Learn / Staging an Intervention: Everything You Need to Know to Prepare

Staging an Intervention: Everything You Need to Know to Prepare

Hannah Friedman
 September 13th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

When you think of an intervention, you might picture a classic scene from a movie or TV show. A group of family and friends gather together in a living room, talking to a loved one about their addiction. While this is one way to do it, there are many more ways to stage an intervention. And some of them can be even more effective than what you see in the movies.

Staging an intervention requires a great deal of planning. The more you prepare, the more likely you are to achieve your goals—whatever they may be. You can even get help from a trained interventionist, who can help you plan ahead.

If you want your loved one to get inpatient treatment for an addiction, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of tools available to help you get through this process. You can use the resources below to define your goals, connect with experts, and find the best way forward.

What Is an Intervention?

Interventions can be helpful when a person doesn’t see how much harm their behavior is doing. This is a regular occurrence, because denial is such a common part of addiction.1

The Recovery Research Institute defines “intervention”2 as a meeting between an addicted person and their loved ones, to address the issue of drug or alcohol abuse. These conversations include the “expression of care, concern, and explicit demands.” And usually, loved ones urge the person to get formal treatment for addiction.

You can also stage an intervention for someone with unmanaged mental health issues, whether or not they show signs of addiction. In that case, the goal might be for your loved one to get residential mental health treatment.

Despite what you see in the media, people don’t have to “hit rock bottom” before they can recover.3 This might change the way you plan an intervention. You don’t need to wait for their addiction to get worse. It’s okay — and could even be preferable — to have this crucial conversation as soon as you notice a problem.

The ultimate goal of an intervention is for your loved one to change their behavior. But you can’t make that change for them. All you can do is support them through the process of getting professional help. Then, the hard work of recovery is up to them.

How to Recognize Your Loved One Needs Help

If someone you care about is showing signs of addiction, it might be time to plan an intervention. But your exact plans will depend on the severity of their drug abuse, and their level of awareness. For example, people with alcohol addictions don’t always realize they’re drinking too much. But by the time a person has an addiction to methamphetamines, they probably know it’s a problem. These are some of the conditions that might prompt you to stage an intervention:

If you think someone you love needs an intervention, you can begin planning next steps. In most situations, it’s best to start by talking to mutual friends or family members. Their insight can help in 2 important ways. First, it will give you a clearer sense of what your loved one is going through. This might help you make the intervention itself even more effective. And second, by connecting these people, you’ll also get valuable support. These relationships can be a source of strength for all involved—even the person who needs rehab.

Why Interventions Can Work

Data shows that social support is an important part of addiction recovery.4 Connecting with loved ones is powerful. Even in a fun, easy context, seeing all the people you trust in a single room can be inspiring. When all those people come together for a purpose, they can make a huge difference.

There’s little objective data about the long-term success of interventions.5 This is partly because you can define “success” in a few ways. It could be that the person stops using drugs, goes to rehab, or just admits they have a problem. But no matter what outcome you’re hoping for, it’s important to approach the issue with care.

Who Should Lead an Intervention?

Most interventions tend to have a few things in common. These are loving conversations between friends and family. They take place in non-threatening environments, like a home or a therapist’s office. The exact details will vary, depending which of the following approaches you use. There are 2 main ways to stage an intervention:

  • doing it on your own
  • working with a professional interventionist

DIY Interventions

When you do an intervention yourself, your group will be responsible for every part of the process. You’ll schedule it with the other participants, and carefully plan what to say. You’ll also need to collect resources to share during the conversation. These might include contact information for rehabs, local therapists, and similar. If you feel confident in your group’s ability to take these steps, you can use this checklist to get started.

Someone from your group will have to lead the conversation. You should decide who this will be far in advance, so they have ample time to prepare. Make sure this person is ready to stay strong throughout the conversation. If you’re concerned they might be overwhelmed by their own emotions, it’s better to choose someone else. The leader should be ready to calmly respond to any conflicts that arise.

It’s also essential to have a plan for what comes next, especially if the person agrees to get treatment. Someone from your group should commit to helping with this process. Depending on how the intervention goes, that could mean a number of different things. You might end up helping the person research rehabs, or taking them to a doctor to discuss medical detox.

Even if you don’t hire an interventionist, you can ask someone else for expert support. For example, you might ask a trusted authority figure to participate. This could be the person’s doctor, therapist, or spiritual leader. While their presence isn’t necessary, it may help emphasize the gravity of the situation.

Professional Intervention Services

If a DIY intervention isn’t right for you, you can hire a professional interventionist. These mental health specialists are trained to facilitate difficult conversations. They’ll also help you and your loved one plan for what comes next. For example, this might mean choosing between addiction treatment programs.

If your group of friends and family can’t take on the burden of planning, you might want to work with a professional. This strategy can help people with busy schedules, who just don’t have the time to take the lead. It’s also a good fit for groups who have strained relationships with each other. In that case, the expert can act as a “referee,” helping you process your feelings before the group meeting. This protects the person with an addiction from your interpersonal conflicts. They’ll have to face those issues during treatment, but an intervention is the wrong time to air old grievances.

A professional will also know how to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations. They’ll also be more objective than a friend or family member ever could be. For you, this is a life-changing event, and your loved one’s future depends on its outcome. For an interventionist, it’s an opportunity to help a person they just met. That clarity can help them guide you and your loved ones toward the best possible solution.

Working with an expert can be very effective—but it can also be very expensive. Before you hire an interventionist, make sure you understand the cost.

Cost Can be a Barrier

Drug abuse interventions are not covered by insurance. A rehab program might be able to support the process, or send a professional to help. But it can be hard to arrange this before the person commits to treatment. You should expect to pay for intervention services out of pocket.

The cost can vary widely based on your location and specific needs. Some interventionists use a sliding scale, but even that can be a significant fee. In some cases, the cost can be as much as $10,000 or more.

As you put your budget together, you should also consider the cost of inpatient treatment. Unlike an intervention, rehab is often covered by insurance. Some centers even accept Medicare and Medicaid.

If a professional intervention is too expensive, you can certainly try doing it on your own. And remember that it’s okay to change your mind. If you choose to try a DIY intervention, family tensions might still come up while you prepare. At that point, you can always pivot and seek professional help.

To find an interventionist in the U.S., you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national 24/7 helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS) also provides a network of professional interventionists across North America and Britain.

Types of Interventions

There are several ways to format these meetings. If you work with a professional, they may have a preferred style. In a DIY intervention, you can choose the structure that works best for you. This can be based on the number of people in the room, or a more philosophical approach.

Choosing Who Should Be Present

The number of people in the room might have a noticeable effect on the person you’re addressing. It’s best to put some pressure on them, without making them feel so overwhelmed that they shut down. Some people may even respond best to private conversations.

  • 1:1 Conversation: In this format, a close friend or family member approaches the person by themselves. It’s important to start the conversation in a safe, neutral setting. Although it may seem more casual, it’s important to prepare what you’ll say in advance. You should also plan to follow up with them, to make sure they’re following through on any agreements you both made.
  • Group Conversation: This is the classic intervention style you may be familiar with from the media. A group of people gather to talk to one person about their concerning behavior. The group should meet beforehand to plan together and set clear goals.
  • Crisis Response: These conversations are normally unplanned. Instead, they happen after an emergency. When you can’t ignore the problem any more, you might have to confront your loved one without preparation. By the time you reach this point, paramedics or police officers may be present. This can make the situation feel more intense, but it may also give you direct access to more resources.

Choosing a Treatment Approach

You can also think about what type of format you’d like your conversation to follow. These styles work best during planned group conversations. They may be less appropriate for 1:1 interventions, or crisis interventions.

  • The Johnson Intervention model6 is non-confrontational. Instead, family and friends communicate facts as simply as possible. You’ll take turns describing the effect your loved one’s addiction has on your own lives. An interventionist will help you plan the session, but it may be a surprise to the person you’re speaking to. With their help, you’ll present possible treatment options for the person to choose from.
  • ARISE Interventions7 are invitational. In other words, your group will invite the person of concern to take part in every step of the process. This method is a gentler, more gradual alternative to the Johnson model. These interventions are led by professionals trained in the ARISE method.

With or without expert guidance, it can be hard to pick which format is best for you, your group, and your loved one. As you begin that process, you may find it helpful to set some clear goals. Once you have a destination in mind, you can decide which route you’ll take to get there.

Setting Clear Goals

It’s important for everyone in your group to agree on a specific goal. This will become the focal point of the intervention. And you may already know exactly what you’re working toward. If not, consider the following list of potential outcomes:

  • The person acknowledges that their actions have caused harm.
  • They admit that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol.
  • They agree to talk to a professional, and get more information about treatment.
  • The group schedules another meeting to discuss the situation further.
  • The person checks into a rehab facility.

In most interventions, you’ll communicate your goals during the first meeting. If all goes well, your loved one will start working toward them right away. Because of this, it’s best to show up with resources in hand, so they can get started quickly.

Resources for Addiction Treatment

If the person you’re talking to is receptive, you can end the intervention by suggesting a path forward. These resources can help them move forward:

  • information about how to get treatment using their insurance
  • contact information for rehab programs that might meet their needs
  • a doctor’s appointment with their primary care physician for the next day
  • contact information for a medical detox center
  • information about the medical leave policy at their job
  • the meeting schedule for a local or online support group
  • a person in the room who’s willing to help them research treatment options
  • someone who can drive or accompany them to rehab
  • a person to host or stay with them that night and provide emotional support
  • a small group of people willing to clean their home before they return, getting rid of any drugs and drug paraphernalia

Depending on your situation, some of these resources may be more helpful than others. Whatever you decide to share, make sure you have a list prepared in advance. That way, you won’t have to take time out of the meeting to do research on the fly. You should also be ready to talk about the consequences if they don’t accept your help.

Defining Consequences

Ideally, your loved one will do as you ask. But at first, they might resist what you’re saying. It’s important to explain that there will be consequences if they refuse to get help. There are 2 reasons for this. First, doing this might convince your loved one to take action. And second, if they keep using drugs, it protects you from their behavior.

Any consequences you set should have these qualities:

  • Enforceability. You should be able to follow through on your commitments. For example, it’s not realistic to say you’ll never speak to a roommate again. Even if you move out, there will be logistics to discuss.
  • Proportionality. Any repercussions should fit the situation at hand. You’d respond one way to someone who shows up late to work, and another way to someone who threatens their family.
  • Sense of safety. This process isn’t only for the person with an addiction. It should also help you keep yourself safe. Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries can empower you to meet your own needs.

After you define these goals and consequences, you can make more specific preparations. Use your big ideas to inform the details. You can use the checklist below to take the next steps.

Your Intervention Preparation Checklist

When you start planning, emotions may be running high. It’s best to write everything down, and refer to your notes if you get overwhelmed. Use this checklist to stay on track.

  • Decide on a type of intervention. Will you hire an interventionist, or stage it yourself? If you’re working with a professional, get them involved as early as possible.
  • Plan who will be present. If you want a group of people to be there, keep the number small. Everyone attending should help with the planning process.
  • Choose a format. You can choose the Johnson method, the ARISE model, or something else that works better for you.
  • Pick your location. You might meet in someone’s home, a therapist’s office, or another neutral location. It should feel as safe as possible for everyone attending.
  • Rehearse what you’ll say. Plan what you’ll say in advance. This can help you avoid getting sidetracked or flustered. You might also look up words to avoid, like “alcoholic” and “junkie.”
  • Manage expectations. Your loved one might respond well, or they might get angry. They might even walk out. If that happens, it’s up to you to follow through anyway. Hold your boundaries and keep yourself safe.
  • Conduct the intervention. Many people find excuses to avoid difficult conversations. Don’t lose sight of your goal. Once you start planning, it’s important to go forward.
  • Follow up. Enforce any consequences you set, no matter how the person responds. And unless you decide to cut off contact, someone should check in with them soon after your meeting.

1 intervention alone might not be enough to motivate change. And even if someone agrees to get help, they may not know where to start. To effectively support your loved one, your group might need to keep working together for some time.

Planning for Long-Term Recovery

Staging an intervention requires courage and preparation. Make sure to care for yourself throughout the process. You might want to see a therapist or join a support group. This meeting is just the first step in a much longer recovery journey. As you prepare for that process, remember that your mental health matters, too.

To plan for the next phase of recovery, learn more about inpatient rehab centers that treat drug and alcohol addiction. Get the information you need about pricing, family therapy, relapse prevention, and more.

  1. Ponizovskiy, P., & Gofman, A. (2017). Cognitive status and addiction denial in the early stages of alcohol addiction. European Psychiatry, 41(S1), s874–s874. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurpsy.2017.01.1759 []
  2. Addictionary®. (2017, January 26). Recovery Research Institute. https://www.recoveryanswers.org/addiction-ary/ []
  3. Kirouac, M., & Witkiewitz, K. (2017). Identifying “hitting bottom” among individuals with alcohol problems: Development and evaluation of the noteworthy aspects of drinking important to recovery(Nadir). Substance Use & Misuse, 52(12), 1602–1615. https://doi.org/10.1080/10826084.2017.1293104 []
  4. Rapier, R., McKernan, S., & Stauffer, C. S. (2019). An inverse relationship between perceived social support and substance use frequency in socially stigmatized populations. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 10, 100188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.abrep.2019.100188 []
  5. Association of intervention specialists—Ais—Certified interventionist. (n.d.). AIS. Retrieved from https://www.associationofinterventionspecialists.org/ []
  6. Johnson intervention. (n.d.). Https://Www.Apa.Org. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/practice-settings/intervention/johnson-intervention []
  7. Comprehensive interventional care: Recovery network. (n.d.). ARISE® Network. Retrieved from https://www.arise-network.com/arise-intervention/ []

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