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Drug and Alcohol Interventions: The Do’s and Don’ts

Drug and alcohol addiction ruins lives, plagues communities and causes untold deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70,630 people died of drug overdoses in the US in 2019. Figures like these could be lowered if more people stepped in and staged interventions on people who abuse drugs and alcohol.

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What Is an Intervention?

An intervention is a coordinated event where the friends and family of an addict gather at a specified time and place to confront the subject. Interventions are necessary when drug and alcohol abuse has a noticeable impact on the subject’s behavior, health and capabilities. The purpose of an intervention is to get the subject to agree to get help.

What Happens During an Intervention?

In an intervention, friends and family of an addicted individual gather at a location to greet the subject and confront him/her about the problem. The objective is to get the subject to acknowledge the problem and agree to get help. Some interventions go smoothly, others are rough and tumultuous. It depends on the subject’s willingness to face the music.

  • Gathering of friends and loved ones – An intervention should include all the people that are close to the subject. These should all be people who the subject knows, loves, trusts and speaks to on a regular basis. People the subject is normally open and candid with on other topics. This should not involve anyone with whom the subject is currently on bad terms.
  • Discussion with the addicted individual – Interventions are events where people close to the subject confront him or her about the elephant in the room: addiction. The objective is not to be scolding, confrontational or punitive, but the communication should be firm. It should be delivered from a stance of concern (tough love).
  • Bring the subject to terms – Interventions are where the subject (if all goes well) opens up on his/her substance abuse and acknowledges that, yes, there is a problem. The subject should then agree to submit to rehab and counseling. It doesn’t always go this way. Some subjects are evasive and combative, in which case professional intervention is needed.
  • Get the subject to agree to treatment – If the subject acknowledges that there has been an ongoing drug or alcohol problem, he/she should agree that it’s time to get treatment. If the subject still insists on handling withdrawal alone, it helps to mention local treatment programs and how supervised detox is far more successful than cold turkey attempts.

The host of the intervention should be ready to accompany the subject to a treatment center right then and there if all goes well. Accommodations should also be made for the subject’s pets (if he/she lives alone) and anything else that might go unattended for the time being (vehicle, mail, etc). 

When Is an Intervention Necessary?

Interventions are necessary when the subject has refused to get help from the best drug rehab centers despite showing obvious signs of addiction and all its consequences (declining job performance, worsening health and appearance, erratic behavior). 

  • The subject has an obvious drug/alcohol problem – If the subject shows the symptoms of drug or alcohol addiction (slurred speech, incoherent sentences, shakes, sweats, agitation, irritability, lightheadedness, mania, disheveled appearance), it’s time to take action. If talking with the subject privately doesn’t help, it’s time to get others involved.
  • The subject is in denial about the problem – If the subject is evasive or unwilling to acknowledge the problem, even after repeated private attempts to broach the topic, it’s time for more drastic action. In some cases, the subject might get irritable when the topic is brought up and go silent and scarce. This would indicate a serious problem.
  • The problem continues to escalate – If the subject’s behavior grows progressively worse due to intoxication, it’s time for an intervention. Otherwise, the problem could result in negative social consequences (job loss, failed relationships, legal troubles, fines), and manifest in risky behavior (drunk driving), violent outbursts and self-harm.
  • The subject shows no signs of change – If the subject has nodded in agreement that, yes, there has been a problem, yet continues on the same path without seeking help, it’s time to get help for that person. The longer they procrastinate and carry on as if the problem can simply be tolerated or ignored, it will only get worse.

Some people are conscious of their addictive habits yet hate having the topic broached by other people. If the subject is evasive and stubborn about the topic, it will likely take more than a friendly greeting by friends and family to get that person to come around.

How to Prepare for an Intervention

When you plan an intervention, you must take the time and location into account. The layout could make or break the intervention because it will impact the subject’s comfort level.

  • Choose the right place – An intervention should be carried out in a space that is well laid out and large enough to accommodate everyone who agrees to attend. It should be a place that the subject will agree to come to at his/her free will; a place where that person would feel comfortable.
  • Coordinate people’s schedules – The intervention should be scheduled for a time and palace where all the crucial people can attend. The day and time should be set aside and people need to mark the date and hour. The intervention party should gather in advance to prepare for the subject’s arrival.
  • Make the location clean and inviting – The place should be clean and peaceful. It should be a place where the subject would gladly step in and have a seat. The more comfortable you make the environment, the subject is more likely to feel comfortable opening up about his/her problem.
  • Have everyone prepare scripts – Everyone should write down the key points that they want to get across to the subject and have them prepared on notebooks or smartphones. In the heat of the dialogue, people can get flustered and forget what they need to say unless they have it in front of them.

Discuss the intervention talking points with the other people that will be in attendance. Evaluate the scripts and take out anything that might seem one-sided or combative. Prepare answers for any objections the subject might raise at the event.

Where to Stage an Intervention

An intervention should take place at a comfortable location that everyone can get to on the date in question to face the subject and share their concerns.

  • A place where the subject would feel comfortable – The intervention should be held at a place familiar to the subject where he/she feels at home. A place where the subject is most likely to act candid and feel comfortable opening up about personal matters.
  • A place where everyone can attend – The location should be a place where all the key people can attend on the date and time. It shouldn’t be too far from where most of the people live. The place should have parking and public transportation accessibility.
  • A place with a good layout – The place should have a welcoming interior where the subject can sit at the center in a chair or sofa. There should be enough room for all the key people to stand apart at reasonable distances and make eye contact with the subject.
  • A place with the right amenities – The place should have good lighting and ventilation and be reasonably furnished, but not over-stuffed with fixtures. There should be ample space and walking room so that no one feels crowded or claustrophobic.

If you plan to hold an intervention at your house, consider rearranging your living room so that it’s spacious and accommodating for the event. Alternatively, you could rent an Airbnb.

Who Should Be at an Intervention?

An intervention should be restricted to close friends and relatives of the subject.

  • Close friends of the subject – Anyone who’s a near and dear friend of the subject should be in attendance, provided they live nearby. Casual acquaintances don’t count. These should be people that the subject talks to regularly on a candid, intimate level. 
  • Dear relatives of the subject – Any close family member should be in attendance, provided they live in the same city. These would be people the subject communicates with regularly throughout the year (parents, siblings, adult children). This probably won’t include distant relatives (second cousins). 
  • Trusted colleagues of the subject – You might invite people that the subject works with if they’re friendly on the job and do social things as a group. Don’t approach co-workers if you don’t know them but sense that the subject’s addiction, if exposed, could result in his/her termination.
  • Treatment professionals (optional) – You could invite an intervention specialist to attend the event and offer professional input. Warning: it could be unsettling for the subject to see an unfamiliar face at an event where he/she is asked to be candid.

There should never be any small children, ex-friends or ex-lovers at an intervention. An ex might have concern for the subject but the baggage between them could raise issues that would distract from the matter at hand.

What to Do in the Intervention

Before the intervention, decide which friend or family member will address the subject first. It should either be the closest friend or family member, possibly one of the parents. Alternatively, it could be the best-spoken member of the group, possibly someone with a background in counseling or intervention work.

  • Confront the subject about his/her problem – Once you have everyone gathered in the room, address the subject with concern about the problem. Be sensitive, talk about the good things first, then get to the matter at hand. 
  • Listen and let others take turns – Allow the subject to answer each question in full without interruption. Make sure that everyone in the room understands when to speak and listen.
  • Ask the subject to agree to get help – If all goes well and the subject is compliant and honest, ask if he/she is ready to get help. If not, remind the subject of the dangers of addiction, have him/her acknowledge the problem again, then restate the help question.
  • Offer to take the subject in for help – If the subject agrees, offer to take him/her to a treatment center or have one of the attendees handle transportation.

Try to gather as much info as possible about the subject’s addiction before the intervention. This will help you come from a stronger place of authority and override possible denial. It shouldn’t be a question of whether x does y; you already KNOW that x does y. The question is whether he/she is willing to face the problem and agree to get help.

What If an Intervention Fails?

Interventions don’t always work. Some people with addiction disorder are too withdrawn, irritable and stubborn to acknowledge the problem or agree to get help. If the intervention goes bad:

  • Try to diffuse the situation – If the subject’s answers verge on rage or emotional downward spirals, politely interject to return things to a cool-headed framework with positive words of hope and encouragement.
  • Hold strong without being pushy – Let the subject speak and take time to gather words, but don’t let the subject overpower the dialogue with negativity, denial or concern-shaming (“it’s none of your business; it’s my life.”)
  • Warn the subject of his/her dangerous course – Whether the subject is compliant or not, always return to the theme that addiction is dangerous and deadly and that as long as there’s life, there’s hope.
  • Call a nearby treatment center for other options – If the intervention fails and the subject storms out on everyone, call a nearby addiction treatment center and ask if they offer help with interventions. 

When performed properly, interventions are usually successful. Most people with drug or alcohol problems are unlikely to sever their relations out of spite for other people’s concerns. Crisis scenarios are most likely if the subject has been withdrawn, secretive and isolated for a long time.

Get Help Today

Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

Make a Call

Get Help with an Intervention

Drug and alcohol addiction claims thousands of lives each year. Some people succumb because they lack the care and support of friends and loved ones. If someone you know has an addiction problem, don’t let them fall by the wayside. Stage an intervention and get that person the help he/she needs.

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