Your spouse is relying too much on pain pills, using more than prescribed, and going to different doctors to get multiple prescriptions. Your adult daughter has lost her job and is now drinking more than she ever did. Your best friend has been to drug and alcohol addiction treatment once or twice but has relapsed both times and now feels like there’s no point in trying to stay sober even though she’s unhappy.

It can be stressful to watch people you love harm themselves. You worry about their health–and their life–and you also may feel angry at how their patterns and behaviors affect you. So what can you do to help? 

You’ve probably seen TV shows about interventions or seen them in movies, where they are often depicted as very intense and confrontational. Maybe they turned you off to the idea of ever doing an intervention yourself. 

While it’s true that interventions can spark some big emotions, they don’t have to become confrontational. Let’s look at some guidelines as you consider planning an intervention.

What is the Goal of an Intervention?

The goal is simple: to express to your loved one the consequences of addiction and to ask them to seek treatment. 

The goal is NOT to hash out resentments or to blame anyone for the addiction. The goal is not to force your loved one to change. 

Yes, there is a time and place to talk about the past, to express anger and hurt, but that comes after a person has been through treatment and is more capable of processing their emotions. And even then, it’s best to work with a family or couples’ therapist as you repair the relationships.  

When is an Intervention Appropriate?

If the following statements are true, an intervention is probably appropriate: 

  • When the person you love is clearly suffering from their substance use 
  • When their substance use affects everyone around them
  • When they are in denial of their need for treatment or believe that treatment won’t help
  • When you are able to control your own emotions and reactions enough to stay calm during the intervention and focus on the goal rather than on your anger and fear

Please note: If your loved one is posing an immediate danger to themselves or others or is talking about suicide, call or text 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. You’ll receive free, confidential, and compassionate guidance on how to help your loved one. 

How to Stage an Intervention

First, consider engaging the help of a professional counselor or interventionist. This person can help you prepare for the intervention and will also be present during the intervention to help moderate the discussion. It can be especially helpful to have a professional present if your loved one is dealing with a serious mental illness, is prone to violence, or is taking mood-altering substances. 

You can find listings of local addiction intervention specialists via an internet search, or you can talk to people in your community to get a recommendation. Consider visiting an Al-Anon meeting: other Al-Anon members may know of resources to help you, and you may also discover the power of gathering with people who understand your situation. 

Whether you work with a professional or DIY the intervention, here are the basic steps. You can find more detail in this article by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Gather a planning team. Who is close to this person and has some expertise to offer? Ask them to help you plan the intervention. You may include other family members, a good friend, a religious leader, or someone from a local recovery support group.  
  • Do your research. With the planning group, learn about your loved one’s condition and the types of treatment available. You may want to make arrangements with a specific treatment center to enroll your loved one after the intervention. 
  • Form the intervention team. This may be the same as the planning team but should include people your loved one trusts and respects. Do not put someone on the team who cannot stay calm in a tense situation. Decide on a day and time for the intervention, preferably when your loved one is most likely to be sober.
  • Decide on specific consequences. What will you do if your loved one doesn’t agree to treatment? Maybe you’ll ask the person to move out of the home. Maybe you’ll refuse to offer financial support. Don’t set a consequence you can’t enforce.
  • Practice what you want to say. Some people write letters to read aloud. This will help keep you on track and make your points clearly. Use I-statements to avoid an accusatory tone. 
  • Hold the intervention meeting. Invite your loved one to the meeting place without telling them the reason. Take turns expressing your concerns, while also showing compassion. Present the treatment option/s you’ve researched. If your loved one accepts the option, help them get into treatment that same day or the next day. If they don’t accept treatment, explain the consequences and stick with them.

Remember that treatment is just the beginning. Learn how to support your loved one after treatment and how to support your own mental health. At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, we can help. We offer a full continuum of care, including a family program. If you’re not sure how to help your loved one, call and speak to our admissions counselors. We can help you decide what to do next.