When to Write an Intervention Letter
Interventions are group efforts to help a family member or friend who is in crisis as a result of struggles relating to addiction. Whether you intend to stage an intervention in person or just want to send your intervention message through the mail, a letter can help to make sure your thoughts are ordered and prepared, allowing you to confirm you cover everything you want and need to say to the individual.
If you intend to seriously confront someone about their drug use and their need to get help, we recommend either writing a letter ahead of time or at least some kind of organizational aid to help you focus on what to say during what might be an emotional time.
What to Include in the Letter
There are many ways to write an intervention letter, but it’s important to structure it carefully. Remember, the goal of this letter is to convince a person to get help and clearly outline any boundaries you need to establish for your and your family’s safety and well-being.
It isn’t meant to be a way to vent your anger or frustrations. Try to keep negative emotions out of it as much as possible.
Clearly Establish Your Concerns
Begin your letter by establishing that you care about the individual and emphasize that the signs you’ve noticed signal a serious problem. Note any changes to their physical and mental health that have gotten you worried.
You can also highlight some of the related troubles they’ve gotten into, such as developing financial trouble, losing important personal and business relationships, and any criminal activity they’ve engaged in as a result of their drug use or their need for more drugs. Detail how you’ve been hurt or concerned because of their substance misuse.
Show You Want to Help
If you want an intervention to be effective, you need to make a genuine effort to help the individual. It isn’t enough to just highlight some of the problems you’ve noticed and hope they agree and get help on their own.
Research the effects of the drug or drugs they’re addicted to. Then, use reputable informational resources like these to learn about how to effectively help someone struggling with addiction.
Whenever possible, have all the information needed either in the letter or at least researched and ready to be shared on how the person can get proven, professional help for their addiction. Also, consider how they will realistically receive that help.
Some people may have obstacles in place, such as poor finances, no health insurance, and/or children and other responsibilities that can make scheduling treatment harder. Present real, workable solutions to these obstacles, such as offering to pay for treatment or taking care of their children while they are getting treated.
Set Important Boundaries
Talking to people struggling with addiction is difficult because you may love them and want to help them, but their addiction may also have caused them to engage in dangerous or otherwise harmful behavior. For example, one common issue is theft from family members to help pay for drugs.
In an intervention letter, set clear boundaries on behaviors that need to stop if you’re going to continue having the person around you and your family and/or provide them with basic help like food and housing. These boundaries are hard, and you need to stick to them.
Some common boundaries include explicitly stating that you will not tolerate theft in your house, the person can’t talk to your children while high on drugs, and they cannot bring over associates who misuse drugs or who frequently engage in criminal activity.
Establish Consequences for Breaking Boundaries
It’s important to set consequences for crossing the lines you set that are both fair and that you fully intend to enforce if necessary. The severity of these consequences can vary depending on what the infraction is, but the most common consequence is simply cutting the person off from financial and similar support for reasons of safety and security.
This may seem callous, but it’s important to remember that a person struggling with addiction isn’t the only individual involved in their problems. If they frequently steal or bring potentially dangerous people into your home, that can hurt you financially, get you unwillingly involved with criminal activity, or even put the lives of you and your family at risk in extreme cases.
Many people may also outline what behaviors may allow the person to get privileges back. This cannot simply be an apology or admittance that they made a mistake. Generally, the only real reason you should have for reallowing a person in your life who has openly crossed set boundaries would be if they enter a recovery program and have started to regain control over their substance misuse.
Reaffirm Your Care & Willingness to Help
As you finish your intervention letter, reaffirm that you care about the individual and that you’re willing to help with their recovery journey.
Even when you actively try to write your letter with empathy and avoid blaming language, it’s inevitable that it will make the person feel at least somewhat guarded and possibly even angry. Finish your letter by working to ease these negative emotions somewhat, reaffirming why you wrote that letter and that it’s out of concern for their physical and mental health.
Leave an open invitation for them to talk with you about how to get treatment further and what treatments may work best for them. State that you will try to answer any and all questions they have.
Example Intervention Letter
The following is an example letter that utilizes all the above features. While you can use this letter as a guide, also remember that these letters should be highly personalized to the unique struggles and needs of the individual you’re writing for.
I know you don’t like talking about certain subjects, but I’ve been really worried about you lately. Your drinking has made it hard for you to do a lot of the things I know you love, and I also know it’s probably at least part of why you lost your job.
You’ve tried to stop on your own but haven’t been able to, and I don’t blame you. Alcohol addiction is serious, and withdrawal from alcohol is an incredibly tough process to go through alone. But the reality is things are going to get worse if you can’t get help. Drinking is seriously hurting your body, and it’s making it hard for you to support yourself.
Intervention-type stuff can come with a lot of baggage, but I’m writing to tell you that I see you and that I want to help. I know that only you can know what it’s like to struggle with the stuff you do, but I’ve been reading up on what doctors and the latest research have to say about alcohol addiction. I at least know enough to tell you where the rehab centers near us are, and I have some ideas on how we can pay for them and make sure you have the time to get treated if you decide you’re open to this.
I can’t make you get help, even if I want you to get better, and I’m not going to try. This is your choice, but I hope you’ll at least be willing to talk with me once you’ve had time to process this letter.
For now, I need to set some lines just to keep my family safe. I know that since you’ve been really struggling financially, you’ve been doing some illegal stuff. We don’t need to talk about that right now, but you need to know that I can’t have you taking anything from me or my family. Please help me keep them safe and secure. If you can’t do that, we won’t be able to help you anymore, and you won’t be able to come over until I’m sure you’re completely sober.
I love you, brother. I am not here to judge you for problems that I have never had to deal with. But I want you to get help and am willing to be involved in that process.
If you’re ready, let’s talk about some of the ways you can get treated for your addiction. It isn’t going to be easy, but it’s also much easier to manage an addiction with the help of addiction treatment experts than it is on your own. Even if you have your doubts, let’s at least talk about it.
Your brother, Mike
Dos & Don’ts of Intervention Letters
Do: Deliver Your Letter in a Calm Setting
Whether you intend to read your letter aloud in an actual intervention or just have the individual read it on their own, the message shouldn’t feel like a “gotcha” that you pull out during an argument or as some kind of punishment.
For the best results, the message should be delivered during a calm, low-stress period of the person’s life, ideally while they’re sober. If something has recently happened that may be overwhelming, such as being fired or experiencing a breakup, wait to deliver the letter.
Don’t: Let Anger Get the Best of You
A person struggling with addiction may have done things that have made you angry or extremely disappointed in the past. Avoid letting any negative feelings bleed into your message.
The goal of an intervention needs to be maximizing a person’s chance of getting help. If you feel you can’t put your anger aside right now, wait. Don’t deliver them any kind of message that may contain that anger.
Do: Keep Your Message Realistic
While it’s okay to be hopeful in an intervention letter, don’t make grand promises, especially about their recovery. Recovering from addiction is a lengthy, hard process that is going to present serious obstacles even once a person agrees to start that journey.
Avoid claiming it will be easy or that recovery is going to come quick because that can seriously backfire if they go get treatment and realize it wasn’t correct.
An especially lengthy letter can muddy your intended message. While an intervention letter shouldn’t be extremely short, keep things focused on important points you need to cover.
Keep in mind that some of what you want the individual to know is probably best discussed as a conversation, such as the actual logistical details of how they might get treatment. You can also send them a less personal letter or email with those details, such as contact information for providers, once they agree to get treatment or talk with you further.
Do: Familiarize Yourself With the Basics of Addiction
If you’ve never thoroughly researched addiction before, you likely have at least some misconceptions about it. Researching medical topics can be confusing for non-experts, but .gov and .edu resources are good places to start. These resources contain a lot of reliable, well-researched information, much of which is aimed at people without medical backgrounds.
This information can ensure that you only make accurate claims when talking about addiction. It can also help you clear up any misconceptions a person may have about different addiction treatments.
Don’t: Forget Your Promises
Maybe the most important part of an intervention letter is making good on the help you promise to provide.
If a person comes to you asking for help getting treatment, that may be your only chance to help them. If you fail to act the way you said you would in your letter, they may feel betrayed and like they overestimated the support they would have in their recovery journey. The distrust this sows may make it even harder for them to get help than before you wrote the letter. The journey ahead might just seem too tough.
Avoid promising anything you can’t deliver on. Don’t offer to drive them to treatment or watch their kids if you’re unable to do so. Be realistic in what you promise, and ensure that everything you write is true.
Do: Enlist Professional Help
If you are staging a full in-person intervention for your loved one, it can be worth it to get guidance from a professional interventionist. This professional will help you plan the event, choosing the team members that will be involved and helping participants write letters that will be read during the intervention.
When an interventionist leads the intervention, it takes some of the pressure off you and other participants during this emotional event. The professional can help to keep the conversation on track, and they can even immediately escort your loved one to treatment if they agree to get help.
- Resources for Families Coping with Mental and Substance Use Disorders (September 2022). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Drug and Alcohol Interventions: Do They Work? (August 2014). Psychology Today.
- Language and Addiction: Choosing Words Wisely. (April 2013). American Journal of Public Health.