Interventions Can Save Your Loved One’s Lives

However, Great Care Must Be Taken

Andrew McKenna - Expert Content Editor

Updated: 11-21-2023


The action of becoming intentionally involved in a difficult situation, in order to improve it or prevent it from getting worse.


Addiction is a disease that crushes relationships in their path. Interventions commonly are the first step in preventing what every untreated substance use disorder will lead to: jails, institutions, and death.

Interventions—in the context of drug and alcohol addiction—typically involve family and friends getting together and confronting a loved one whose life is spiraling out of control.

The common goal is to convince the person to get help, usually by going to a treatment program where they will work with trained professionals who treat the disease of addiction. If the person doesn’t agree to get help, and goes to treatment right then and there, then there are consequences.

The Process of Planning the Intervention

The process of planning the intervention involves bringing these pieces together in an organized way:

  • Assessing the addiction and the wreckage it has caused
  • Planning meeting
  • Writing statements, reviewing them, and rehearsing
  • Finding a treatment facility to treat them
  • Packing a bag
  • Conducting the intervention
  • Hugs and goodbyes for now—we love and support you
  • Seamless transportation to treatment
  • Family and friends seek education and guidance for when the person returns from treatment

Interventions are always highly emotional events. People struggling with addiction act in a manner inconsistent with their value systems, including lying, cheating, and stealing. Addiction causes massive mood swings, blackouts, and violent, assaultive behaviors, leaving family and friends feeling victimized, frustrated, and hopeless.

One of the most perplexing facets of addiction-related behaviors is that the victims are afraid to express their pain and sadness to the addicted person for fear that it will only make things worse. Holding in their emotional pain causes deep resentments and anger which can rise to the surface during an intervention, setting off a chain of emotional explosions that will sabotage any chance of the addicted person going to treatment. Experienced interventionists foresee these challenges and head them off before the intervention begins.

I have personally been involved with a dozen or so interventions, either as a participant or as the interventionist working with a family. I have close friends who have dedicated their lives to helping families and others concerned, to conduct effective, supervised interventions for people struggling with addiction and co-occurring disorders. In addition to families seeking help, it’s often friends, or employers who are at their wits’ end about a person’s addiction and the inevitable bad that comes with the disastrous effects of the disease.

Steve M’s Intervention: Times Have Changed

Steve M., 76 years old—my first sponsor in a 12-Step program—used to tell the story of when he was the subject of an intervention by his family and friends back in the early 1980’s.

Steve: “Well they were fed up with my drinking. The Dragon Lady (Steve called his ex-wife the Dragon Lady) was especially tired of me coming home from the bar at midnight, roaring drunk, and yelling that I wanted my dinner.

And, apparently when I came home, I would have to use the bathroom real bad, and I would leave the door open while I went. The bathroom was right next to our bedroom, and if mt yelling didn’t wake her and the kids up, the sound of me urinating did.

The other problem was that things had gotten pretty bad, and I was drinking on the job. My friends at work confronted me and told me I had to go dry out. My boss said the same thing and added that if I didn’t, I was done working for him. I told my friends, the Dragon Lady, and my boss to go F themselves. I wasn’t going to quit drinking.

The next morning, they barged into my house and found me half naked on the floor, passed out. They picked me up, threw water in my face, put pants on me, dragged me outside, and threw me in the trunk of a car with a six pack of Genesee beer. They must have figured I would need a drink first thing, to ward off the shakes–they were right.

Anyhow, I woke up in a detox in upstate New York. One of my friends had stuffed a note in my pocket. It read ‘Here is your chance to dry out and kick the booze once and forever. If you don’t do it, don’t ever come around us again. You’ll be dead to us. We love you and know you can do this.’ It was signed by six of my friends, my boss, and the Dragon Lady. This was my intervention.”

Steve M., told me this story on the day that he celebrated 30 years clean and sober, working a program of recovery—one day at a time.

Fortunately, interventions have evolved over the past 40 years. But Steve’s example just proves how a person’s addiction creates desperation for those around them.

Once again, you should not go this alone. Seek the help of a trained and experienced interventionist. The typical and most accepted methods of staging interventions will include the following stages.

The Eight Stages of an Intervention

Main thing to keep in mind: always approach your loved one from a place of love and compassion. Addiction is not a moral failing, but a disease. We’re not there to judge but to help and support.

Important: Do not tell the addicted person about your plan to intervene.

  1. Contact friends and family of the addicted person and see who feels strongly about joining the intervention. It’s here that you can assess the specific problems caused by the addiction (ex., lying, cheating, stealing). You want to have some people who spent time with the addicted person BEFORE the addiction took hold, that remember the good times they had fishing, playing sports, or just having coffee and enjoying each other’s company. More on this later. Tip: ask yourself, “What do I miss about my loved one since the addiction took hold?” Write it down.
    • Assign one or two people to find out the person’s insurance information. Get creative if this information isn’t readily available. Look for an insurance card in their apartment, or in their wallet, or a statement laying around. Call the number on the back of the card and locate an appropriate treatment facility—this is another reason a trained interventionist should be involved; they will know the best treatment options for your loved-one. Call the treatment facility and explain what you’re doing and secure a bed for later that day.
  2. Remind participants that they’re not to discuss the plan with the addicted person. Tip: Set up a group chat to support one another as the planning continues.
  3. Have a meeting with all the intervention members and develop a plan, including setting a date and time (2-4 hours), picking a comfortable location (home, a close friend or relative’s house), and a plan to get your loved one to the intervention without revealing the “why”. (It may seem dishonest to trick the person to get them to the intervention location, say, to come to Aunt Ginny’s house on a Monday afternoon. But remember, you’re potentially saving his life, and that’s a noble reason for the trickery). Tip: Tell them that Aunt Ginny needs help moving her piano and drive the person there with you.
  4. Decide on specific consequences. If your loved one doesn’t accept treatment at the end of the intervention, each person must tell the person what the immediate consequence will be. No wavering.
    • Examples: 
      • I can no longer have you around your nieces and nephews—it’s not safe.
      • I can no longer loan you money or help you financially.
      • You’re not allowed to borrow my car.
      • I cannot spend time with you until you get help.
      • You’re not allowed to come to my house.
      • I’m not doing your laundry or preparing meals for you anymore.
      • You won’t be invited to play softball with us on Saturdays anymore. You must move out of this house if you won’t go to treatment today.
  5. Write down what you want to say. Writing down what you intend to say is important because your natural inclination will be to talk to the person, and sometimes it’s easy to get off track and go down a rabbit hole. If this happens, you must stop yourself and go to the written statement and read it.
    • Just remember, always come from a place of love and compassion. Never berate or accuse the person of something or raise your voice. Stick to the facts and speak from your heart. Tip: This isn’t a two-way conversation. If the person interrupts you or says anything at all, wait for the leader to remind the person they agreed to listen. Then you can continue where you left off.
    • Describes specific incidents where the addiction caused problems, emotional or non-emotional.
    • Discuss the toll of their behavior on you (and your children if applicable).
    • Tell them you love them and know they can get better with treatment.
  6. Hold the intervention. All participants should arrive an hour early at the intervention site. Park down the street or around the corner if possible so you don’t tip the person off. Make a comfortable space as best you can with water to drink. Tip: Make sure to have tissues ready—you’re going to need them.
    • When the person comes into the room, they are going to know immediately what is happening. Feel free to hug and comfort them, but don’t speak to them just yet. Tip” Shut off cellphones and other distractions—no interruptions during the intervention.
    • The leader (you or a training interventionist) will ask the person to take a seat and to please listen patiently and carefully. Ask them to agree to do just that (Ex., “We’re here today because we love you and need to tell you some things that are troubling us. Please honor our wishes”).
    • Each participant (the order will be established ahead of time by the leader or interventionist) will take turns expressing their concerns and feelings. If they get off track, they should gently be reminded to read their statement.
    • When everyone is done expressing how the person’s addiction has negatively affected their relationship (and what they miss doing together, e.g., fishing, talking, spending family time), the person will be asked to accept the treatment option you have already set-up for them. If the person rejects treatment, then each participant will say what specific changes he or she will make (consequences).
    • If it goes well, then your loved one will agree to go to treatment. Their bag is packed, hugs are given, and off they go with the person or persons responsible for transportation. At this point your loved one should be escorted (never out of site) until they reach their destination.
  7. Caution: A poorly conducted intervention can result ina much worse set of circumstances. The person might become desperate, deeply depressed, feeling isolated and alone. This is dangerous territory for someone in active addiction. Do not let them be alone. Assign someone to stay with them for the next 24 hours while you figure out your next steps. Always carry Narcan with you if opioids are involved.
  8. Follow-up. Family and friends should seek help understanding the nature of addiction, treatment, and their role when the person returns from treatment. Often an addicted person’s environment can impact their addiction, and their recovery. Addiction is a family disease, and working with a professional clinician can help families properly support their loved one’s recovery.
    • Tip: A couple people should be assigned to go to the person’s home and do a top to bottom cleaning. Look for drugs or paraphernalia and remove them. (Most police departments will have contraband drop-off locations, with no questions asked. Do your research ahead of time). If appropriate, move furniture around, change linens, spruce the place up for their return, if in fact they’re returning to this location. The impact of their environment on their recovery cannot be overstated—minor changes can go a long way in early recovery.

Finally, Be kind to yourself. You have just accomplished a very courageous act to help save your loved-one’s life. You may be feeling overwhelmed, sad, or depressed after such an emotional event. Make sure that you have a support system in place, that you get plenty of rest, and that you reach out to someone if you need help and support. You are not alone.

If you need an interventionist, these rehab centers have them on staff: Interventionist & Educational Consultant Drug Rehab Centers