Drug Intervention Guide
If your loved one is suffering from their addiction, it’s up to you to make the decision they can’t. Staging an intervention is a critical first step. This guide will provide you with the necessary resources to prepare for success, and plan for the potential of a brighter future.
What is an Intervention?
An intervention is a meeting where one group of people intervenes on behalf of someone who is struggling with an addiction, whether it’s due to drugs, alcohol, or even gambling. A well-planned intervention can be broken down into three critical phases:
- Trust – Gaining trust, which can enable gentle confrontation
- Change – Highlighting the path to change — asking the addicted person to get treatment
- Consequences – Delivering consequences or points of leverage (if the addicted person doesn’t agree to treatment)
“An intervention can be an emotionally-charged event. It can be very uncomfortable, confusing, and scary; but in reality, it’s an opportunity for positive change.”Kevin Morse, Interventionist and Recovery Consultant
According to Kevin Morse, interventionist and recovery consultant, “An intervention can be an emotionally-charged event. It can be very uncomfortable, confusing, and scary; but in reality, it’s an opportunity for positive change.”
You may opt to gather friends and family to stage an intervention to help your loved one recognize the problem and seek help. The following steps will guide you as you plan this critical, potentially life-saving event.
What is a Professional Intervention?
Many people wonder if a professional intervention can help, and the short answer is yes. Read on to see why an interventionist can make such a significant impact.
What is an Interventionist?
There’s a great deal you can plan for with an intervention, but there’s also the certainty of uncertainty. You can’t predict how your loved one may react. You can’t predict what actions they may take. But due to their wealth of experience, an interventionist has an entire playbook, backed by the ability to think in the moment — an essential skill that you may need to rely on as the intervention unfolds.
Professional interventionists, also known as intervention specialists or recovery consultants, can help:
- Provide Insights – Provide insights on how to plan a successful intervention
- Choreograph Events – Choreograph the ordering of events during the intervention
- Coach – Coach you and your family and friends on what to expect and how to engage the addicted person during the intervention
- Facilitate – Facilitate an intervention, possessing the ability to remain emotionally unattached, which is vital to the success of the facilitator role
- Advocate – Liaise on your behalf (and the addicted person’s) with facility clinical professionals before, during, and after treatment
- Support – Provide ongoing coaching and support for your family as you learn how to support your loved one through their recovery
Success rates dramatically increase when an interventionist or other trusted professional guide the course of the intervention, including all activities leading up to, during, and after the intervention.
How to Find an Intervention Specialist or Interventionist
First and foremost, if you have a professional counselor, ask for a referral. Otherwise, the Association of Intervention Specialists can be a great place to begin your search and find a professional interventionist near you.
What to Look for in an Interventionist
While time is often of the essence when it comes to acting on a loved one’s addiction, it’s also important to plan up-front as methodically as possible to ensure the best outcome possible. Things to look for in the interventionist you choose include:
- A masters degree in counseling, preferably in addiction counseling
- Certification as an alcohol and drug counselor
- Experience running interventions
- Board certification as an interventionist
“Prepare for change, not just with your loved one, but with yourself. Look to your interventionist to help you leading into, during, and after treatment. Lasting change requires ongoing effort.”Kevin Morse, Interventionist and Recovery Consultant
In addition, you’d be well-served to ask your chosen interventionist to provide:
- Their guiding philosophy as it relates to addiction treatment to establish a good fit from the outset
Success rates based on past experiences with families going through the same scenario you’re experiencing
- A timeline of how long they plan to contractually remain invested in the positive outcome of your loved one’s recovery
- If possible, recommendations from past clients that provide anecdotal proof to their success rates
How Much Does an Interventionist Cost?
Each professional’s fee structure will vary, ranging from $1,000 and $10,000, which may cover ongoing support (This is something you should request as a client).
Ideally, your interventionist will agree to coach your family through the initial recovery process and advocate on your loved one’s behalf with the treatment facility. Unfortunately, utilizing the services of a qualified professional are not yet covered by insurance (in most cases), but in a situation as dire and important as this, it’s vital to get it right. You may only have one chance to help your loved one take a step in the right direction.
Is an Interventionist Necessary?
More often than not, an intervention is the final push. Because this is such an emotional, daunting issue, there’s a tendency to avoid dealing with addiction. Or even calling it an “addiction.” This is perfectly normal and understandable behavior for both the family and the addicted person.
“Waiting to treat addiction until the person ‘reaches rock bottom’ is equivalent to waiting to treat cancer until it reaches Stage 4. Sometimes a person has reached a place of such darkness they cannot recognize their need for help until it is brought to light by others.”Keith Bradley, Senior Interventionist at Love in Action
However, keep this in mind: “Waiting to treat addiction until the person ‘reaches rock bottom’ is equivalent to waiting to treat cancer until it reaches Stage 4,” says Bradley. “Your loved one has likely become very good at hiding their addiction. The longer they can keep it secret, the longer their relationship with drugs or alcohol can last.”
There are a wide variety of addiction types that may require an intervention, including:
- Intervention for alcoholics
- Heroin intervention
- Gambling intervention
- Cocaine intervention
As soon as you see the issue, it’s time to intervene. And it’s highly probable that your loved one will still be living in denial of their addiction. This guide will address strategies and tactics for addressing those challenges later.
Intervention Strategies and Techniques
There are varying schools of thought on how an intervention should work, what methodology should be followed, who should be included, etc. The right approach will be determined by what’s right for your loved one and your family. Your personal family dynamic should dictate the right approach. If you work with an interventionist or professional counselor, they can help you decide.
There are seven types of drug interventions. They include:
- Crisis Intervention
The crisis intervention is primarily direct in form. These interventions are highly important for those who find themselves in emergent situations where time is not a luxury.
- Tough Love
A “tough love” intervention can be direct or indirect in nature and is the go-to intervention style for those who have had a difficult time saying no to the addicted person in their life.
- Confrontational Model of Intervention
The traditional confrontational model of intervention is as direct as it gets and involves firmly challenging the addictive behaviors by pointing out undesirable behavior and consequences caused by the addicted person, as well as laying expectations of recovery on the addicted person’s shoulders.
- Johnson Model of Intervention
Stemming from the confrontational intervention model, the Johnson Model of intervention focuses on educating a caregiver, such as a spouse or parent, on how to confront the addicted person and encourage her to seek help for her substance abuse problem.
- Love First Approach
The preferred method of Kevin Morse, the Love First approach encourages family members to provide love and compassion to the addicted person and continue with such sympathy throughout and after treatment.
- Systematic Family Model
This method brings to light how damaging the addicted person’s choices and behaviors have been to the family unit. It incorporates the dynamics of the entire family unit.
- Arise Intervention
The ARISE intervention brings the best of both worlds to the table — both indirect and direct models of intervention. It focuses on the whole family group and how they work together to solve the addiction problem rather than just the addicted person and what her behavior is doing to everyone else.
Step-by-Step: How to Stage a Drug Intervention
- Find a Trusted Professional.
If at all possible, this is the best way to ensure a successful intervention. An addicted person in the family creates a very personal, sensitive tension. Only a trusted professional can remove emotion from the scenario and facilitate healthy and productive dialogue. It’s important for you, the family member, to be just that. If however, a professional is not possible, utilize the steps below to orchestrate an effective intervention.
- Create a Plan.
Work with friends and family (or your interventionist) to create a plan for the intervention. One of the most important steps in planning the intervention is having the immediate next steps in mind. Some of the questions you should have answered prior to holding the intervention include:
- Determine if insurance will cover a rehab facility or if you’ll need to use the self-pay model
- Know where you plan to send the addicted person for recovery, and find out if they accept your insurance
- Ask friends, family, and trusted colleagues if they have any experience with a specific facility — see what their opinion is after having gone through treatment or supporting a friend or loved one through it. You can also look to online resources like Narc-Anon or SAMHSA treatment locator.
- Narrow choices down to a few facilities, and even have travel arrangements in place, which you can quickly arrange with their chosen facility.
- Form an Intervention Team.
Only people who have a meaningful relationship with the addicted person should be invited to the intervention. Sometimes, it’s hard for an addicted person to fathom telling an admired family member, like a grandparent. By including those family members in the conversation, it can remove the pressure of having to tell that family member after the intervention. It’s vital that the addicted person feels supported and loved. The team could include:
- Adolescent or adult children, if appropriate, and over the age of 10
- Close friends
- Set Consequences.
Each person within your intervention team should have a consequence in mind if the addicted person doesn’t agree to seek help. Only use this tactic as a last resort.
- Choose the Location.
Some believe that a neutral location is best, such as a church, community center, or therapist’s office. However, Kevin Morse believes the home environment allows for more control over unknown variables. Home-based interventions also make “the element of surprise” easier to navigate.
Practice what you’ll say while keeping in mind what you won’t say. In addition, it’s important to establish:
- Roles of each person participating
- Who will introduce the intervention/purpose for meeting
- How to cope with and control feelings
- How to use words/messaging as efficiently as possible
- Hold the Intervention Meeting.
During the actual meeting, take turns speaking. Let the addicted person know you love him or her and are there to support them throughout their recovery, as long as it takes. Present a treatment plan and share the consequences of not agreeing to seek treatment. Emphasize that you will stop aiding the addiction by enforcing the consequences if they choose not to seek help.
- Follow Up
After the intervention, it’s important to follow up with the addicted person and make sure they’re honoring what they agreed to. It may take additional help and encouragement to actually get enrolled in a treatment center, so it can be helpful to have one member of the intervention team be responsible for assuring the person transitions into addiction treatment.
5 Tips for Staging a Smooth Intervention
There are quite a few things you can do to make sure your intervention goes as well as possible. These tips are directly from our professional interventionists, who have staged hundreds of interventions.
- Choose the Right Time
Choose a time when the person is most likely to be sober. Preferably first thing in the morning before the person has a chance to use his or her substance of choice.
- Use Warm, Open Body Language
Body language can often say more than words. Crossing your arms or clenching your fists are sure signs of frustration. Try relaxing, looking at the person you’re talking to, and refrain from body language that could be seen as hostile.
- Control your Emotions
Abusive language or harsh physical punishments are not an acceptable way to approach an intervention. Control your emotions and refrain from making statements out of anger, or that otherwise attack the addicted individual. Always keep the intent of the intervention in mind — to help the person regain control of their life. Do everything in your power to stay committed and focused — just don’t give up.
- Be Prepared
Anticipate what the addicted person may do, and have a plan in place in case he or she acts out. It’s hard to know how they’ll react, but it’s important to remain vigilant should unanticipated behaviors emerge. Always have 9-1-1 on speed dial.
- Never Send Someone to Treatment with Money
Your loved one is still in a very raw emotional state following the intervention. While it may feel right to send them with money, send them with only what they need to get to the arrival airport. They’re likely to be met by a facility coordinator that will safely transport them to their treatment destination. The temptation to use will be too much to bear at this point in their journey.
What are the Risks of Intervention?
The biggest risk of an intervention is related to your relationship with the addicted person. Consider that your loved one doesn’t want help, and doesn’t want to be told what to do. There’s a high likelihood of emotional retaliation, which is why preparedness is so key. “The better prepared we are, the higher our chances of success,” says Keith Bradley, Senior Interventionist with Love in Action Interventions & Training. “I generally have 40-50 hours of preparation involved in each case prior to the day of the intervention.”
“The better prepared we are, the higher our chances of success. I generally have 40-50 hours of preparation involved in each case prior to the day of the intervention.”Keith Bradley, Senior Interventionist at Love in Action
Preparing for Success and Planning for Failure
There are two potential outcomes to an intervention. In a successful intervention, the person agrees to accept treatment. In this case, you’ll want to have already researched some options and present the one you feel would be the best fit. Remember: It’s best to have arrangements, logistics, and details arranged in advance should you receive the approval from the addicted person to move forward with their treatment plan. If you prolong starting the treatment process, there is a higher chance the person will avoid the treatment altogether
On the flip side, there’s also the potential that your loved one rejects treatment and denies the presence of a problem. In this case, you’ll need to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself to enforce the consequence you laid out in your intervention message. Backpedalling or not enforcing your word will only reduce your chances of making any progress with the addicted person toward recovery. Your intentions are good, and you’re helping your loved one to make important, life-altering decisions that they physically can’t. In fact, according to Dr. Timothy Huckaby, “Once an addiction has taken hold, it’s a bonafide disease, because the brain has changed. It’s no longer able to have normal responses, and is now replaced with a barren operating system.”
“Once an addiction has taken hold, it’s a bonafide disease, because the brain has changed. It’s no longer able to have normal responses, and is now replaced with a barren operating system.”Dr. Timothy Huckaby, Board Certified in Pain Medicine, Addiction Medicine and Anesthesiology
Family Intervention Strategies
There are some important factors to consider when it comes to staging an intervention, especially when kids are involved.
When the Person Addicted is a Young Adult
If the addicted person is under the age of 21, it’s important to include as much family as possible. It can be hard for young adults to face their addiction, especially when they’re fearful of letting others in their family and circle of friends down. Surround your loved one with as much support as possible, to make clear that their addiction is no longer a secret, but more importantly, they have a wide and dedicated group of people that are only interested in what’s best.
When the Person Addicted is a Parent
If the addicted person is a parent, their addiction is very relevant and present in the life of their child (or children.) In this case, it’s best to use discretion when considering if their child(s) presence is appropriate. Ask yourself these three questions:
- Is the child over the age of 10?
- Is the child emotionally mature enough to hear what the addicted person might have to say, no matter how raw it might be?
- Will the child’s presence do more to benefit the addicted person, or more to cause further harm to the child?
These are delicate issues, but incredibly important to think through before ever including a child in the intervention event.
Sample Intervention Letter
As part of your preparation for the intervention, it’s often good to write a letter to the person. This allows you to get all your thoughts on paper, clarify what you really want to say and help you keep your most important points top-of-mind during the intervention. Download the sample letter template below to help collect and organize your thoughts prior to the intervention. Remember: this letter should be rooted in love and come from a place of good intent. It’s designed to help you mentally and emotionally prepare for a successful intervention.
This template will provide you with a helpful structure to create your own intervention letter. Remember to root your letter in love and try to keep it short. This template isn’t meant to be followed verbatim, but is rather meant to help you tap into any thoughts that may help spur thoughtful dialogue.
Below are some videos of drug and alcohol interventions. While watching these videos can be emotional, it can also provide you with valuable context for hosting your own intervention.
Dr. Phil Intervention
Dr. Phil has held several interventions on his show, and helped people get the help they need. These videos can provide insights into the intervention process.
Documentary: The Anonymous People
This feature documentary film paints a picture of a worldwide epidemic that is addiction. To truly understand the mindset of a person struggling with addiction, it’s worth watching this video to gain empathy for his or her experience.
Contributors to This Guide
Dr. Timothy Huckaby
Dr. Timothy Huckaby, Medical Director for Orlando Recovery Center, is a clinical expert, and a triple board certified physician in Pain Medicine, Addiction Medicine and Anesthesiology. A graduate of the Louisiana State University School of Medicine, Dr. Huckaby completed his residency in anesthesiology at LSU and received additional training at Brigham and Women’s, Harvard Medical School, prior to completing his addiction medicine fellowship at the University of Florida.
Kevin Morse started LIFTT Confidential, a recovery and intervention consultancy in 2014. He empathizes with his patients and the families he serves, because he’s lived through the same battle his clients are now facing. After 15 years of active drug use and consequences he could no longer ignore, he devoted himself to a life of recovery, and has worked diligently every day for the almost decade of sobriety he’s achieved. To date, he’s successfully coached nearly 200 individuals through the recovery process.
Keith Bradley, Senior Interventionist, Love in Action Interventions & Training
Keith Bradley is often referred to as ‘the interventionist with a heart’. Through his company, Love in Action, Keith approaches intervention from a spiritual perspective.Since 2007, using a model based upon and expanded from the “Love First” intervention method, Keith has successfully facilitated over 200 interventions with a success rate above 75% and has spent more than 10,000 hours working with people struggling with addiction and their families.
- Mayo Clinic. Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/intervention/art-20047451
- Advocates Forum. University of Chicago. Narrative Practices and Adolescents: A Strategy for Substance Abuse Prevention. 2015
- US News & World Report. A Billion Smokers, 240 Million Alcohol Abusers Worldwide: Study: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/05/19/a-billion-smokers-240-million-alcohol-abusers-worldwide-study
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today’s Heroin Epidemic: http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/
- U.S. News http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/05/19/a-billion-smokers-240-million-alcohol-abusers-worldwide-study
- CDC http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/