What is an intervention to you? Perhaps you’ve been to one. Perhaps you know someone who went through one or took part in one. Or maybe you’ve seen one on a television show or in a movie. No matter what your definition is, many people envision an intervention as a moment of an ultimatum, where the family or friends of someone struggling with an addiction let out all of their feelings about their loved ones’ addiction. This image probably includes a threat or declaration such as “Go to rehab or we’ll seek custody of your children,” “Stop using drugs or we won’t communicate with you anymore,” or “Get help for your drug problem or we’ll cut you off financially.”

There is some truth to this image of an intervention. Interventions are a meeting where family and friends gather around someone who is struggling with addiction. Yet, interventions are not the place to use guilt or anger to convince someone to seek treatment. Interventions should come from a place of love, a safe space for concerned family and friends to reach out and voice their support for the person of concern. They are nuanced, carefully planned, and have the power to change the lives of anyone who is battling addiction and the people that care about them.

Staging the Intervention

Not all individuals struggling with addiction need an intervention to seek treatment, so family and friends often look for key signs their loved one needs support. Even after losing jobs, losing friends, and repeated pleas from people who care about them, the addicted individual continues to refuse help. They might deny they have a problem and lash out at people who try to step in, or they might be in a state of hopelessness, where they feel that treatment will never help them get better. In these cases of hopelessness and denial, an intervention may be necessary.

Some families reach out to an addiction professional for support while staging the intervention, and, in most cases, a certified interventionist is an important part of the intervention meeting. If the person of concern is really close with their family or has no history of violence or mental problems, families might be able to hold the intervention on their own and only consult with an addiction professional through phone calls or check-ins. However, even in a situation where the person battling in addiction has close relationships with others, an addiction professional is an asset to the group. Professionals bring knowledge of the intervention process, addiction, and treatment centers to facilitate a successful intervention and keep families from becoming too overwhelmed.

After the family chooses an interventionist, the interventionist’s job is to walk a family through the rest of the process. Typically, though, the next steps are to choose attendees and plan the meeting. The group should be no more than eight people, a mix of close family members and friends who are important to the person of concern. Most professionals recommend an intervention take place on neutral territory and not at anyone’s house. If the individual continually avoids the meeting or refuses help, there may be situations where going to their house is necessary.

Most times, planning an intervention happens behind-the-scenes and comes as a surprise to the individual. Often, the group will meet before the intervention to write notes, plan what they will each say, and sometimes even rehearse before the pressure of discussion with the person of concern. More research and development has led some professionals to use a different approach, where the individual is involved throughout the entire process so they don’t feel blindsided. In cases where they are more involved, there might not be a formal intervention. They will meet with their family and an addiction professional, and help choose the right treatment center.

At the Intervention

Throughout the intervention, the most important emphasis should be the love and concern everyone feels towards their loved one. Each person at the intervention should talk about their past experiences and conflicts that have arisen, even the consequences of the individual’s behavior. The family and friends should end their speech with pleas for help and emphasize how important that person is to them. There shouldn’t be moments of casting shame, harmful accusations, or guilt-tripping. The point is not to make anyone feel bad. The point is to help the individual realize how much their loved ones care.

The intervention concludes with the interventionist asking the individual a series of questions. Do they want to continue living their life as their loved ones have just described? Or, based on what they’ve heard, are they ready to seek help? Addiction professionals will also discuss the consequences of addiction as a whole. Some families arrange a treatment center beforehand. Typically, the interventionist and family develop a recovery plan and present it to the person of concern.

Interventions aren’t always a one-time deal. Sometimes they occur over several consecutive days, or might even be spaced out over a few weeks. And, the actual intervention meetings themselves are sometimes organized differently depending on the addiction professional’s experience.

After the Intervention

About nine out of ten inventions are successful. Incredible breakthroughs happen when families approach someone who feels isolated and hopeless with love and support. However, there are also times when an intervention doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes the individual will promise to stop drinking or doing drugs but refuse to go to treatment. On other occasions, they might get angry and storm out. Both of these scenarios can lead a family to feel hopeless. As if they haven’t done enough. However, it’s important to know this is not the case.

Interventions mean families move closer to the day when someone is ready to seek treatment. At the same time, if someone promises to stop their destructive behavior but isn’t ready to seek treatment, you can always encourage them to seek out a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Interventions are a key part of helping families and loved ones heal in times of crisis. Through the process of planning and working through an intervention, there are numerous opportunities for families to come together. If your loved one is battling addiction, know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. With the proper support system and professional help, long-term recovery is possible.