What Is An Intervention And How To Stage It With Interventionist?

Last Updated: July 2, 2021

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Intervention is one of the essential tools available to convince victims of substance abuse to seek the treatment they need. An addiction intervention is a structured, solution-oriented process undertaken to persuade someone who has a problem with drug or alcohol abuse to seek help in overcoming the addiction.
A successful intervention is best seen not as a “confrontation” but as an opportunity for the addicted person to accept help and take the first step towards recovery. That’s why the people involved in staging an intervention are professional substance abuse interventionists and addict’s family and friends.
Let’s overview the intervention process: what is it, what are the types of interventions, how to do an intervention, how much does it cost, and what is an intervention specialist’s role in this process?

Defining Drug And Alcohol Intervention

Some individuals struggling with substance addiction recognize the extent of their problems on their own and seek treatment without the need for a drug or alcohol intervention. Others refuse to accept that they have a problem or that the issue involves addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Interventionist does not allow man to drink alcohol

Drug intervention sessions can provide the critical “push” these individuals need.
During an intervention, a group of people a.k.a. the intervention team gathers with the addicted person to outline the negative consequences of addiction and present possible ways to overcome them. This team most often consists of:

  • family
  • close friends or co-workers
  • substance abuse interventionist (alone or with trained addiction counselors)

If an addict is religious, a member of a local church or a priest may also be called to support the intervention process.

The Importance Of An Early Intervention

Here are some other myths that one should avoid:

  • Wait until the patient hit the bottom. When it comes to early intervention, rather than waiting for a time limit, try to get help before things progress very far.
  • Addicts lack basic morals. Anyone can get addicted to a substance, irrespective of the morals and character they possess.
  • Addicts will break the ties with those trying to help. The response of a recovering addict is unpredictable. They do get upset at various instances, but it won’t lead them to break ties. Instead, at some point, they realize that friends and family are only trying to help.
  • Soberness is possible if an addict has strong willpower. The addicted individual requires a lot more than will power to become sober.
  • Rehabilitation does not work if someone has failed it. If an addict has faced a relapse, it does not mean the treatment will not work.

Further, during an early intervention, it is recommended that the friends and family of an addicted person should conduct it if they agree that the behavior of the person has changed alarmingly and that there is evidence that the cause of this change involves alcohol or drugs.

Types Of Interventions

Types or models that alcohol and drug intervention specialists use vary in their approaches – some are confrontational, while others are more invitational. Even if it was chosen to stage an intervention without a professional interventionist, the following descriptions of the models that trained interventionists to rely on could help to determine which approach might be best for the loved one:

Johnson Intervention Model

This is one of the original approaches to intervention, and the one that most people think of when they hear that word.

son is talking to his drunk father

  • The format is “confrontational.” While always using a caring tone, the message of this approach is frank and honest. Most important, it’s a surprise. The person for whom the intervention is being staged does not know about it in advance.
  • It’s a one-time event; the focus of the Johnson Model of intervention is to inspire immediate action.
  • The group shares the ways that they have been personally impacted by the addicted person’s behavior, and clearly presents consequences – what will happen if addict does not immediately begin the treatment.
  • Members of the team are expected to follow through with the consequences they express if this does not happen.

Even if the addict refuses to seek treatment, their family will receive advice from the professional on the next steps or alternatives possible. The goal is to trigger a desire to change in the substance abuser before they hit “rock bottom” and find themselves in a state that could have more severe consequences.

ARISE Intervention Model

With this type of intervention, an addicted person is involved in the process from the beginning. This approach focuses on introducing the entire family to recovery, with no shame or blame being assigned to anyone.

  • The format of the ARISE model of intervention is more invitational than it is a matter of confrontation. There are no surprises, and the addict is aware from the beginning what their loved ones have planned.
  • It’s not necessarily a one-time event; there maybe 1 to 5 meetings. How many are needed depends on how quickly the addict takes action and accepts treatment.
  • The overall treatment approach is more collaborative, designed to address both the needs of the addict and his or her loved ones.
  • The loved ones (support network) stay involved throughout the entire length of the treatment process, and even afterward.

The Family Systemic Intervention Model

This model explores the family’s dynamics with the addict. It assumes that substance abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and includes:

  • Acknowledgment that a substance abuser’s behavior can affect the family, but at the same time, the family may be reinforcing negative behaviors without realizing it.
  • With the help of an interventionist, the addict and their loved ones commit to ongoing therapy, with all parties trying to create an environment of recovery. The focus is on healing the entire family and not just the addict.
  • This approach is often useful with younger substance abusers such as teenagers, whose age creates an increased reliance on family for successful rehabilitation.

nervous couple having conversation about addiction consequences

Crisis Intervention Model

While other models seek to change an addict’s behavior before they hit the rock bottom. Sometimes that moment has already arrived, and the addicted person needs intervention. Because it’s a crisis situation, the addicted person can be in danger of:

  • Serious illness related to substance abuse.
  • Mental health problems exacerbated by substance abuse.
  • Legal problems, job loss, or financial issues caused by substance abuse.
  • Badly damaged social and family relationships.

There are two types of crisis intervention models, 6 step crisis intervention model, and Roberts 7 stage crisis intervention model.

6 step crisis intervention model

The 6 step model involves the following steps:

  1. Defining the problem so that it can be understood with ease.
  2. Assessing and ensuring the safety of an individual.
  3. Provision of instrumental, informational, and emotional support.
  4. Examining alternatives that are based on three possible perspectives, including supporting the individual to assess the situational resources, helping the addict to identify coping behaviors, and assisting a person in examining the thinking patterns.
  5. Making a plan to achieve stability in a shorter time-frame.
  6. Final step is to make the individual commitment to the plan.

7 stage crisis intervention model

The 7 stage crisis intervention model includes the following steps:

  1. Conduct a thorough risk assessment.
  2. Make contact and establish a collaborative relationship.
  3. Try to identify the major issues.
  4. Encourage the act of exploring emotions and feelings.
  5. Explore new coping strategies.
  6. Implement the action plan.
  7. Plan regular follow-ups.

The Stages Of An Intervention

Whether one is planning to conduct the intervention or work with a professional organization and a trained interventionist, the following intervention steps are critical to it being successful and achieving the goals.

 making notes on upcoming intervention

Form The Intervention Team

The intervention team consists of the addict’s friends, family members, and substance abuse interventionist. When contemplating an intervention, one of the most important early decisions is to choose the right people:

  • The team should not contain anyone the addict dislikes intensely or has a long-standing grudge with.
  •  It also should not include anyone who has mental health issues or anger management issues of their own.
  • Select people who truly love and care for the addicted person and have their best interests at heart.

Plan and Prepare

Addiction specialists recommend that the family members and friends who are part of the intervention team actually write down what they plan to say in the form of an intervention letter to the addicted person.

Write An Intervention Letter

In this letter, family and friends should detail real-life examples of when, where, and how the substance abuser’s actions have personally and negatively affected them.

friends writing intervention letter

One of the reasons for writing these things out is so they can be reviewed with the interventionist beforehand to make sure they are coming from a place of love and wanting the best for the addict, and not that they are trying to shame or “get back at” him or her.
Here is a list of tips on how to write an intervention letter:

  • Always begin the letter with a statement that is full of care and concern.
  • Try to remind the person of positive feelings and express that the experts are trying to offer a helpful treatment at the rehab center.
  • Include a context that shows understanding of the issue. Write in such a manner so that it conveys the difference between who the person is now and how the addiction may force them to behave.
  • Ask the individual to take a step towards the treatment.
  • Don’t forget to communicate gratitude to the person.

Find A Treatment Program

Another crucial part of how to plan an intervention is to decide beforehand on a treatment plan for the addict. One should research the rehab center, be familiar with the chosen treatment program,  make sure it is covered by the addicted person’s insurance plan, and make arrangements with the facility so treatment can begin as soon as possible.

Stop Enabling Behavior

Friends and family members must stop enabling the addict’s behavior by not giving them money or supporting the addiction in any other way. Family and friends must change their behavior, too.

Agree On The Consequences

As important as it may be for the team to emphasize their love and positive feelings for the addict, it is equally critical for them to decide beforehand what their list of consequences will be if the addict does not seek immediate treatment.

 men talking about intervention consequences
These consequences could include:

  • withdrawing financial support
  • eviction if the person lives at home
  • the rest of the family moving out
  • revoking visitation rights with children, or if necessary, cutting off all contact.

These measures may sound extreme, and they are, but the purpose of them is to impress upon the addicted person the severity of the situation they have created for themselves.

Choose The Time And Location

If possible, pick a non-threatening space for a drug or alcohol intervention where the addicted person will feel comfortable and safe. In almost all cases, a private home or other private location is better than a public place. The most important thing to look for is privacy, so there is no possibility of being interrupted or overheard. It’s also important to schedule interventions for alcohol abuse for a time of day and location in which the loved one is not drinking, and is sober.

Learn and Rehearse

Friends and family who have written an intervention letter to the addicted person should practice reading them aloud. They should do this many times before the intervention itself. This process helps to prevent emotional outbursts and helps team members to communicate with an addict more effectively.

Prepare For Anything

The best rule of thumb is to hope for success, but be prepared for the possibility of failure. Sometimes an intervention may not work, and the addict refuses treatment. Plan ahead for this eventuality, and discuss what to do in case of failure.

women talking about the next steps
While failure may be disappointing, it’s not the end of the world and maybe helpful in the long run. For example, the intervention team members may communicate with the addict about behaviors they will no longer tolerate, and sometimes these things sink in even if the addict doesn’t enter a rehab program. Also, even a failed intervention can plant a seed that can take weeks or months to bear fruit.

Conduct The Intervention

In the beginning, define intervention to the addicted person. Explain that the purpose is to make them understand that an addict has a problem and that the only real solution is to accept help.
The next question, of course, should be, “Are they ready to admit that they have a problem?” The intervention can theoretically stop right there, and a person can start making arrangements for checking into rehab on the same day. However, this rarely happens. Instead, addicts often reply with one of the following objections:

  • They deny that they have a drug or alcohol problem.
  • They try to explain, or otherwise excuse and justify their substance abuse.
  • They acknowledge that they may have a substance abuse problem, but refuse to enter treatment.
  • They refuse to accept the leadership of the interventionist or authority of the intervention team, accusing them of “having their own problems.”
  • They completely reject the intervention and the treatment plan  proposed.

If any of these happen, the interventionist should ask friends and family to read – one by one – the intervention letters they have written and rehearsed.
Remember, doing this does not blame the addict or shame them, but provides a unified front so that they begin to realize the damage they have done, and realize that they are being offered an opportunity to “set things right” by accepting help.

Confident man grabs addict's hand during intervention
If the addict is still refusing to either admit to having a problem or agree to start therapy – bring out the list of consequences. Don’t allow the addicted person to storm out of the room without:

  • having heard the proposed treatment program and understanding it
  • understanding what will happen if they refuse.

End by reaffirming that all of this is being done out of love, and if they choose not to accept that love, they are essentially choosing to burn the remaining bridges between themselves and their family and friends.

Follow Up

If, at this point, the addicted person agrees to accept the treatment program proposed during the intervention, the next stage of changing their addiction should be an admission to the treatment facility. This should happen as soon as possible.

Most professional interventionists advise having a follow-up meeting for the members of the intervention team. During this meeting, the team can discuss “how it went,” ask questions about treatment or other issues, and receive guidance on how to best support the patient through the process of detox, therapy, and aftercare.
If applicable, this follow-up meeting can also be an opportunity for the interventionist or representatives of the rehab facility to provide additional counseling to the family members, and to suggest ways that they can get the help they will need during their loved one’s recovery process. This can include experiential therapy activities, involvement in Al-Anon, or other services.

A Cost Of Intervention

One of the factors to bear in mind when considering whether to use the services of a substance abuse interventionist, of course, is cost. A brief, single-session can potentially cost $2,000-$3,500, and if travel or multiple sessions are involved, it can cost even more.
Therefore, one of the considerations to look into carefully before arranging to work with a professional interventionist is whether their services are covered by the addicted person’s health insurance.

Should One Work With Addiction Professionals?

The best way to conduct an intervention is with the help of a substance abuse Interventionist.
Contrary to what many believe, it is not always best for an intervention to be planned and implemented solely by the addicted person’s family, friends, and loved ones. While this group often has the largest stake in achieving a positive outcome, at the same time, they may be too close to the situation and too affected by it emotionally to remain calm.

Interventionist convincing the family
Substance abuse interventions can be emotionally difficult and painful experiences for everyone involved, so sometimes it is best to seek help from an experienced third party.
Working closely with professional substance abuse interventionists and addiction counselors can take a lot of pressure off of the addicted person’s family. These organizations can also help to make more informed decisions about the types of rehab and treatment programs available.

Benefits of Working With A Professional Interventionist

Health professionals recommend that the primary responsibility for planning and leading drug intervention be left to a professional. Main reasons behind this are:

  • Trained interventionists are professionals – alcohol and drug abuse counselors, addiction psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed social workers, etc.
  • They have training in the psychology of addiction, family dynamics, cognitive behavioral therapy, and group moderation.
  • They know how to motivate addicts to seek treatment and change, rather than cause guilt and resentment.
  • Also, the NCADD emphasizes that one of the most important aspects of planning a successful intervention is having a recovery strategy in place even before beginning it.
  • If one is working with a professional interventionist who is associated with the rehab facility chosen, he or she can help to decide which therapies might be most appropriate for a loved one.

Page Sources

  1. By Gerard J. Connors, Carlo C. DiClemente, Mary Marden Velasquez, Dennis M. Donovan, Substance Abuse Treatment and the Stages of Change: Selecting and Planning Interventions, 2012
  2. TK Logan, Robert Walker, Jennifer Cole, Carl Leukefeld, Victimization and Substance Abuse among Women: Contributing Factors, Interventions, and Implications, 2002, https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2680.6.4.325
  3. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22514840
  4. https://www.associationofinterventionspecialists.org/

Published on: September 28th, 2015

Updated on: July 2nd, 2021

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.