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What Is an Intervention?

There was a time when it was commonly thought that the best way to help an individual with a drug problem was to wait until he hits “rock bottom.” When that person’s life was adversely affected enough by addiction and destructive behaviors, he would enter rehab or seek help.

However, over the past few years, this thought process has evolved. The medical community has concluded that addiction is a disease and not a series of bad life choices. As a result, more attention has been given toward helping those afflicted with addiction, rather than punishing them.

An intervention is the process by which the family, friends, counselors or professional intervention specialists can show a person struggling with drug addiction the negative impact of the disease in his life and on those who care for him.

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Who Should Participate in an Intervention?

While family members perform interventions, anyone with a sincere and loving relationship with the individual can participate.

This might include:

  • Adult family members (siblings and parents)
  • Children of the afflicted individual
  • Pastoral and religious community members
  • Friends and colleagues
  • Significant others

It is also a good idea to use the services of a person trained in the process of drug and alcohol intervention. That person can provide the family and friends with the information they need to conduct a thorough and safe intervention.

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What’s the Immediate Goal of an Intervention

The purpose of an intervention is to help the person struggling with addiction to enter a rehabilitation program, usually in an inpatient facility.

Including friends, family and concerned relations, the intervention is not to “gang up” on the person needing help, but to show him how widespread his addiction truly is. When the individual sees how his drug problem affects others’ lives, he may be motivated to seek treatment. An intervention may serve as a final warning, of sorts, that these people will no longer support the destructive addiction in his life.

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How Does An Intervention Work?

The first step to setting up an intervention for a loved one is to determine what help the individual may have already sought for himself. Does he have a counselor he speaks with regularly?

According to the American Psychological Association, a counselor or psychologist is prohibited from discussing confidential interactions with their clients or patients; however, they can help you to determine whether it is time for an intervention to take place and the probable success of the intervention.1 They may choose to be a part of the intervention process.

Family Intervention

The intervention takes place in a safe environment with the participation of every family member, friend or professional who has a stake in the outcome.

For instance, very young children who are unable to focus or actively participate should be cared for elsewhere. Any small children who are directly affected by the events can participate provided the content of the discussions is not too mature for them to hear or understand.

It is important that each person involved in the intervention receive adequate training before attempting to participate. In many cases, the subject of the intervention has wronged the friends and family members either physically, emotionally or financially. And because this is the case, despite the best of intentions, it can be easy for emotions like anger to surface and take over during the intervention process. This will do more harm than good and could derail the process altogether.

An intervention is not the appropriate time to address the anger each person feels. An intervention is an opportunity to show the individual that he is loved. Participation in training prior to the intervention can help ease this problem. To ensure the intervention flows smoothly, each member of the intervention group should write down, in advance, what they wish to say to the addicted person.

This can include:

  • How they have been wrongly affected personally by the individual’s behavior
  • Changes they have noticed in the addict’s personality, reliability and self-control
  • The overall impact that the addicted person’s behavior has had on their relationship
  • Dreams and goals they have for the individual after treatment
  • A statement of unconditional love for the addict, but a promise that the intervener can no longer help the addict destroy himself

The final step to planning an intervention is to make sure there is a bed available in a reliable, trustworthy rehabilitation facility so the addicted person can immediately enter treatment.

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Signs an Intervention is Needed

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.2 If an individual is unable to control his drug problem and has stated he does not wish to seek treatment, it may be time for an intervention.

Here are a few common signs to look for of an individual struggling with addiction:

  • Loss of interest in normal activities and hobbies
  • Showing up late or not at all for work
  • Financial problems, your loved one constantly needs to borrow money
  • Sleep problems
  • Bloodshot eyes, bad breath, shakes or tremors and weight fluctuation
  • The individual is acting or behaving differently
  • Fighting with family members or co-workers
  • New friends

Any time an individual is suffering from addiction and either does not understand he is addicted or does not seem to care about herself enough to seek help on his own, it is possible an intervention may help. More often than not, addiction is directly connected to an ongoing mental health condition.

In fact, research shows that approximately 37 percent of individuals with alcoholism and 53 percent of individuals with drug addictions have at least one serious mental illness.

This means that the afflicted individual may be self-medicating for more severe, root psychological issues that are leading his to abuse drugs and alcohol. He honestly may not understand that he is self-medicating; he may think he’s just getting the next high. An intervention can help him see that other forms of help are available.

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What Are the Success Rates of Interventions?

Because the entire process is so individual, so personal, success rates for interventions are difficult to gauge. Studies indicate great success convincing an addicted person to enter treatment immediately. But if the individual is over the age of 18, he or she can check out of rehab almost immediately upon getting there.

So ultimately, success is difficult to track. Discharge records of individuals seeking medical or psychological care are strictly confidential. There is no reliable way to track how many discharges are premature or whether the person was admitted due to an intervention in the first place. Even so, there are many benefits to holding an intervention, even if the individual does not immediately seek the care he needs.

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What if the Intervention Is Unsuccessful?

The most impactful moment of an intervention can often be the afflicted person’s realization that his or her loved ones will no longer facilitate the addiction. There are many people struggling with addiction who claim to want to get treatment only as a means of manipulating others into helping them maintain the addiction.

You’ll know when an intervention fails if the individual does any of the following:

  • Promises to seek help “soon”
  • Promises to enter rehab if he is provided with money or a place to stay “for a while”
  • Enters rehab as part of a criminal conviction, but only goes through the motions
  • Uses manipulation to convince friends and family of his desire for help, then fails to follow through

Unhappy Woman At A Family InterventionWhen the behaviors above become commonplace, the person needing help is too wrapped up in his addiction to understand the true impact of his behavior on the lives around him. Friends and loved ones want to believe, what to have reason to hope, so it’s especially difficult to see through the manipulation.

Ultimately, if he or she refuses to enter a rehabilitation program, it is important that those holding the intervention follow through on their own promises. If you’ve promised to stop supplying food, money or a place to stay until he agrees to get help, don’t back down. Do what you need to do to stop supporting the destruction of your loved one.

How Does an Intervention Help?

An intervention is designed to help those struggling with addiction see the negative impact it has made in their own lives, as well as in the lives of those who love and care for them. But it is more than that. Creating an intervention setting can communicate the love, concern and strength of the community surrounding them in this time of trouble. It can also help them recognize that they are not living up to their full potential.

An intervention benefits family members and friends in the following ways:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse education
  • A deeper understanding of the commitment family members and friends need to help their loved one
  • Gaining knowledge of neighborhood and community resources for the family members and friends of addicts
  • A greater sense of unity among those participating in their desire to see their loved one become well

If you are wondering if you should hold an intervention for your loved one, call our helpline at 269.280.4673. We can help walk you through each of the steps and also answer any questions you may have. In many cases, your loved one may also struggle with untreated psychological issues. At Skywood, we treat the whole person — not just the drug problem, but the underlying reasons for the drug problem.

Intervention is only one possible first step to recovery. The bulk of the work lies ahead through recovery and support, but intervention is an option when families and friends can commit themselves to the process.


1Ethical Principals of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.” American Psychological Association, Accessed 16 June 2018.

2The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed 18 June 2018.

3 “Dual Diagnosis & Addiction.” The Fix. Accessed 18 June 2018.