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How to Stage an Intervention That Works

How to Stage an Intervention That Works
Written by Seth Fletcher on April 29, 2019
Last update: April 24, 2024

What's your worst nightmare? If you're reading this article, you're probably living it.

how to stage an intervention that works

Having your child, who you've loved and cared for, become addicted to drugs is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone.

You feel powerless. They're not listening to love or reason - and you've tried every combination of the two. Now you need help staging an intervention because it feels like the only thing left to do.

Here's how to do it (and how to improve your chance of success).

How to Stage an Intervention

One of the most common mistakes is rushing the intervention. People sometimes think they can just throw an intervention together in a few days. That’s just not the case. An intervention should be well-planned. You need to gather resources and proof to present when it's time.

Here are some tips…then a general order of steps.

Tip #1: Learn What Behaviors to Note

One reason we encourage taking at least a week to plan an intervention is to gather evidence.

When someone's doing a lot of drugs, they may not remember actions you see as problematic. And if they do remember them, because they’re at such a twisted point in their lives, those actions may seem normal to them.

As soon as you finish reading this article, start writing down a list of the addicts troubling behaviors. As you plan the intervention in the coming week/weeks, note if and when you notice further proof.

For example, someone's stealing money to buy drugs. Note that you had $20 on the counter for the cleaning lady on (date) and that she texted you saying it was gone at (time/date).

The addict's first instinct will be to deny - even lash out calling you and others liars. So, the more proof you have, the better.

It's worth noting that an addict may react negatively to you tracking their behaviors. However, it's a good way to show how often their choices are impacting your life and you will have answers if they say, “When did I do that?”.

Tip #2: Prepare for Different Reactions

We can't tell you how your intervention will go. People, especially those addicted to drugs, don't react to conflict and confrontation well.

The two most common reactions are either crying and agreeing to accept help (whether or not they follow through) and getting angry and storming out.

We'd all like to think our loved one is going to react the way we want - apologetic and ready to make changes—but it's a toss-up. Be prepared to take measures to contain the addict, if they're under 18. And be prepared to lose contact with them for a couple of days, if they choose the storming out reaction.

Tip #3 Don't Invite EVERYone

When you stage an intervention, you want a small, intimate group of people to give testimony. If the group is too large, it's even more overwhelming for the addict.

And if the group is too large, an addict in denial will pull away from all involved. They will usually say they "can't trust anyone."

Even if your loved one only has a few friends willing to help, it might be best to leave one out. If the addict does rebel or flee, you want to have someone they still feel they can confide in.

That sounds a little dishonest, but you need to know if they're going to run away or do something extreme. In this situation they're probably not going to tell you.

Having that someone they can turn to might just save your loved one's life.

Tip #4: Prepare for Backlash

We covered a bit of this before, but if the addict decides not accept help - it's going to hurt. You're only trying to do what's best and you want them to live a good life.

It may help you through the process to have a therapist or a support group to talk to if it seems like your addict has gone to the dark side.

Words said while addicted to drugs aren't from the heart; try to take solace in that.

The Planning Guide

Now that we've talked about prepping for an intervention, let's talk about how to actually plan one.

The first thing you'll need to do is reach out to others for support. More on that below.

Step 1: Find Other Worried Peers

Part of an intervention is gathering an intimate group of caring people. They're not going to show up without being invited. You have to reach out, and you risk exposing your plan to the addict if you do.

That's a risk you just have to take. Maybe you have friends or family members who have reached out to you with concern. They're the first people to invite.

But what about the addict's friends? Whose side are they on through all of this? Do they care enough to want to help? Even teens, who sometimes dabble in drugs, know when use is getting unhealthy and out of control.

Step 2: Pick the Right Intervention Time

Ideally, you'd pick a time when the addict is sober. If they're truly addicted and using 24/7, this may not be possible.

But if you don't think they're always high, try to choose a time when they haven't yet had time to use. That may mean picking them up early from school, without them knowing it.

Picking a time when they're sober is also a safety precaution. You never know what someone under the influence of drugs will do. It's important to protect the safety of everyone else in the room.

Step 3: Pick a Safe Spot

Part of keeping everyone safe and calm is choosing the right space. You don't want to approach the addict in their space, as that gives them the idea that they’re in control. You want to find a space that's neutral and private.

The living room or a formal dining room that's not usually used is a good option.

If you don't want to hold the intervention in a home, look for something like a therapist's office or even a church. Choose anywhere that is private and non-threatening to the addict, but not overly frequented.

Step 4: Plan Who Talks First

One worthwhile thing about having a therapist or intervention counselling specialist with you is that they can help plan the speaking order.

If the addict chooses to accept help, not everyone will be able to speak. You don't want to pile on more hurtful information once they've agreed to get treatment.

Remember, you do want to start with the most impact and go from there. If you get all the way to the end, add one higher impact speaker to close off. That may push them to admit they need the help you're trying to get them.

Step 5: Plan What You're Going to Say

One big mistake people make is describing the addict's actions as part of who they are. If you snap at someone when you've had a long day, that doesn't make you mean and rude - right? The action was both of those things - but that action doesn't define you.

The same is true for the addict. You want to describe their actions, not them as a person. Try to stick to this general formula. When you did this, I felt this. Or, I see you doing this, and it worries me.

Using I statements, are great for open communication. They are a valuable psychological tool. That means saying, “I feel like you are doing this.” Instead of saying, "you're doing this."

It not only subtly encourages the addict to think of your feelings, but it's less likely to get a harsh denial in return. People don't like to be told who they are or what they feel.

Step 6: Try to Use Gentle Tones

There's a chance your intervention could involve yelling - but that would be on the side of the addict. You and your intervention team should stay calm, though tears are expected.

Try to speak in a kind voice, even if you don't feel like being kind. Use open body language (no crossed arms or legs, always face the addict) to give the room a feeling of acceptance.

These are subtle things you may not think make a difference, but only 7% of communication is verbal. The rest is all non-verbal.

Step 7: Avoid Ultimatums (Or at Least Disguise Them)

In the end, even if you conducted the best intervention possible, you may not get a good result. You can force a person into a treatment center, but you can't force them to want to change.

If you're going to give some sort of "or else" statement, which is your right as a parent, try not to phrase it harshly. The best outcome is for them to think it was their idea to get help.

Stay Calm and Patient

There's no perfect way to stage an intervention. It'll be different for every addict and every family. As long as you're honest, kind, and caring, you're doing the best you can do.

And remember, you can always ask for help from a professional! 


Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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