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What is an Intervention: Confronting an Addicted Loved One

What is an Intervention: Confronting an Addicted Loved One
Written by Seth Fletcher on October 12, 2023
Last update: October 27, 2023

When a loved one is dealing with substance abuse, helping them to see the need for help is crucial. People with addiction will remain in denial or react aggressively when confronted about their situation. An intervention can motivate a person to seek help for their addictive behaviour. It gives family and friends an opportunity to tell the person how they feel about the situation. 

However, staging an intervention requires preparation and a strategy to provide the best chance at success. It’s necessary to take structured steps and probably seek professional guidance before attempting an intervention. This guide answers the “what is an intervention” question and explains how you can successfully prepare and execute an intervention. 

Key Takeaways

  • People with addiction often do not see the need for help and may require intervention from their loved ones.
  • An intervention is a meeting organized by friends or loved ones of someone with addiction to help them realize their problem and need for help.
  • An intervention requires adequate planning and structured steps to increase the chances of success.
  • A professional intervention offers the best chance of getting a person with addiction to seek help.

What is an Intervention?

An intervention can mean different things when used to explain various therapeutic approaches toward treating addiction or other conditions. In this context, an intervention is a meeting organized by friends or loved ones of someone with addiction to help them realize their problem and need for help. It is often the most viable course of action when other steps, like trying to have a heartfelt conversation, have failed. Most interventions are prompted by loved ones, friends, or others who share a relationship with the affected person. They generally aim to help the person with the addiction realize the gravity of the condition so they can take concrete steps toward seeking help. But does an intervention work?

An alcohol or drug addiction intervention allows those closest to the person to talk to them about their situation lovingly and non-judgementally. It is carried in a controlled setting that places the individual in a position where they’re more likely to see reason and less likely to lash out. The intervention could be led by a professional interventionist who devises a strategy suited to the peculiarities of the case. But who is an interventionist? An interventionist is a qualified professional hired by the family to be part of the intervention team. 

Their role is to educate and offer insight into addictive behaviours and the best way to approach specific issues. They have no emotional connection to the person with addiction and serve as an impartial mediator between family members and the person with addiction. Their presence can be a motivating factor that helps the individual to realize the gravity of the situation. CCFA’s team of qualified interventionists will speak with your loved one and help them see the need for help. 

How Do I Know When It’s Time for an Intervention

Knowing when to stage an intervention can be tricky, as people with addiction can hide the extent of their problem for a long time. However, seeing any of the following signs could suggest that you need to do something about the situation:

Persistent Denial

Denial is a common feature of addiction, and seeing a person with addiction refusing to admit their situation, even to themselves, is a clear pointer that you may need an intervention. They may lie, act secretively, and become aggressive if confronted. It’s not uncommon for people with addiction to claim that they’re alright and have things under control. Unfortunately, this behaviour will often lead to more serious consequences.

Physical and Cognitive Decline

While a person with addiction may attempt to hide their activities, the physical and mental health effects of addiction will become apparent with time. You must act quickly if you begin to notice signs of physical or cognitive decline. 

Signs of Tolerance

If they drink or smoke more than usual, they may have formed an addiction and need your intervention.

Presence of Withdrawal Symptoms

If they experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop or reduce their substance use but still won’t seek help, an intervention may be necessary. 

Reckless of Risky Behavior

If they’re acting recklessly or engaging in risky behaviour like driving while intoxicated, getting into fights, or passing out due to substance use, it may be time to initiate an intervention.

You’ve Become Exhausted by the Situation

It can be draining to care for someone struggling with an addiction, especially if they’re not putting in what you consider to be the required effort to get better. It’s crucial to know when your well-being is at risk, and an interventionist is well-placed to provide valuable guidance and assistance. 

When is an Intervention Considered a Success?

The set goals at the beginning of an intervention will determine whether or not it was successful. Most people will consider a scenario where the individual refuses help to be unsuccessful. However, the success of an intervention can be measured by how much it helps the family members and friends to change their perception of the user’s addiction. 

If the goal of their intervention were to get the patient into treatment, their effort would be considered successful if the person with addiction decides to get help. Some users may accept to get treatment but fail to follow through with the process. They may also become more manipulative or deceitful afterward. This scenario could lead to more upheaval and anger in the family, and it would be hard to consider the intervention successful in that case. 

Ideally, an intervention should address the user’s problem and their relationship with the people in their lives to increase their chances of remaining on the path to recovery. One of the most significant markers of a successful intervention is that it leaves everyone involved in a better position than before. 

Types of Intervention

There are several intervention models, and the most suitable model for an individual will depend on their experience with addiction, family situation, and recovery goals. The most utilized types of interventions for addiction include: 

The Johnson Model

The Johnson Model is one of the most popular intervention models. It was created in the 1960s by Vernon Johnson, regarded as the father of intervention. This intervention plan involves the user’s family and a professional who confronts their loved one without informing them of their plans. The Johnson Model does not only focus on getting addicted individuals into treatment; it also ensures that they complete their treatment and change their lifestyle.

The Field Model

The field interventional model also involves a confrontational approach and is employed in cases where the person with addiction has a co-occurring mental health disorder or is in danger of self-harm. It involves an interventionist trained in handling crises that may arise during and after the intervention process. 

Family Systemic Model

A confrontational approach is not appropriate for everyone, especially if they are likely to react with defensiveness or hostility. The family systemic or invitation model focuses on a family-driven approach to addiction recovery. Family members and friends work with a therapist to explore their own roles and behaviours that may contribute to the individual’s addiction. The focus is on building a supportive environment through open communication and positive reinforcement rather than direct confrontation.

Motivational Model

In the model, the interventionist engages the person with addiction in a conversation about making positive changes in the behaviour. The goal is to promote self-awareness and encourage them to take responsibility for their actions rather than telling them what to do.

ARISE Model (A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement)

In the ARISE model, family members are encouraged to participate in a series of steps that will ultimately guide the person with addiction toward lasting treatment. The first step is typically a call between the interventionist and family members that guides them toward getting the individual to their first meeting.

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Do an Intervention

Every addiction case is unique, and how you’ll go about an alcohol or drug intervention depends on the peculiarity of the user and their family situation. An intervention needs careful planning to succeed, and here’s a general stepwise guide on how to do an intervention:

Create a Clear Intervention Plan

The first step to a successful intervention is to have a plan with clearly defined goals. Consulting a professional to help create your intervention plan is often the best approach. An intervention can be emotional, so you want to leave nothing to chance. Select a time and place for the meeting, and have a list of things to discuss beforehand. Adequate planning ensures that emotions do not interfere with the process. 

Gather Relevant Information

Learn all you can about your loved one’s problem and available treatment. It helps to already have specific treatment options before initiating the intervention.

Form the Intervention Team

An intervention team consists of those who would personally attend the intervention. This team typically includes the individual’s loved ones and friends, especially those affected by the addiction. A professional or non-family member may be present to bring a factual or non-emotional perspective to the proceedings. 

Plan What to Say

Every member of the intervention group may need to describe how the addiction has impacted them in detail. It helps to write down what you’ll say with specific incidents and dates wherever possible. It’s more difficult for a loved one to argue with plain facts about the consequences of their addiction.

Decide on Ultimatums and Consequences

Your loved one may resist your well-intentioned attempts at getting them help. The intervention team should plan for this by spelling out clear consequences if they continue to refuse your treatment. You may need to ask them to leave the house or withhold specific privileges or support. It’s important not to issue ultimatums unless you’re willing to follow them through. 

Rehearse the Plan

You and other team members should review and rehearse the planned intervention before the meeting. This preparation ensures everyone knows their role and how to respond to issues that may arise.

Hold the Intervention 

Your intervention model may require you to inform the person with addiction of the meeting so they can be present at the appointed time. It may entail inviting them without letting them know the reason for the invitation. Whatever model you choose, ensure your plan covers possible outcomes and how you and others will react. Everyone in the meeting should get a chance to speak – so your loved one understands that their actions affect many people. If they’re open to change, you may present available treatment options so they can begin immediately.

Ask for an Immediate Decision and Follow-Up

Demand for an immediate response at the end of the intervention. Don’t give the person with addiction time to think about it, even if they request, as this will only allow them to remain in denial. Members of the intervention team will need to follow up with the person with addiction to ensure they stick to their treatment plan and avoid relapse if their intervention efforts are successful. Team members severely impacted by the addiction may require therapy, while others may offer to participate in counselling sessions with the loved one with addiction. 

Dos and Don’ts of Holding an Intervention

Interventions can be incredibly helpful in getting someone with addiction to seek help, but they must be handled carefully. When done correctly, an intervention can encourage an addict to face their denial and seek treatment. However, if not handled well, an intervention may worsen an already bad situation. The following dos and don’ts can guide you in getting the best out of an intervention: 


  • Create a Plan

Create a plan for speaking and getting through to your loved one. Confronting them without a clear course of action is unlikely to yield positive results.

  • Seek Professional Advice

Seek professional counsel in dealing with an addicted loved one if your prior attempts have failed to produce the desired outcomes. 

  • Stay Calm

Keeping your emotions in check can be challenging, but it’s important to maintain an atmosphere of calm to avoid further distress. The goal is to focus on your loved one’s well-being and recovery, and strong emotions can make them resistant to help. 

  • Offer Solutions

An important aspect of an intervention is helping your loved one understand that addiction is an illness and not a personal failure. Having treatment options ready for when they’re ready to seek help can also make the process smoother. 


  • Don’t Be Judgmental

While it’s understandable to feel bad about the situation, you mustn’t allow your emotions to make you become judgmental. Don’t use accusatory words or speak about their character flaws during the intervention. The goal is to make the person with addiction feel safe and willing to seek help.

  • Don’t Enable

Close ties to someone with addiction can lead to enablement. Stick to your ultimatums if they remain non-cooperative, and do not make or accept excuses from them. You may need to adopt a tough-love approach. Enablement makes a person with addiction less likely to seek help.  

  • Don’t Speak to Them When They’re High

Confronting your loved one when high will often lead to a negative outcome for everyone. A person who is intoxicated will not be in the right frame of mind to understand or appreciate what you’re trying to do, and their reaction is likely to be hostile. Carry out the intervention at a time when you know they’ll likely be sober. 

  • Don’t Lose Focus

Try not to get distracted during the meeting. Straying away from the plan can derail your objectives and prevent a positive outcome.

When to Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, the loved ones of a person with addiction may wonder whether to involve a professional or handle it independently. It’s possible to stage an intervention successfully without help, but a professional brings an objective view that makes everyone see the situation as it is. Emotional connections can affect your odds of success as you can lose focus, especially if your loved one responds negatively to your attempts.

You should seek professional intervention if the individual has been using the substance for an extended period and has not responded to previous intervention attempts. A professional is trained to approach the issue without sentiments and to spot cues that family members may fail to see. They will also help you set healthy boundaries so you don’t unwittingly enable your loved one’s addiction. 

What if Help is Refused?

It’s possible for a person with addiction to refuse offers of help and even your intervention efforts. You’ll need to make tough decisions in this case. Addiction affects people differently, and some people may need multiple interventions before they see reason. In some cases, you may need to make tough decisions like withholding privileges or preventing them from seeing your kids or coming to your home. A person with addiction will continue to think they can get away with their destructive behaviours if you don’t show a certain degree of decisiveness when dealing with them.

What Happens After an Intervention?

It’s vital to continue to support your loved one even while they’re in treatment. Let them know you’re with them every step of the way and participate in their recovery process however you can. Addiction recovery is a challenging journey, and your encouragement may motivate them to keep going. Don’t despair even if they refuse your attempts; your intervention would have given them something to think about and may spur them into future action. Family members significantly impacted by their loved one’s addiction may need support to help them understand that they’re not responsible for the situation. It’s important to understand that your well-being comes first, and you should take care of yourself regardless of whether your loved one opts for treatment. 


Watching a loved one go through addiction can be heartbreaking, and an intervention allows you to do something about it. While you’ll no doubt want your loved one to say yes on your first try, you must understand that this may not always happen. Whatever the peculiarities of your situation, CCFA has got you covered with a professional approach to intervention. Our counselling interventions come from trained caregivers and coordinators who help your family soften the blow of confronting an addicted loved one. Our interventions have a high success rate, with 85% of clients choosing to seek treatment afterward. We also provide addiction treatment options in our serene and luxurious treatment centers. Call us today at 1-855-499-9446

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 12 principles of intervention?

The 12 intervention principles provide a practical framework for the professional to conduct the intervention appropriately. These 12 principles include:
Utilization principle
Goal orientation
Safety principle
Generative change
Metaphoric principle
Multi-level communication principle

What are some intervention skills?

Intervention skills are essential to preventing intervention meetings from getting out of control. They include:
Rephrasing or paraphrasing
Active listening
Reflective questioning
Appropriate use of silence

What is the success rate of intervention?

The success rate for intervention is not easily defined because of the many variables that need to be considered. Every addiction case is unique; factors like substance use, duration of addiction, intervention goals, and family situation can affect the success of an intervention. Studies suggests that interventions for alcohol dependence involving a professional have a 90% success rate where the goal is to convince the person with addiction to seek treatment. Over half of the other 10% to 20% also seek help after a week or two.

What is an intervention in mental health?

An intervention in mental health is a process that encourages a person with mental health issues to get appropriate treatment before their condition deteriorates, giving them a chance at living a normal life.

How long should an intervention be?

An intervention requires sufficient planning, and the length of time an intervention will take depends on the peculiarities of the case. Intervention meetings last for at least one hour, with each participant given time to speak.

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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