How to Stage an Alcohol Intervention

Last Updated: May 30, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

How to Stage an Alcohol Intervention

An alcohol intervention is an opportunity to motivate someone to get help for addiction. It’s often difficult to get someone dealing with a substance use disorder to recognize and acknowledge there’s a problem. This refusal to recognize the issue is a barrier to getting treatment, which is where interventions become helpful.

With an alcohol addiction intervention, there’s a focused approach. The person who’s struggling with the addiction has the opportunity to understand the effects of their behavior not only on themselves but others. Interventions encourage someone to get help and make changes before things worsen.

How Are Families Affected By Alcoholism?

“Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.” – The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

Alcohol misuse destroys families just as much as it destroys individuals. Living with or around a person who misuses alcohol can be exhausting, frustrating and heartbreaking. It creates abnormal and unusual stress because it disrupts normal routines with unexpected, unwanted and sometimes scary situations that occur as a result of alcohol addiction.

Often, an individual with an alcohol addiction will hide from, lie to or manipulate family members to maintain some sense of order while gradually falling further into their addiction. Denial and minimizing the problem are standard reactions that create so much tension inside families.

Family members become uncertain of how to help a loved one with an alcohol addiction without enabling unhealthy behaviors. Alcohol addiction can destroy family life and cause harmful and lasting effects, including marital problems, loss of child custody, job loss, legal problems and abuse

What Is an Intervention?

Within alcohol and substance use, an intervention is an organized approach to confronting someone with an addiction. In confronting the person, the group conducting the intervention is sharing how the drinking or addiction-related behavior affects them.

There are different intervention models for alcohol use, and not all rely on completely surprising the person with an addiction.

The purpose of an alcohol addiction intervention is to:

  • Offer the opportunity for families and friends to present their loved ones with a chance to understand and accept their problems.
  • Describe to the loved one that there have been continued examples of alcohol misuse and destructive patterns around their drinking.
  • Explain how treatment programs can help and would be of benefit.
  • Have an interventionist involved in professional planning and management of the intervention.
  • Answer any questions or objections they may have as it relates to getting help.
  • Formalize the consequences of the individual’s actions should they refuse to seek treatment.

Signs It’s Time to Stage an Intervention for Alcohol Use

While every situation is unique, some of the indicators it could be time to stage an intervention for alcohol use include:

  • Your loved one is in denial about the scope of the problem, or even that one exists. If other people notice someone’s substance misuse, it likely affects every part of their life, career, relationships, and health.
  •  If someone is engaging in increasingly destructive or risky behavior, an intervention might be the next appropriate step.
  • There’s an unwillingness so far to get treatment.
  •  An intervention may be appropriate if someone continues to lie. Over time, because of changes to the brain that alcohol addiction causes, a person can no longer make rational  decisions. They’re driven exclusively by their need to get more alcohol and keep drinking, and they’ll do anything to ensure that happens.
  • Your loved one may be experiencing serious health issues due to alcohol.
  • You feel like you’ve reached the end of your rope. You may feel frustrated and ready to give up without a change.

How to Stage an Intervention for Alcohol

The following are alcohol intervention tips and a brief outline of how to stage an intervention for alcohol misuse

1. Set Up a Plan

It can take days, weeks, or even months to fully prepare to stage an alcohol intervention, so give yourself time. Being prepared will help you understand the best intervention techniques that will work for your loved one and your group. You don’t want to have a spontaneous intervention, which can worsen the situation.

Here’s why planning is so important:

  • Without a thorough plan, the person you’re trying to convince to get help may become defensive.
  • It’s critical to understand the issue well, and make sure everyone on your team is well-informed about addiction.
  • Some groups decide to practice through role-playing, and they’ll go through different possible situations they might encounter when they confront their loved one.

As part of your planning, it’s important that you have a plan the person can decide to follow at the end of the intervention. Typically, it’s that the person goes to treatment. With that in mind, you should arrange a treatment program they can enter right after the intervention if they’re ready.

2. Seek Professional Guidance

Interventions aren’t easy. They’re often emotionally charged and can quickly become a volatile situation. These risks highlight the importance of working with an addiction professional during the process.

3. Put Together Your Intervention Team

Along with the professional interventionist, therapist, or counselor you work with, you need a group of anywhere from four to six people the person with an alcohol use disorder loves, respects, or depends on in some way.

Your team will meet with the professional you’re working with. You’ll decide on a time and place for the intervention, go over what you’ll say, and talk about the treatment options you’ll offer.

4. Hold the Intervention

Depending on the alcohol intervention model that you choose, you may not tell your loved one you’re having an intervention. In some models, you will. You’ll decide on a particular time and place regardless of the approach.

When you have the intervention, you want to talk about things positively. You never want the person with the addiction to feel like you’re attacking them. You should express concern without judgment and remind the person that you’re holding this intervention because you love them and are concerned for their well being.

5. Follow Through

Once you end the intervention, you’ll need to keep up with the progress of your loved one. If they’re going to treatment, that’s great. If they’re not, you have to decide what your next steps might be. It’s important to set boundaries and stick to any consequences laid out during the meeting if your loved one chooses not to go to treatment. For instance, you may cut off all contact or refuse to provide financial support or a place to stay if your loved one refuses treatment.

Alcohol Intervention Tips

The following are general alcohol intervention tips to keep in mind:

  • Create a plan. Without a solid plan, you risk further alienating the person dealing with alcohol addiction.
  • Get professional help. Professional interventionists or counselors are great resources.
  • Prepare for the worst, even though you’re hoping for the best. There might be strong emotions, including denial, anger, and perhaps verbal abuse.
  • Research treatment options and potentially secure a rehab center ahead of time.
  • Be mindful of your body language. This can be as important as the words that come from your mouth. Keep your arms and legs uncrossed, don’t clench your hands, and make sure your words match your body cues.
  • Prepare to keep your cool and manage your temper, no matter what. Addiction causes changes in the brain, and it can lead to hostility and aggression. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of losing your temper, no matter what your loved one is doing.

The Best Intervention Models for Alcoholism

There are several alcohol intervention models. An intervention professional can help a group understand which model and approach could work best for their loved one.

Options include:

  • The Johnson Model was created in the 1960s. In this model, the core assumption is that a person with an addiction can’t see how their substance abuse affects the people around them. There’s also an assumption the person will stay in denial until they hit rock bottom. In a Johnson model, loved ones encourage the person with an addiction to agree to seek treatment before they hit rock bottom on their own. The family and friends prepare without the person’s knowledge or approval.
  • The Invitational Model is also called the Family Systemic Intervention Model. The philosophy of this model is that you can’t focus solely on an addicted person—a family-oriented approach is required. An entire support network or family is invited to participate in an intervention. The family and the person with a substance use disorder are coached about addiction and concepts like enabling, and the entire family is encouraged to seek counseling to heal from the effects of addiction. The person with the addiction participates in every meeting, so there is no secretly planned confrontation.
  • The Field Model is a variation of the Johnson model. It doesn’t replace other models but is complementary to them. The Field Model is useful for families who believe their loved one could be dangerous to themselves or others because of co-occurring conditions like bipolar disorder.

What If Your Loved One Refuses Treatment?

It can be devastating if your loved one refuses treatment after an intervention. You have to manage your expectations and realize there’s a chance they will turn down treatment at first.

Everyone participating in the intervention has to form a united front, and you can’t back off your stated consequences. You have to accept the decision of your loved one to choose not to get helpFrom there, be consistent in your follow-through of the consequences you named during the intervention, even if it’s hard.

The family needs to be firm in their decision to end their support of the person when they refuse to get help. You might limit contact after your loved one’s refusal, and if you speak, you should consistently reiterate that you want to see them in treatment. In some cases, your loved one’s shock when family members and friends follow through with their stated consequences can motivate them to finally seek treatment.

Finding Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction in Washington

If you’re ready to explore what a future of recovery could mean for your loved one, we encourage you to contact our team at The Recovery Village Ridgefield. Our facility offers comfortable amenities, including a culinary staff, housekeeping, and mountain views. These amenities allow our patients to feel relaxed and supported to fully immerse themselves in their treatment.

The Recovery Village Ridgefield is an in-network provider for various insurance companies, including Aetna, American’s Choice, and First Choice. Learn more about using insurance coverage to pay for addiction treatment by visiting our insurance page or contacting us.

We know what it feels like to have a loved one struggling with an addiction to alcohol, and we’re here to support you so that you can encourage your loved one to get the treatment they need.


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    National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence Inc. “Family Disease.” February 24, 2016. Accessed July 18, 2022. Schäfer, Gabriele. “Family functioning in families with alcohol and other drug addiction.” Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, June 2011. Accessed July 16, 2022. NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Treatment.” Accessed July 8, 2022. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed July 16, 2022. American Psychological Association. “Johnson Intervention.” 2011. Accessed July 8, 2022. Association of Intervention Specialists. “What is the Family Systemic Model?” May 2, 2017. Accessed July 16, 2022.