What is an Intervention?
Before addressing how to do an intervention, it would be helpful to understand what an intervention is.
The definition of intervention in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “The act or fact of taking action about something in order to affect its outcome.”
The definition of intervention in Oxford Languages is “Action taken to improve a situation, especially a medical disorder.”
The clinical definition of an intervention is when specific strategies, often evidenced-based, are used to meet a particular goal for a specific problem, behavior, or scenario.
Anything creating and contributing to the problem or preventing the problem from improving must be explored. Interventions are clinical tools used daily, every day, to treat all kinds of problems, including mental and substance use disorders. Clinicians know that addressing the environment contributing to the problem is one of the number one predictors of successful outcomes.
Substance use and mental disorder professionals know that addiction affects the family system as much, if not more, than the substance user. This is often why an intervention consisting only of a conversation with the substance user, without a professional, ends with short-lived positive results.
Understanding interventions from a clinical perspective, an emotionally attached family can’t do an intervention for their loved one with a substance use disorder, mental disorder, or both to achieve the same outcomes as a professional.
How To Do An Intervention: Step By Step
Step 1: Make a Decision
At some point, families realize they can no longer wait for their loved one to ask for help or hit their bottom.
At this same time, the family realizes they are at their bottom and can not allow things to continue without addressing the problem. Please remember that a decision is only a decision. Decisions do not lead to anything unless followed by action.
Step 2: Professional Help vs. Doing It Yourself
It is highly recommended that a professional is brought in to assist the family. There is a possibility that doing it yourself can lead to the substance user accepting help.
There is a minimal possibility the substance user will make an effective decision on the treatment plan that would otherwise be clinically recommended by a team of professionals using up-to-date assessment instruments. Doing it yourself will also reduce the family’s ability to learn addiction education, letter-writing strategies, boundaries, objection handling, and manipulations.
Not bringing in a professional will prevent the family from having a team of people to help address the volatility that will come with early sobriety attempts. Interventions without a professional will prevent your family from addressing the most crucial piece of an intervention, which is the ongoing support and recovery for the family.
If your only goal is for the substance user to see they have a problem or make an attempt at treatment, then this is the way to go. Suppose your goal is to change everything and exponentially increase the likelihood of short- and long-term success for both the family and the substance user. In that case, it is suggested that you call a professional.
Step 3: Set Goals and Strategize
Interventions require extensive planning and preparation. This planning and preparation is comprehensive on the front end and even more involved after the face-to-face interaction with family and substance users has ended. The family must prepare themselves for what happens after.
Discussions of individual therapy, 12-Step self-help groups such as Al-Anon, and group counseling for the affected family members are highly recommended. Families must also prepare themselves for how to handle flare-ups and volatile situations while their loved one is in treatment.
This is where most families fail.
They are unprepared for what is about to happen and are often unaware of how important it is to prepare for everything before, during, and, most importantly, after the intervention.
Be ready and have your decisions made on how you will handle the outcome. Prepare yourselves on how to manage their manipulations and objections.
Will you allow the substance user to talk you out of your plan and into theirs?
Or, are you going to agree as a family that it is this way, or do we enforce boundaries?
Then there are all the options in between.
Are you ready for this?
Step 4: Intervening with the Family and Substance User
Have your letters ready and your decision made.
If you are using a professional, they will help you with your letters.
If you’re not, stick to your script and stay on track–the substance user will try and interject.
Will you stay the course?
Once the letters are read, be ready for the negotiations to start. You should have already made a decision on boundaries and a treatment plan. You will either stick to the original plan or give in to the substance user.
Discuss how you will handle this.
Be ready to take them to treatment or handle them rejecting treatment.
Step 5: Family Recovery
This step is impossible for a family to navigate without a professional. Yet, it is the one most families do not consider or feel is relevant to the overall success of both family and substance users. Without ongoing support and education, families are left going about handling problems in the same manner they did before the intervention.
There are four stages of recovery for families whose loved one has a substance use disorder, mental disorder, or both (dual-diagnosis).
Families start working with a counselor or family recovery specialist.
The goal is to engage the family after the intervention to develop a relationship and set appointments for ongoing support.
Families start to learn about their loved one’s addiction and behaviors. This process extends from the education received from the interventionist during the formal family day meeting and is much more comprehensive. Families also learn about their behaviors and roles in the family system and understand the importance of their recovery.
The goal here is to persuade family members that the addiction of their loved one needs to be addressed, and their role and behaviors should be addressed too.
Both family and substance users are engaged in their own treatment plan. Families understand how things they do or do not do could contribute to the failure and success of their loved one who uses substances.
The goal is to help families construct ongoing plans and strategies and gain awareness of their reactivity to the substance user’s volatility. Families are encouraged to seek additional recovery resources outside the group.
Some suggestions are to engage in individual therapy and self-help groups such as Al-Anon, ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Families), Families Anonymous, OPEN Alcoholics Anonymous, and OPEN Narcotics Anonymous meetings, etc.
Families are engaged in their own recovery; Families are reminded of the importance of staying on track and are educated on how to handle a relapse with themselves and their loved one.
By now, the family should be able to handle situations that previously sent them into a tailspin instinctively. The family and the substance user’s support network should be in place.
The goal is to maintain the acquired tools and principles up to this point. A family should know when to reward the substance user and when to reestablish boundaries. A good reference to this concept is the CRAFT model of intervention.
Before doing the intervention yourself or hiring a solo interventionist with no support or team behind them, or believing an intervention is as simple as someone coming to your home to talk your loved one into treatment, please consider this:
- It takes several people and multiple resources from the intervention team to help bring a family to the point of doing an intervention.
- It takes several intervention team members to collaborate on strategies, assessments, logistics, treatment plans, and interventionist assignments.
- It takes ONE interventionist to come to your home to intervene and start the process of the intervention program.
- Regardless of the outcome, our entire intervention team must support the family after the intervention.
How a Professional Interventionist Can Help
If an intervention is a conversation between family and substance users only, then a professional may not be needed to accomplish the goals the family hopes to achieve.
If an intervention is about talking a substance user into treatment, the family could round up a group of men or women from Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous to help them with that for free. This is called a 12-Step call and is done by many 12-Step members daily as part of sponsorship and service work.
If an intervention were only to make the substance user agree to their own treatment plan as the family sits back and waits for it to work, then a professional would not be needed. Most importantly, a professional would not be needed if addiction did not disrupt and greatly affect friends and family.
If you replace any other type of intervention, such as medical, surgical, military, early childhood development, etc., with alcohol or drug intervention, it will make no sense to do it yourself without a professional.
When people face a significant problem outside their expertise, they call upon professionals to assist. If defending yourself in court was as simple as explaining your side of the story to the judge, nobody would need an attorney.
Families are often unaware of what has happened to their family system, nor do they understand the challenges the substance user is up against concerning maintaining sobriety.
Addiction rearranges and disrupts everyone involved.
As family roles begin to change and maladaptively adjust to cope with the problem, the problem worsens for everyone. What appears to many as a good approach is often seen through the lenses of distorted perception. It’s like trying to come up with a good solution in the middle of a heated argument; it is challenging and often impossible.
Family roles must be addressed, and communication with the substance user must come from someone other than those contributing to the problem. The substance user no longer sees their family in the room; they see a group of people who they believe are responsible for their problem. Whether true or not, this is who the substance user sees.
If the entire family system is not considered, then you are only addressing one person in the family system. If only the addict or alcoholic seeks help and the other family members do not, it is almost inevitable the substance user will be drawn back into the same broken family system upon returning home from treatment.
Furthermore, if the family does nothing different, they will most likely continue their behaviors that allowed the substance user comfort that originally contributed to them not seeking help. This can, unfortunately, clear an easier path for the substance user to relapse.
Forgoing your family’s recovery will not allow you to handle the turbulence while the substance user is in treatment, as they call home with excuses to leave early. There is way too much involved for a family to believe that just getting their loved one better solves the problem.
“The family of a substance user is in no position to navigate the recovery of a substance user when they are not in a position to navigate their own recovery.”
An unbiased professional acting as a mediator between family members and the substance user can accomplish much more than a family by themselves. Families who are emotionally attached and unaware of how much the addiction has impacted them are rarely able to address their role that contributes to the problem. A professional interventionist’s role is to help families understand how to do an intervention that is effective in addressing the entire problem.
An intervention is not about how to control the substance user; it is about how to let go of believing you can.
Professional Intervention v.s. DIY Intervention: Guidelines and Takeaways
First, the family must ask themselves, “What are our goals?” If the only goal is to address the addicted loved one, then a professional is not needed.
Involving a professional depends on how willing a family is to make the necessary changes for themselves and the addict or alcoholics’ environment contributing to the addiction. It also depends on whether or not the family chooses to understand the importance of their own recovery.
When considering how to do an intervention without a professional, ask yourself, “How well will your loved one do in a treatment center without professionals?”
Professional interventions are not 12-Step calls facilitated by people in recovery. Waving a finger at a family with a not-too-subtle inference of guilt and shame, telling them what to do and what not to do, is not an intervention, nor does it provide therapeutic long-term change or growth.
An intervention is not an event; it is a process. A professional interventionist and the staff should seek to provide insights and solutions on how to do an intervention while promoting self-awareness among family members. Helping a family bridge to their own recovery program is part of the intervention process.
Related Resource: A Complete Guide to Addiction Recovery for Your Loved One
Finding support and reliable insight into how to proceed with the addict is not easy. Society, with little to no facts, and family members on the front lines, even with good intentions, may not be the best source of information.
Listening to non-professionals or emotionally affected individuals tell you how to do an intervention or how to address the situation may simply not be effective. Believing you have to wait for the substance user to want help or hit rock bottom is dangerous; it also fuels the victim mentality of codependency.
You may not have control over your loved one accepting help, but you do have control over your response to the substance user’s behavior. When we protect other people’s feelings, we ultimately protect our own.
Related Resource: A Complete Guide to Addiction Recovery for Your Loved One
Choose Family First Intervention For Recovery
Intervention is about what a family can do for themselves in response to the devastation the addiction brings. An intervention is not about controlling the substance user; it is about letting go of believing you can.
Each family member plays an unhealthy role in response to the addiction, a role that balances out the family system. A family cannot address or even see the underlying problems without professional intervention.
Until this catalyst to a solution is discussed and agreed to, the situation is most likely to continue or return, regardless of whether the substance user goes willingly or is talked into treatment by a family member. It is a beautiful time when a substance user surrenders to professional treatment. It is equally beautiful when the family does the same.
Is it time for an intervention?
It’s not always easy to tell when a loved one struggling with drugs or alcohol is in need of professional help. Find out if it’s time with our quiz.
Thankfully, families don’t have to host interventions alone. They can call in a trained professional to help ensure success and make the process easier. Find out how
Intervention Help FAQs
At Family First Intervention, it’s our mission to help families understand how they can help save their loved ones from addiction. Get the facts.