How to stage an intervention: Helping your loved one into recovery

There’s a reason we say that addiction affects the whole family. It can be incredibly difficult to watch a loved one struggle to break free from the cycle of substance use; causing strain, tension, guilt, conflict and more for everyone involved.

Often, a tipping point can arrive after repeated offers of help have failed or when a person’s behaviour becomes increasingly destructive. When health, relationships, job performance, and overall quality of life are increasingly and negatively affected, families might choose to hold a more formal intervention.

Getting a loved one into alcohol or drug treatment is just one goal of an intervention. Another important outcome is helping them break through denial and realize the impact of their addiction. In this way, a well-planned intervention can be a powerful step toward recovery for the whole family.

What is an intervention?

Typically, an intervention is a structured meeting where concerned family members, friends or colleagues gather to show a person who is struggling with substance abuse how the problem has affected their own life, and the lives of those around them. 

An intervention is also a carefully planned process. It requires education, sensitivity, coordination, and healthy, non-judgmental support. In this way, an intervention is an effective tool designed to help a person face the impact of their addiction and encourage them to accept help and seek treatment.

It’s important to note that an intervention does not physically force someone into treatment, but rather, gives them a real-world view of the path they are on and what happens each time they drink or use excessively. 

How to do an intervention

Staging an intervention involves several steps and careful planning. Whether or not you choose to involve a professional in the process, such as an addiction counsellor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist, there are strategies you can use to help make an intervention more successful.

Before an intervention…

Educate yourself.

Start by learning more about addiction and treatment, including the 12 Step Program.

One way to do that is by attending addiction support group meetings for families, like Al-Anon. Members may be able to guide you toward finding nearby addiction resources, but more importantly, they will be able to share their own experiences with you. Also, these connections will help nurture your emotional well-being because they will help you understand that you are not alone.

You can also register for the Renascent Essential Family Care Program, which provides education and treatment from trained counsellors who know firsthand what it’s like to be a family member of someone with the disease of addiction. 

Form a planning group.

Select a small group of close family members, friends, or colleagues who care about this person and who will help plan and participate in the intervention. Consider including a professional for guidance and support.

Choose a treatment plan. 

Research and select appropriate treatment options, such as inpatient or outpatient rehab, therapy, or support groups. Ensure that a treatment facility has space available and is prepared to admit the individual immediately following the intervention.

Create an intervention plan. 

It can be tempting to hold an impromptu intervention. And even though this is well-intentioned, the lack of planning can sabotage the effort. It’s best to hold the intervention only when you have all the pieces in place.

An effective intervention may take weeks to plan. It requires everything from deciding which concerned family and friends to invite to participate, to how you will provide transportation directly to a treatment facility. You will also need to decide whether there will be consequences if your loved one refuses help, for example, choosing to withdraw all financial support. 

Rehearse the intervention.

Each member of the group should prepare what they will say, focusing on expressing concern and love without blame or anger. Role-play the intervention to anticipate possible reactions and refine the approach.

Set a date and location.

Choose a time and place where everyone feels safe and comfortable. Ensure it is a private setting where there will be no interruptions.

During the intervention…

Talk about the effects. 

During the intervention, tell the person who struggles with addiction how it affects everyone. Use “I” statements that present their addiction from your point of view. 

Make maximum impact by saying exactly what concerns you: “I worry about the police showing up at 4 a.m. to tell me you’re dead” or “I’m scared you’ll put the kids in the car and hurt or kill them by driving drunk” or “I miss the sister who used to bounce into my bedroom and raid my closet before a date.”

Refrain from judgment. 

The purpose of the intervention is to make your loved one realize they need alcohol or drug treatment; it’s not the place to scold them over every bad decision they have made. Avoid statements like “You should never have started abusing prescription drugs” or “You’d be fine if you hadn’t hooked up with that guy.”

Also stay away from religious or philosophical arguments. Instead remain laser-focused on painting a vivid picture of how the addiction hurts them and everyone they love.

Don’t make idle threats. 

Ultimately, the decision whether or not to enter treatment is one only your loved one can make. If, when the intervention concludes, they decide not to enter treatment, the consequences you have outlined need to start immediately. For example, if you said you would not provide financial support, then do not give them a single penny from that point onward. 

This “tough love” approach can be hard on you as well as your loved one, but making idle threats will only teach them that you are not serious about getting them into recovery. If you tell them you won’t financially support them anymore until they go into treatment, do not give them any money or pay for anything that then allows them to continue using.

Manage your expectations. 

A carefully planned intervention can be successful. But it’s also important to remember that your loved one might not accept help or treatment. Be prepared for resistance or refusal. If your loved one refuses help, reiterate your support and concern, and leave the door open for future discussions.

Take care of yourself too. 

Self-care for the intervention team is also a key part of the process. Supporting someone with an addiction is hard work, and you want to ensure everyone takes care of their own mental and emotional health and that they know where to seek support if needed.

Sample intervention plan

There is no one way to hold an intervention. It’s important to choose a time, place and format that works for you and makes everyone feel safe and comfortable. An example of an intervention might look like:

1. Gathering with the intervention team, any professional involved, and your loved one as planned.

2. Beginning the intervention with expressions of love and concern. Each member should then take turns sharing personal feelings of how the addiction has affected them and the individual, using “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory.

3. Presenting the treatment plan and explaining the next steps. Offer your support and willingness to help the person through the recovery process.

4. Letting your loved one respond and share their thoughts and feelings. Be prepared for any reaction, ranging from denial to anger to acceptance. Stay calm and supportive, regardless of the initial response.

5. If your loved one agrees to seek help, facilitate their immediate admission to the chosen treatment facility. Have transportation and logistics arranged in advance.

6. Continue to offer support throughout and after treatment. Engage in family therapy or support groups to help with everyone’s recovery.

How to help someone with addiction

Addiction is a complex and multifaceted disease with physical, social, and psychological components. It’s similar to other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease but addiction is far more prevalent. 

When planning an intervention and supporting loved ones with drug or alcohol addiction, it is therefore important to remember that their dependence is not a result of character, nor is it something they can “just quit.” How you talk about addiction before or during an intervention with your loved one can help them feel less defensive and more open to considering treatment.

If your loved one accepts help and treatment, you can continue to help them on the path to recovery by supporting the treatment centre’s admission abstinence requirements and following the advice of the treatment centre’s addiction counsellors. For example, some recovery centres have a “no contact with family” rule for a specified period. If this is the case, do not try to contact your loved one. 

As a friend or family member, your role is to provide the healthy encouragement and support they need to focus on their recovery journey. Holding an intervention and getting your loved one into alcohol or drug treatment may not be easy, but their life is worth the effort. Start making plans today to help guide your family member or friend onto the road to recovery.

How Renascent can help

Sustained abstinence from alcohol and other drugs can reverse physical damage caused by addiction, and this requires intensive participation in a holistic treatment program, especially for those whose genetic brain structure makes them more prone to substance dependence. 

At Renascent, we help change lives by providing high-quality care for people who struggle with substance addiction and mental health issues. Our approach is driven by evidence – and our clients and their families are at the centre of all we do.

Start your road to recovery, and contact us for a free and confidential consultation.

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.