments with the hope that the person will eventually want to seek treatment. A Better Today suggests that you should go first and last in the intervention, reminding everyone why they’ve come together and explaining the intention of the intervention itself.

And while these guidelines are just that—suggestions—it’s important to keep in the back of your mind that Plan A might not work. Your well-plotted intervention may be over before you know it or perhaps it simply didn’t go the way you wanted it to. There’s simply no predicting how an intervention will go with so many human dynamics and variables involved. That’s why A Better Today insists that you shouldn’t blame yourself in an intervention doesn’t go well. Don’t lose faith. Simply have back-up plans. You may even seek some measure of treatment for yourself, as there are many people who benefit from attending Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings. Whatever you choose, treatment centers like A Better Today remain deeply invested in saving lives and healing families. We can’t get our loved ones sober, but we can certainly listen to the people who know their way through the darkness—and the way out of it.

For more information, find A Better Today on Facebook and Twitter.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

The Fix staff consists of the editor-in-chief and publisher, a senior editor, an associate editor, an editorial coordinator, and several contributing editors and writers. Articles in Professional Voices, Ask an Expert, and similar sections are written by doctors, psychologists, clinicians, professors and other experts from universities, hospitals, government agencies and elsewhere. For contact and other info, please visit our About Us page.