Step-by-Step Intervention Process

Last Updated: September 25, 2023

Denial is a huge part of addiction – a user will lie to himself, his friends, coworkers, and family members about the extent and existence of his substance abuse problems. A professional intervention serves to break through all the layers of deception and denial, laying the addict’s problems bare, and leaving him with no recourse but to accept treatment.

When Should an Intervention Happen?

One of the biggest and most damaging myths about interventions is that they should take place when the addict is at her weakest or lowest point. Instead, an intervention should be considered as soon as friends and family of the patient agree that her behavior has changed, and there is reasonable evidence to assume that drugs or alcohol are involved. Waiting for the addict to reach “rock bottom” can result in irreparable damage being done – both to the addict’s well-being, as well as to the relationships she has.

Additionally, scheduling an intervention as soon as possible can result in an easier period of treatment and readjustment for the addict, as the addiction would not be as deep or as difficult to break.

Using a Professional Interventionist

Interventions can be emotionally difficult and painful experiences for everyone, so it is best to seek help from an experienced third party. Professional interventionists have training in the psychology of addiction, family dynamics, and group moderation. They know, better than anyone else in the intervention, how to make the addict acknowledge his wrongdoing in a way that motivates him to seek treatment, not suffocate him under layers of guilt and resentment. They know how to channel the hurt and anger of friends and family into healthy and productive conduits.

The point of the intervention is not to confront the addict with a list of his wrongdoings, but to get the addict to accept the offer of help (treatment). Without the guidance and focus provided by a professional interventionist, it will be almost impossible for angry and emotional people to convince someone using drugs or alcohol to get clean.


The key to a successful intervention, says the Mayo Clinic, is that it must be a tightly planned process. While it is the interventionist’s job to establish that control and make sure everything goes according to plan, it is the responsibility of the intervention’s participants to also stay on script.

To that effect, instead of friends and family members simply calling out examples of the patient’s substance abuse, they will be asked to write out their thoughts in the form of a letter to the patient. In the letter, they will detail instances of where and how the user’s drug problem personally and negatively affected them, but they will also be coached by the interventionist to insist that they are bringing these instances to light from a perspective of love and wanting the best for the addict, and not that they are looking to shame and humiliate her.

Since interventions are emotionally draining and difficult, the interventionist will have the participants rehearse reading their intervention letter out loud. There should be no improvisation or off-the-cuff remarks from those in attendance; from start to finish, the participants should be sure of themselves and of what they are going to say, and this comes from meticulous rehearsing until everyone is ready.

A crucial part of the preparation of an intervention is deciding on a treatment plan for the patient. If no such plan is presented at the intervention, it allows the patient a loophole to escape scrutiny and avoid committing to a reparative course of action. Since the goal of an intervention is to secure (and enforce) that commitment, it is vital that the participants choose a treatment clinic so that the next steps following the intervention are clearly marked out. The professional interventionist can provide insight into the task of how to choose a facility. While some interventionists are independent contractors, others may be affiliated with a treatment clinic, and this may have some bearing on the choice of facility.

In the same way that an intervention calls on an addict to change their behavior, Psychology Today explains that an intervention also requires the family members in attendance to change their own behavior, if necessary. If they have been enabling the addict, giving in to begging, or blackmailed to sustain the addiction, such actions unwittingly sabotage the recovery of the patient and the attempts by other family members to do the right thing. Commitment is a critical concept in interventions: on the part of the addict to go through with treatment, and family members to do nothing that will encourage the destructive behavior that required the intervention.

Engaging the Intervention

A proper intervention should begin with affirming that the event is being staged out of love for the addict. With that declared, the question should be asked: Is the addict ready to admit that he has a problem? If the answer to this question is “yes,” the intervention can stop right there, and the conversation will turn to checking into the treatment facility as soon as possible. However, if the patient does any of the following, this is where the interventionist will cue the assembled friends and family members, one by one, to read the letters they have written:

  • Denies that she has a drug problem
  • Tries to explain, excuse, or justify her substance abuse
  • Acknowledges that she has a drug problem, but refuses to seek professional help for it
  • Accuses the intervention participants of having their own problems
  • Refuses to accept the leadership of the interventionist
  • Otherwise rejects the intervention or the treatment plan

Speaking to the Denver Catholic Register, a professional interventionist who specializes in working with families explains that an intervention cannot be a shaming or confrontational process. Reading the letter is not meant to guilt the addict into seeking treatment, but to offer an opportunity to restore relationships and repair the damage done by addiction. This opportunity takes the form of agreeing to the treatment options provided by the family.

The process also serves to help the individual members of the family. Sharing the negative experiences and incidents caused by their loved one’s drug use engenders solidarity and support among each other. Presenting a united front to the user is key in helping her see that her drug-fueled actions have hurt people, and that there is a stable foundation of family and friendship to support her through treatment.

Furthermore, in the event that the addict leaves the intervention refusing treatment, the family can use their strengthened relationships to sustain one another.


As important as it is for the intervention’s attendees to reiterate their love and well-being towards the user in their letters, it is equally important for them to spell out the consequences of the user not accepting their offer of help.

Depending on the relationship, these consequences could be:

  • Withdrawing financial support
  • Eviction
  • Moving out
  • Revoking visitation rights to see the user’s children
  • Cutting off contact

These measures are dire, but they have to impress upon the user the severity of the situation. As much as an intervention is an invitation to get help, it is also an ultimatum, in the words of the Huffington Post; an intervention where the participants do not enunciate the worst-case scenario will be an incomplete and ineffective intervention.

This also reinforces the absolute necessity of the intervention to be bookended by the participants reminding the patient that this is all done out of love. If the intervention devolves into angry recriminations and shouting matches, all it will do is burn the remaining bridges that exist between the addict and his friends and family.

Accepting Help

If the patient agrees to accept the course of action laid out in the intervention, the next stage – admission to the treatment facility – should begin as soon as possible. This serves to remind the patient, again, that the situation is severe, but also that help is both possible and at hand. It also closes the window on the user backing out, changing her mind, or shooting up one last time before treatment begins. If possible, the journey to the clinic should be made that very day – if not, the following morning at the very latest. But the important thing to remember about this stage of the intervention is that there is no “later” – there should be no concept of checking into treatment when it is convenient or when the user feels like doing so.

What may convince a patient to accept the help put forward in an intervention is that, statistically, interventions followed by a full course of treatment and rehabilitation are very successful: The Independent writes that this plan can result in long-term recovery rates of more than 50 percent.

Following Up

For the last stage of an intervention, the interventionist will have a follow-up meeting with the participants. He will gage their reaction to the intervention, answer questions about the treatment process for the patient, and continue to offer guidance on how the family members can best support the patient through detoxification, psychotherapy, and aftercare.

The interventionist can also provide a small amount of group therapy for the family members. Even a successful intervention can be emotionally draining and painful. The interventionist can give the family some insight on the gamut of reactions they may be feeling and suggest specialist therapists who can be of further assistance.

Getting More Information About the Intervention Process

Interventions can seem like intimidating and excruciating experiences, but with a professional interventionist and the right mindset, an intervention can instead be a liberating and reaffirming beginning of a new chapter. At Orlando Recovery Center, we want to help you think of interventions as a turning point for you and your family, and to look at your intervention as the day that things went right. Please call us with your questions about substance abuse interventions for your loved one. We are standing by and here for you.

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