How To Do An Intervention

by pgh

Deciding whether or not to do an intervention is a very personal decision.  Anytime you confront an alcoholic about their drinking, you risk triggering fear, anger and resentment.  Doing a formal intervention can do more harm to an already damaged relationship with the alcoholic or addict.

Here are some useful addict & alcoholic intervention tips to keep in mind if you’re trying to convince a loved one to seek help for their substance abuse problem.  This article will discuss:

  • Informal vs Formal Interventions – What’s The Difference?
  • How do you know if you should do an intervention?
  • Planning The Intervention
    • Make sure you’re in the right emotional state
    • Deciding who to involve
    • Should you get professional help?
    • Determine the goal
  • Staging The Intervention
    • Choosing the time and place
    • Address objections
    • Establish boundaries and conseequences

Informal vs Formal Interventions

There are 2 types of interventions.  There are informal interventions, where you or a friend/family member of the alcoholic will try to get them to recognize their problem.  You might encourage them to get help, or talk about how their behavior has been affecting you.  These are usually short, unplanned, 1 on 1 conversations.

A formal intervention on the other hand, is something you plan in advance.  It usually involves gathering up the alcoholic/addict’s closest friends and family members in a one-time confrontation to get the alcoholic/addict into rehab.   Usually, formal interventions are something you do once you’ve already exhausted other options.

Before you actually go through with the intervention, you first need to decide if you should actually go through with the addict/alcoholic intervention.

Should You Do An Intervention?

A formal intervention isn’t the best way to confront most alcoholics.  If you’re dealing with someone who you suspect is an alcoholic, or who you’re sure is an alcoholic – but where their alcoholism hasn’t yet started to affect their life in a major way – a formal intervention will probably make things worse.

Interventions are an emotionally charged event that should only be used as a last resort.  You should consider a formal intervention only if:

  • The person’s loved ones have already tried several informal interventions, to no avail
  • The person’s life is spiraling out of control
  • The person is still hopelessly in denial, despite suffering major consequences as a result of their addiction
  • Relationships are already strained to a near-breaking point
Ultimately, the decision whether or not to intervene will have to be made by those closest to the addict.  There is no formula, and there is never a guarantee that a formal intervention will help.  If the alcoholic meets the criteria above, you might want to quietly approach close friends and family and see if they would be open to participating in an intervention.


  • Being in the right emotional state
  • Deciding who to involve
  • Involving a professional
  • Determining the goal

Emotional State

If all else has failed and you’re committed to doing an intervention, your first step should be making sure you’re in the right frame of mind.  Make sure that you’re reaching out to the person out of a place of love and concern.  You need to be genuinely supportive and ready to be extremely patient, even if things don’t go the way you expect.

Be especially wary if you’re harboring any anger or resentment – these emotions can ignite an already volatile situation  during an interventino.  If anger or resentment is a problem for you, find out more about learning to learning to forgive here.

Getting Organized

If you feel you’re in the right state of mind to continue with the intervention, then the next step is to approach close friends and family of the alcoholic.  You’ll not only have to get them on board, but you should agree on a common approach.  You’ll want to provide a bit of coaching (if necessary, you can seek the help of a professional) and explain that the goal is to express love and support, not to hurl accusations and make ultimatums.

The goal is not to force the alcoholic into making a change – that’s simply not possible.  The goal is to get the alcoholic to realize that their actions are negatively affecting themselves and the people they love.

Deciding Who To Involve

There’s some debate about how exactly should be included in a formal intervention.  At one point, the popular approach was to gather as many people associated with the person as possible – as long as they were willing to show up.

In recent years, studies have demonstrated that limiting the intervention to between 5-10 of the person’s closest friends and family offers the best results.  Avoid friends or family members who regularly get drunk with the alcoholic, or who have addiction problems of their own.  Additionally, each person selected should be able to describe specific instances of how the person’s  substance abuse problem affected them.

Should You Involve A Professional?

You have the option of hiring a professional intervention counselor or agency to assist with the process.  Intervention specialists are usually alcoholics in recovery themselves who can help by giving advice to the people involved in the intervention.  The specialist could also be present at the intervention to help guide the process along and serve as a mediator or sorts.

There are pros and cons to having a professional involved.  On the one hand, an experienced professional may be able to offer wisdom and guidance that could be helpful to the process.  At the same time, specialists can be expensive, and there is no guarantee of results.  They are essentially there to help you communicate in a positive, supportive way , but they don’t have any magic formula.

Hiring a professional is not necessary for a successful outcome, but if you have the means and you feel completely lost as to how to approach the process, hiring a professional might be a good idea.

Determining The Goal Of The Intervention

With casual interventions, there’s usually no goal.  You simply bring up the problem with the alcoholic and see how they respond.  But in a formal intervention, you should have a specific and realistic end-goal in mind.  If it’s just about gathering around, expressing concern, and asking the person to stop using – the whole exercise will probably be a failure.

Just getting an alcoholic or an addict to admit their problem and that they need help is a huge step, it would be a waste if this breakthrough didn’t come with a concrete recovery plan.  The goal of a formal intervention should be to get the person into an in-patient facility.  This way, there is a controlled environment where the person can detox and get sober – at least for a little while.

One more obstacle you’ll face here is the fact that most rehab centers require advanced booking and they don’t just take walk-ins.  You’ll need to contact local alcohol treatment centers and schedule the admission – usually at least 2 weeks in advance.  If you only make the appointment once the person agrees to the treatment, they could have changed their mind by the time the admission date rolls around.

Staging The Intervention

  • Choosing the right time and place
  • Addressing objections
  • Setting boundaries and consequences

Choosing The Time and Place

Once you have some close friends and family on board, you’ll need to plan the specific location and time of the intervention.  This can have a critical effect on the outcome, and its not nearly as easy as it first seems.

When choosing the right time and place, you want to make sure that the alcoholic won’t be drunk at the time, and that they’re in a state of mind where they’re most likely to be receptive to your pleas.

If the alcoholic is a binge drinker, then the best time to stage the intervention is a day after the end of their binge.  This will be when they’re most sober, and also perhaps when they’re most likely to be receptive to your pleas.

Another option is to wait until after the alcoholic has suffered some major consequence as a result of their drinking.  This can be after they spend a night in jail, after their spouse has left them, after they’ve lost their job, or after they’ve been checked into the hospital.

In many cases, it might be impossible to set an exact location and time for the intervention.  Your best bet might be to get organized and setup a general window for when the intervention will take place.  When you feel the time is right, you can alert the other parties.

Another option is to give the person a gentle heads up.  Let them know that you’re worried about them, and that you’d like to talk to them about their alcohol/drug problem.  Of course, many alcoholics/addicts won’t be receptive to this, but if you can give them a gentle heads up before the intervention, they’re less likely to feel cornered or ambushed.

Addressing Objections

Keep in mind that walking into an intervention can be a scary experience.  You want to minimize the chances that the alcoholic will react with resentment or fear.  Be sure to emphasize your love and support for the person.

At the same time, you’ll find that the alcoholic will likely be unreceptive to your arguments, especially at first.  In a best case scenario, they’ll likely be dismissive, insisting that they don’t need help.  Your group should prepare for this in advance, going over some of the likely objections/denials and working out answers to address them.

If members of your group have already attempted informal interventions in the past, you likely already have a good idea of the type of objections you’ll get, and you can prepare ways to address these objections.

Setting Clear Boundaries and Consequences

Once you’re in a formal intervention, the alcoholic/addict has probably already done things to not only hurt themselves, but also to hurt those around them – whether through neglect, recklessness, or outright hostility.  An intervention is a chance not only  to communicate your concerns, but to take concrete steps to address them.  One of these ways is by setting boundaries for the alcoholic/addict, and explaining the consequences if those boundaries are violated.

Navigating this discussion can be extremely tricky.  On the one hand, you want to continue to express your love and support, and you want to maintain a dialogue.  On the other hand, you do have to be firm and state that certain actions are unacceptable and that they cannot continue.

For example, you might state that the person cannot continue to drink and drive, and that if you catch them doing it again, you’ll have no choice but to call the police before someone get seriously hurt or killed.  For a parent or significant other, you might have to say that – no matter how much you love and support them – if they don’t seek treatment for their problem, you’ll have to ask them to move out of the house.


We’ve covered a lot of information and it can all seem a bit overwhelming. To break it down for you, here is the process you’ll need to undergo if you’re serious about going through with an intervention:

  1. Decide if you truly need a formal intervention
  2. Make sure you’re in the right mindset for an intervention.
  3. Figure out who should be involved (5-10 people who are close to the person and not addicts themselves)
  4. Decide if you want a professional intervention specialist to help with the process
  5. Choose a time and place for the intervention when the person is most likely to be receptive to your pleas
  6. Determine and define the goal of your intervention.  Pre-schedule an appointment at a rehab center if you can.
  7. Prepare to address objections
  8. Prepare to define boundaries and consequences

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