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Do Interventions Actually Work? Getting Help for a Loved One

working with a professional, especially a trained addiction interventionist, can help you structure your own thoughts and feelings to be supportive and encouraging. Ultimately, this approach can encourage your loved one to seek the care they need.

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Drug or alcohol interventions make popular reality television fodder, but do they actually work?

Yes, an intervention can help your loved one get the treatment they need, but it is important to avoid extremely emotional situations as shown on TV.

Interventions: Are They Like Reality Television?

If you are a fan of reality television, you may know the concept of a drug or alcohol intervention from one of several popular shows. In these shows, the dramatic moments of the intervention are played up to help tell the story, so you may assume that an intervention is about loved ones crying and demanding change from someone who struggles with drugs or alcohol.

You may know someone who struggles with drugs or alcohol. And you might begin to wonder if staging your own intervention would be useful or too dramatic and hurtful.

The truth is that an intervention should not be like those portrayed on television. Although you can set up a large intervention with several friends and family, there are other types of interventions that might work just as well. This guide can help you understand drug or alcohol interventions, how they should be set up, and what you should avoid.

Do Interventions Actually Work?

An intervention uses peer pressure, medical information, or both to convince someone struggling with addiction that they need to seek treatment. By confronting this person directly, an intervention aims to help them see that there are significant physical, emotional, social, and financial consequences — not only to the person struggling with addiction, but to those around them. An appropriate and effective intervention is typically led by a professional, like a therapist, doctor, or even a professional interventionist.

Interventions can actually work. They are not just part of reality television.

Talking to a loved one who struggles with addiction and expressing your concerns can be an important step. This can highlight concerns your loved one also already has. Many people who struggle with addiction know they have a problem, and they may have tried to stop using drugs or alcohol on their own.

However, they may not have been successful in their attempt.  As a result, they feel embarrassed, angry, or ashamed, and this prevents them from asking for help.

There are few statistics on the effectiveness of interventions, as there is no direct link between an intervention and the apparent “success” of treatment.

It is important to know that addiction is a chronic illness, and someone who struggles with addiction might need to return to treatment a few times throughout the course of their lives. This does not mean treatment has failed, and thus, the intervention has not failed. It is all part of the journey toward ultimate recovery.

Types of Interventions

Although you may imagine one type of intervention, there are actually several approaches to an intervention that might work for your loved one. Here are some options:

  • Friends and family intervention: An intervention that gathers friends and family together is one of the most recognized interventions. However, it can also be one of the more complicated ones to structure.You need to make sure that everyone gathers to rehearse the intervention, knows what they will say, sticks to what they plan to say, and, most importantly, offers care and support for the person struggling with addiction. If the event becomes too fraught or emotional, the person you are trying to help might storm off, and the stress and shame could cause them to abuse drugs or alcohol more to feel better. Although it is an important type of intervention, it might not be the most effective for your loved one.Consider getting someone professional to lead the intervention. A therapist, physician, religious or community leader, or professional addiction interventionist can help.
  • Individual intervention: If you are concerned about your loved one’s behavior with drugs or alcohol, you should be able to speak up and show you are worried. Many people perform this type of intervention at some point, but they do it spontaneously, which might become confrontational.It is important to not make the intervention about you, although you can express that your loved one’s behavior worries you. Be sure to express that you care about them and offer some support like helping them find a rehabilitation program, driving them to doctors’ appointments, or similar.
  • Brief intervention: Unlike other types of interventions, this one comes directly from a medical professional like an alcohol and drug counselor, psychologist, social worker, physician, or nurse. This intervention might occur in a hospital after your loved one has overdosed, in a court as part of sentencing, in a vocational training program or work source, or even at a regular visit to their doctor or therapist.These brief interventions typically incorporate five basic steps:
    1. Introducing the health issue
    2. Screening, evaluating, and assessing
    3. Providing feedback
    4. Talking about change and goal-setting
    5. Summarizing and reaching closure, or an agreement

You might combine different elements of these types of interventions, depending on what you think might work best for your loved one.

Hiring an Interventionist to Help

You can stage an intervention yourself, but if you are intervening to help a loved one, you likely have some strong emotions that are difficult to manage. While you can practice the intervention so you can manage these emotions, having guidance to create the intervention, manage other people involved in the intervention, lead the intervention, or even conduct most of the intervention can help you a lot.

An interventionist can assist in several ways by:

  • Identifying meaningful people in the life of someone struggling with substance abuse.
  • Educating and guiding each person making up the intervention “team” so they know how to help.
  • Training you to lead the intervention or leading it themselves.
  • Facilitating and providing aftercare for everyone on the intervention team regardless of the intervention’s outcome.

A trained and certified interventionist specializes in family systems and can apply various intervention techniques to help. They can help shape and hone your thoughts and feelings regarding your loved one, so you can be as supportive as possible while your loved one undergoes treatment.

What If Your Loved One Refuses Treatment?

Of course, it is possible that your loved one will refuse treatment. They may even leave the intervention before it is over, and they may not want contact with you or others at the intervention. This can be frightening, but it is important to know what to do if they refuse treatment.

As you begin planning the intervention, you can work with a therapist or interventionist to determine the consequences of your loved one saying “no.” This does not mean you should actively punish them, but there are some ways you need to support yourself and stop accepting their addictive behavior. For example, if you frequently pick them up from a bar, refuse to do that anymore. If you find that they are stealing money from you to pay for drugs, find a way to prevent them from getting to your purse or wallet.

You should also find a support group or individual counselor for yourself. Your worries will not go away, and you will not be able to change your own behavior toward someone you love without getting support for yourself.

You may consider setting up another intervention that is different from the previous one. Working with an interventionist can also be beneficial since they can guide you on different approaches. Continuing to show concern and care for someone you love when they struggle with addiction can encourage them to seek treatment to get healthy.

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated May 1, 2023
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  2. Drug and Alcohol Interventions: Do They Work? (August 2014). Psychology Today.
  3. How Effective is Drug Addiction Treatment? (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
  4. Alcohol and Drug Addiction Happens in the Best of Families. (September 2012). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
  5. Chapter Two – Brief Interventions in Substance Abuse Treatment. (1999). Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series No. 34, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
  6. Learn About Intervention. Association of Intervention (AIS).
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