How to Have an Intervention that Works

February 10, 2020

Watching a loved one struggle with drug or alcohol addiction is painful. Even if you manage to avoid getting drawn into your loved one’s problems, it’s hard to see someone you care about suffer. Sometimes you feel like you have to do something. While many people believe that nothing will change until the person with the substance use issue hits rock bottom, by then, it is often too late. 

Typically, people struggling with addiction are conflicted about their substance use. They know it’s hurting them and their families but they aren’t ready to quit. Sometimes, the right kind of nudge will convince them to at least give treatment a fair shot. This is where an intervention can help. Most of us are familiar with the idea of an intervention–indeed, most of us have probably watched the show–but there’s more to it than ambushing your loved one and loading them up with ultimatums. The following are suggestions for making your intervention work.

Seek expert guidance.

First and foremost, you should seek expert guidance before holding an intervention. This should be someone with training and experience in leading interventions. Often, intervention specialists are in recovery themselves and they know what it’s like to be the focus of an intervention. The stakes of an intervention are high and it’s a good idea to have the guidance of someone who is familiar with the process. Most people won’t be involved in more than one intervention in their lives and this isn’t a time to learn as you go.

An intervention specialist will meet with the family ahead of time and help you organize the intervention. That means they will help you figure out who should be there, how to write your intervention letters, what order to go in, and how to behave during the intervention. It’s also important to have a plan in place so that if the person does agree to treatment, they can go right away. That means they need to have a spot reserved in a treatment program, a bag packed, and travel arrangements made by the time of the intervention. The intervention specialist can help coordinate all of this and take some of the pressure of the family. 

Pick the right people.

An intervention will typically include immediate family and possibly some close friends. These should be people with the most emotional and practical influence over the person they’re trying to help. That means they are people whose feelings matter to the person and people who can apply pressure if necessary, such as parents who can cut them off financially. These kinds of consequences may or may not be part of the plan but they are one possible tool. Most people who decide to get treatment cite harm to their families as their primary reason, so hearing from the people they care most about is critical. 

Wait until they’re sober.

The intervention should happen at a time when the person is sober, which typically means in the morning. There are a number of reasons for this. One is safety. People behave more erratically when they are drunk or high. Interventions can get tense and emotional so it’s better to keep the volatility as low as possible. Second, the whole point of substance use for most people is to insulate them from painful emotions, so if they’re drunk or high, the emotional appeals of their family members and friends aren’t likely to be as effective. They may not even be able to follow what’s going on. Third, for the reasons cited above, they won’t be able to make a sound decision. It’s hard enough to think clearly when drugs or alcohol are distorting your priorities, so it’s better to keep that distortion to a minimum by picking a time when the person is at least relatively sober. 

Pick a neutral space.

If you have watched the show Intervention, you probably have noticed they typically take place in a neutral space like a hotel meeting room. If you try to have an intervention at the person’s house, they may feel like their space is being invaded and become defensive. If you invite them over to your house, they may just leave when they realize what’s going on. Having the intervention on neutral ground feels safer and makes them less likely to leave. They can storm out, but then what? They’re in a strange hotel 20 miles from home. They are more likely to sit through the intervention and hear everyone out.


Preparation is key for an intervention. There should be at least one dress rehearsal with the intervention specialist. This is where you go over the general program and read your letters. You may get some helpful feedback from the intervention specialist or other team members. Rehearsing reduces everyone’s anxiety about the intervention and improves the odds that things will go smoothly. 

Preparation also involves some of the issues mentioned above. You have to pick the team members, find a place for the intervention, choose a time, choose a treatment program in advance, make travel arrangements, and pack a bag. The intervention specialist can streamline this process but they also need help from the family to accomplish all of this during the preparation stage.

Stick to the script.

During the intervention itself, it’s important to stick to your script. If you’ve prepared well, you’ve already gotten some constructive feedback on your intervention letter so that it focuses on what you really want to say with a minimum of tangents. Sticking to your letter keeps you from forgetting important points and it keeps you from rambling or getting overly emotional. 

Stay calm.

It’s crucial to stay calm during the intervention. Many people in the room are probably feeling a mix of anger and concern for their loved one and it’s easy for tempers to flare. Consider what it must be like in the hot seat, hearing the people you care most about describe your worst mistakes in cold detail. Always remember that however hurt or angry you may feel, your goal is to support your loved one and convince them to enter treatment.

Interventions are never pleasant affairs but they often make the difference between someone getting help or not. At Steps Recovery Centers, we can assist you in conducting an intervention and provide treatment options if your loved one agrees to get help. To learn more about our intervention and treatment services, call us today at 385-236-0931.

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