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How to Stage an Intervention That Works 2018-07-05T17:07:24+00:00

How to Stage an Intervention That Works


An intervention[i] is an organized event designed to encourage someone with drug or alcohol problems to seek treatment. The methods used by the people who stage these events can have a major impact on their success. While some organizers are able to create an effective plan on their own, most people will benefit from consulting some sort of addiction specialist beforehand.

Why Are Interventions Necessary?

Roughly one out of every 12 Americans over the age of 11 has a serious drug or alcohol problem. However, only about 20 percent of those affected seek help on their own[ii].

There are many reasons why someone dealing with substance abuse/addiction might avoid treatment. A big factor is the loss of control over substance intake associated with addiction. In addition, a person whose brain has grown accustomed to excessive drug or alcohol consumption will develop withdrawal symptoms if that consumption comes to an end. Any substance abuser who has experienced even short-term exposure to those symptoms may have no intention of undergoing them again voluntarily.

When to Consider Staging an Intervention

As a rule, people need help for substance-related problems when those problems interfere with the ability to maintain a stable daily routine and meet important obligations[iii]. Specific issues an outside observer may notice include:

  • An increasing tendency to prioritize substance use over other activities
  • Repeated episodes of extreme intoxication
  • An inability to set limits on how much of a substance is consumed
  • An inability to set limits on how often a substance is consumed
  • Declining work performance
  • Declining school performance
  • A need to consume more and more of a substance to feel “high”
  • Signs of withdrawal when substance intake does not occur as expected
  • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol in situations that pose a clear danger to self or others

The staging of an intervention doesn’t have to wait until an affected person shows extensive signs of abuse or addiction. In fact, people who receive help while their problems are still relatively mild have a greater chance of regaining their sobriety while in treatment.

Steps in a Successful Intervention

Successful interventions share certain characteristics. Steps that help increase the odds for a positive outcome include:

  • Planning in advance – Anyone seeking to stage an intervention should make thorough plans well before the intended day arrives. This planning must take the potentially volatile nature of the event into account.
  • Creating a team – Interventions work best when carried out by several people rather than one-on-one. A team may include family members or other close loved ones. However, the addition of more objective participants can help reduce the emotional volatility and keep the intervention focused on solid goals.
  • Sharing relevant information – All team members should understand the specific reasons for staging an intervention. They should also know something about the nature of abuse/addiction as a disease, and have some idea about possible treatment options for the affected person.
  • Knowing what part to play – Interventions tend to go better when they’re run as smoothly as possible. Each member of the team should have some idea of what they want to say during the event. Common topics include the harmful consequences of the affected person’s actions, as well as the details of specific events where harm occurred.
  • Determining consequences for not seeking help – Consequences for not seeking treatment are often key to the success of an intervention. However, they only work if there is an actual intent to carry them out.
  • Providing support in the aftermath – Anyone who agrees to get help in an intervention will need ongoing support. This can include things such as making arrangements for treatment, agreeing to take part in counseling or agreeing to change behaviors that triggers the affected person into using drugs or alcohol.

Seeking Professional Assistance

Professional help can go a long way toward increasing the chances for intervention success. People capable of providing the needed help include addiction specialists, intervention consultants, psychiatrists or psychologists and social workers. Whatever their specific backgrounds, professionals can assess the overall situation, give important advice on how to proceed and help determine which types of follow-up treatment make the most sense.

While a professional consultation can improve the outcome of any intervention, this type of help is crucial in certain situations. Specific concerns that make an expert’s advice indispensable include[iv]:

  • Severe mental health problems in the affected person
  • Suicidal thoughts, planning or action on the part of the affected person
  • An affected person with a violent past
  • An affected person who is consuming multiple substances

Additional Things to Consider

Not everyone who wants to join an intervention team is suited to do so. People to exclude include anyone who may lose self-control during the event, anyone with their own unaddressed drug or alcohol problems, and anyone who might purposefully hinder the chance for a successful outcome. In addition, avoid including anyone who might draw a strong, negative response from the target of the intervention.

Doctors and other medical professionals can also help halt a slide into diagnosable substance abuse or addiction through a structured approach called brief intervention[v]. During brief intervention, patients gain information about the harms associated with excessive drug and alcohol use. They also learn steps they can take to alter their behavior and avoid serious problems.

Searching for Appropriate Treatment

As noted, advance treatment planning is a recognized benefit for intervention success. People who have mild or moderate symptoms of substance abuse/addiction may receive treatment in an outpatient or intensive outpatient program. However, people with moderate-to-severe symptoms may need to enroll in a residential treatment program, instead.

Addiction specialists and other consultants can help determine which level of care makes the most sense on a case-by-case basis. At Transformations Treatment Center, we feature a broad array of treatment options, including our intensive outpatient program, for people dealing with substance use disorders.

[i] Mayo Clinic: Intervention – Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/intervention/art-20047451

[ii] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States – Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.htm#sud4

[iii] Mayo Clinic: Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder)
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112

[iv] National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: Intervention – Tips and Guidelines https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/intervention-tips-and-guidelines

[v] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Brief Interventions https://www.integration.samhsa.gov/clinical-practice/sbirt/brief-interventions

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