When and How To Hold an Intervention

Understand the process, make your loved one feel cherished and supported, and you can all begin to heal

September 27, 2023
Woman consoling a woman

Watching a loved one spiral in addiction is incredibly painful. People in the throes of addiction often do and say things that are heartbreaking for family and friends, and the biggest heartbreaker is the possibility that they won’t make it out alive. Those closest to them would do anything to help, and sometimes the best option left on the table is an intervention.

An intervention is a planned and organized effort, usually arranged by concerned family members, friends and coworkers and led by an experienced, qualified intervention professional. The goal is to help a person struggling with addiction, behavioral or mental health problems to get the treatment they need as quickly as possible.

Interventions are often delicate events, which is why it’s so important to collaborate with an addiction recovery specialist before attempting one. Interventions should always come from a place of concern, love, empathy and compassion. An intervention that focuses on blaming, judgment or guilt will likely provoke the person being approached to shut down or lash out.

The bottom line is that if you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, an intervention can be a lifesaving option. Find out more about how to get immediate help from an intervention professional.

How Does an Intervention Work? What, Exactly, Happens?

Most interventions take place after families and friends have tried every other option. If you feel like nothing has worked to get your loved one help for their substance use, an intervention may be something to consider. It’s not a light consideration: Interventions can be upsetting and unpredictable. They can also change someone’s life — and give them a fresh chance at living it.

Interventions can be conducted within the home or in a clinical setting. The gathering of participants should be held in a private space where you can feel comfortable being honest and vulnerable with your loved one.


Interventions begin with some preparatory steps:

  • The intervention professional will meet with family members, friends and coworkers to gather information about your loved one’s situation
  • Participants should determine a clear goal for their loved one’s next steps in treatment
  • The interventionist will help you identify the appropriate treatment and help coordinate with the chosen treatment facility to plan for the person’s admission
  • The interventionist will also find an appropriate location for the intervention itself, ideally a place where your loved one feels safe
  • A rehearsal will give insight into how the intervention might unfold, so everyone involved is clear-eyed, informed and on the same page. The intervention professional will answer any questions you have

The Day of the Intervention

The intervention itself will include:

  • Directly addressing your loved one about their addiction issues
  • Presenting the person with specific examples of the effects of their addiction on those around them
  • Giving everyone involved the opportunity to express their desire for the person to accept help
  • Providing your loved one with information on evidence-based treatment programs
  • Offering support, encouragement, motivation and accountability
  • Making it clear something needs to change for the sake of the person’s physical and mental health and safety
  • Presenting a solution — a plan for treatment and recovery — so your loved one can see that, with treatment, recovery from addiction is achievable, sustainable and absolutely worthwhile
  • Explaining the consequences the person will face if they refuse help

Be prepared to discuss complicated topics, and know that it might be hard to subject someone you care about to something that might cause them emotional distress. But also remember an intervention can jump-start your loved one’s recovery by showing them they aren’t alone. The aim of an intervention is to provide insight, guidance, support and hope.

After the intervention, the interventionist will follow up with your loved one during treatment to ensure they are receiving the care and support they deserve — and will also support the family and friends at every step of the way.

Man and woman hugging

Who Needs an Intervention?

Interventions can be beneficial to anyone who has an untreated substance use disorder (SUD). While they may also be organized for people with other behavioral or mental health issues, we’ll focus here on substance-related interventions.

Whether your loved one struggles with alcohol, drugs or misuse of prescription medications, you can help them get life-altering treatment by prompting a change. Interventions can give people the perspective to acknowledge the realities of their situation and also provide them with access to treatment or other resources.

How To Conduct a Successful Intervention

Let’s expand a bit on a few of things successful interventions generally have in common:

  • Guidance from a professional in addiction recovery, in a safe, comfortable setting
  • Clear communication beforehand, to ensure everyone present understands how to approach the intervention
  • A focus on the person’s substance use and related issues — nothing else

For the best chance at a positive outcome, a professional must lead the intervention.

Usually, this will be a counselor, therapist, psychiatrist or other trained addiction specialist who has experience holding interventions for substance use. They can help other participants understand substance use disorders and answer questions about them; for someone without firsthand experience, the turmoil and behaviors of addiction are often difficult to grasp.

Clear, focused communication is vital as well. An intervention is often an enormously emotional experience for everyone involved, and everyone will need to find the strength to telegraph love and hope. Remember that the person receiving the intervention will need the most courage of all — to accept the help offered.

Family and friends who may hold stigmatizing beliefs or biases about substance use and treatment will likely be uncomfortable or even detrimental in an intervention. But they can offer their support in other ways at another time.

The need for an intervention is often urgent. You can learn more about finding an interventionist and get started right away.

What To Say During an Intervention

Your loved one usually doesn’t know they are about to walk into an intervention. This is typically necessary because otherwise, they would simply avoid the event. However, it also means that interventions often start on a contentious note.

Everyone reacts differently to unexpected situations. If you remain open, honest and loving in your words, the intervention will have a higher likelihood of success. However — even if you are communicating care and supportiveness, the surprise of an intervention (and its implications) can provoke the person, putting them into a mode of defensiveness, anger and hurt.

That may hurt you too. But no matter what they say or how they react, you must try to respond with compassion and empathy.

Some helpful, uplifting and true things you might express during an intervention include:

  • “I love you” and “Your happiness and health matter”
  • “We are here for you” and “You are not alone”
  • “Thank you for everything you bring to this family and our lives”
  • “Addiction is a disease, and treatment works”
  • “You can heal and recover”

Emphasize to the person that they are loved for who they are today and that the intervention is not a judgment.

What To Avoid

It feels like a lot of pressure, but the words you use and how you hold yourself during the intervention will impact how your loved one responds.

Aim to get your love across, and the rest will likely come naturally. But do avoid:

  • Blaming the person for their current circumstances
  • Judging them for their personal choices
  • Towering over them instead of staying seated or at an equal eye level
  • Crowding them and not providing personal space

Actively listen to what the person says, and watch their body language for nonverbal cues that might indicate distress, anger or fear. You may not be able to avoid upsetting them. But you can avoid pushing them away.

Remain calm, stay on message and remind them they aren’t alone. If the intervention succeeds, it will be the first step for everyone on the journey to healing.

Family on pier at sunrise

What Happens Next?

An intervention can have a few different outcomes. When the goal is to get the person into an addiction treatment program, the intervention may offer them a few options for this. This gives them a feeling of some control over the next steps in their life.

If your loved one agrees to get help, starting the treatment process immediately is almost always best. Even if you need to drive them for 10 hours at four in the morning to check them into the most beneficial recovery program, you should be ready to see it through. An intervention that ends with the person in treatment is a success. Once there, they’ll usually enter an inpatient detox center directly.

Not all interventions go as planned. If you encounter problems or refusal, don’t give up. It does not mean you have failed, or that your loved one is beyond help.

Unsuccessful interventions can still play an essential role in showing the person that they are seen, heard and loved, and that they have people who want them to get better. Even if they reject your treatment plan, you can use the intervention as a starting point.

How Much Does an Intervention Cost?

The cost of an intervention can vary greatly depending on several factors, including:

  • Location: Interventions can be held in a variety of locations, such as a private home or a rehabilitation facility, and the cost of each location can vary
  • Type of intervention: Different types of interventions can have different costs, with some being more complex or requiring more resources than others
  • Length of treatment: The cost can be influenced by the length of treatment recommended for the individual. Longer treatment programs, because of their duration, may increase the overall cost of an intervention
  • Insurance: Some health insurance plans may cover some or all of the costs of an intervention. You can check with your insurance provider to determine what, if any, services are covered

A New Day

Recovery from addiction requires patience, resilience and time, from both the individual and those who care about them. The start of the process is often the most taxing, on everyone. But despite what you may read in the news, the odds are good in the long run: Recent research has found that three-quarters of people with substance use problems recover eventually.

If you can help a loved one join that number, you can all begin to heal and thrive together.

We’re here to help. You can call 1-866-417-6237 or contact us here to learn more about the intervention process from a trained clinician — and to start healing.

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