What is an Intervention?
Formal intervention guidelines prescribe a course of action for friends, family, and/or other loved ones hoping to interrupt a person’s problematic patterns of behavior, often those related to some form of substance use.1 Although there are several models of intervention, most have the same basic goal, which is to get a person to accept their need for treatment.1
You may have seen interventions played out in television programs or movies, and they can look very dramatic. While watching these interventions, you may have wondered if they actually work. Although research is somewhat limited, some professional interventionists claim an 80% to 90% success rate, which is measured by the number of people who agree to enter treatment after an intervention.2
In some cases, it has been noted that about half of the 20% of people who do not initially agree to enter treatment, will do so within about a week of participating in an intervention.2 Learn more about how interventions work, who is typically involved and what alcoholism treatment may look like for your loved one below.
Steps Involved in Interventions
An intervention is typically set up according to a specific plan or guideline. Several steps are involved:3
- Selecting a team for the intervention: This group can be family, friends, employers, pastors, and even someone in the legal system with whom they have a relationship, such as a probation or parole officer.
- Developing a script for each team member: Scripts help participants plan what they will say and should be specific to the issues related to the substance use and not get into other topics.
- Setting boundaries for each team member: This is critical for members who may be co-dependent and may enable the person who is using.
- Outlining the plan of action: The plan of action outlines who will find out about insurance coverage for rehab, which facility the person will go to, who will take that person to the treatment facility for an assessment, who will take care of the person’s children and pets, and who will call the person’s employer to explain what is happening. It will also include anticipating any objections, citing reasons why they must go to rehab now, and not allowing them to put it off for reasons related to work, children, or other excuses. Plan what these objections might be in advance and prepare answers for each of them.
- Deciding where to hold the intervention: Intervention specialists recommend that you do not do it on the person’s own territory, such as their home or office. People tend to be more receptive to interventions when it is done outside of the places where they usually live and work.
- Rehearsing as a group. Practice going through the scripts and how the intervention will play out.
The members of an intervention team usually consist of a person’s loved ones, their friends, and an employer, if possible.3
Facilitating an Intervention
It’s important to note that staging an intervention can have somewhat unpredictable outcomes and may be best conducted with the help of an intervention specialist. Many people choose to involve an intervention specialist, a certified and trained professional with intervention experience, awareness of family dynamics, and the skills to anticipate objections and other problems that might arise during an intervention.1
One study of interventions found that intervention strategies perceived as unhelpful by participants included aggressive statements or the inclusion of people with whom they already had a hostile relationship.4 Research participants responded more positively to interventions that were conducted by someone they respected and who was knowledgeable about addiction.4 This credibility is something that a trained facilitator can bring to an intervention.
In addition, the study participants felt that being confronted by someone who cared about them also carried more weight, noting that this could be a friend, employer, pastor, teacher, or someone else.4
It is not a good idea to hold an intervention when the person who is using substances is actively under the influence of substances or when you are angry and frustrated with their substance use.4 It is also not a good idea to start an intervention without careful planning; you may not have the correct information to back up your beliefs about the person’s using behaviors or know how to answer questions the person might have.5
What to Expect When Considering Alcohol Addiction Treatment
If you are planning to hold an intervention with a loved one, your next question may be what their alcohol addiction treatment program will consist of and what it will be like. Several types of treatment programs for alcohol use disorders (AUD) are available.
Treatment can be done via an outpatient or inpatient program and may be a combination of both. Many inpatient programs accommodate their patients with 24/7 medical oversight and provide access to on-call medical and psychiatric services during their stay. Outpatient treatment usually meets several times per week for several hours per day. Outpatient therapy typically offers many of the same groups and services as inpatient treatment, but you can still go home at night.
Outpatient programs are generally only recommended if the person’s current level of physical dependence does necessitate the need for inpatient treatment (such as for those with less severe addictions). Many people enter inpatient treatment first and then step-down to an outpatient program as recovery progress is made.6
Some commonly used behavioral therapies used to treat AUD include:6
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people to identify and change maladaptive thoughts and behaviors regarding substance use, allowing them to better cope with stressors and deal with triggers.
- Motivational interviewing, which helps people increase their motivation to get help and stay in treatment.
- Contingency management, which incorporates positive rewards in treatment in response to maintaining sobriety or achieving goals—such as attending a certain number of 12-step groups or having a clean urine drug screen.
Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal
Many people who enter an alcohol rehab program will need to undergo detox as the first phase before entering formal treatment. Medical detox may be especially critical for people with alcohol use disorders who have developed significant physiological dependence. If you abruptly stop using alcohol on your own after developing such dependence, you run the risk of experiencing severe and/or life-threatening alcohol withdrawal.7
Some relatively mild symptoms may be experienced as soon as 6 hours after the last time alcohol is consumed.8 Additional withdrawal symptoms may continue to arise beyond 24 hours depending on the magnitude of physical dependence, with some potentially severe effects emerging in the range of 2 to 4 days after abstinence.9 These include:8
- Visual or auditory hallucinations.
- Severe confusion.
- Delirium tremens (rare).
A supervised, medical detox can help people avoid these uncomfortable and potentially dangerous withdrawal complications.
What to Consider When Choosing a Facility
When choosing an alcohol treatment facility, consider the following factors:10
- Does the program address only substance use problems, or does it also address underlying mental health concerns?
- Does the program use only one approach for treatment, or several treatment models? For example, can it tailor different group and individual counseling sessions to match the needs of the individual?
- Does the program have family counseling? What about visitation by friends and family?
- Does the program use medications of any kind to treat substance use disorders?
- What is expected of you? How many group sessions will you be required to attend? Do you have to get up at a certain time each day?
- How is success measured? What outcomes does the program look at and for how long?
- How is relapse handled? Can you re-enter the program immediately if you relapse or is there a waiting period?
Resources for You
Numerous support groups are available for the loved ones of people who struggle with alcohol or other substance use disorders. You may find them helpful in coping with a person in your life who has a substance use disorder:
- Al-Anon is a support group for family members or anyone who has a relationship with someone who has a problem with alcohol or drugs.
- Ala-teen is a support group specifically aimed at children of parents who have a drinking or drug use problem.
- Co-Dependents Anonymous is a group for people who feel they are enabling someone who uses alcohol or drugs.
Therapy with a counselor can also help you learn to manage your relationship with a loved one who uses alcohol or drugs in a problematic way. Couples therapy and family therapy may be able to help you get your loved one to enter treatment and is also helpful in managing relationship issues after treatment.11
Learn More About Treatment With AAC
Alcohol.org is a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers (AAC), a nationwide provider of addiction treatment. AAC’s treatment team of doctors, therapists, and other treatment professionals will tailor your loved one’s recovery treatment plans to offer them a comprehensive approach to manage their alcohol use disorder.
If you’d like to chat with someone today about treatment, AAC’s admissions navigators are available 24/7 to discuss your options today. All calls are 100% confidential. Find out if your loved one’s insurance covers treatment at an AAC facility by filling out the form below.
. Association of Intervention Specialists. (2019). Learn about intervention.
. Association of Intervention Specialists. (2017). Intervention-what is the success rate?
. Scripps Health. (2013). The process of intervention.
. Polcin, D. L., Mulia, N., & Jones, L. (2012). Substance users’ perspectives on helpful and unhelpful confrontation: implications for recovery. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 44(2), 144–152.
. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Intervention e-book. What to do if your child is drinking or using drugs.
. National Institute for Drug Abuse. (2020). Treatment approaches to drug addiction.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
. Hugh Myrick, M.D., and Raymond F. Anton, M.D. (1998). Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal. Alcohol Health & Research World 22(1): 38-43.
. MedlinePlus (2016). Alcohol Withdrawal.
. National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. (2014). Treatment for alcohol problems: Finding and getting help.
. American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. (2020). Substance abuse and intimate relationships.