Organizing A Substance Abuse Intervention

Sitting down and talking calmly with someone who is abusing drugs or alcohol is tough. Without realizing it, this person has wreaked havoc in the lives of people he cares about. His children have noticed odd behaviors and wonder what is happening to daddy. They need clothes or want to go on school trips, but the family cannot afford these items because daddy has spent too much money on drugs or drink.

Perhaps tempers seem to flare too readily, or a mother is too hung over each morning to help get kids ready for school. Numerous signs of drug or alcohol abuse can seem obvious to bystanders but go unseen by the addict. The time has come to organize an intervention.

Intervention PlanningUnderstanding Intervention

An intervention involves one or more people facing an addict and forcing him to take a closer look at his behavior. This might be the first time he ever realizes the negative impact his behavior is having on his life and the lives of others. The best result would be that, thanks to this discussion, an individual will agree to enter rehab. One cannot force a substance abuser to admit his problems or to enter rehab, only to stop and listen to what those who care about him have to say.

What an Intervention is Not

An intervention is not an attack. Participants feel very strongly, are probably angry, and certainly confused. They might even be afraid of what the addict will do when confronted by a group. No matter what their intentions are, the scenario might not feel loving to an addict, especially if it is not well organized and rehearsed; if people are shouting and pointing fingers.


An intervention, when conducted properly, takes time to plan. During that time, intervention specialists suggest writing down what needs to be said. In this script, no accusations are made. This is not a time to rant. It is only a time to point out the salient facts: that an addict is hurting himself and others.

Present evidence and examples to support your case. Addicts are often good at talking themselves out of situations, so prepare for the charm factor and do not give in to it. Hold your ground without showing anger. Try to stay calm.


Prepare information which will guide your loved one towards rehab or detox if necessary, including a selection of outpatient centers and inpatient rehab communities. Have your facts ready to share, such as what happens when an addict agrees to undergo treatment.


On the other hand, this special person might not believe what you are saying. Perhaps his response is violent, hurtful, or dismissive. He thinks he is fine and this group of concerned friends has a collective screw loose. You need a plan for this possibility too. Tell the subject what you plan to do if he refuses to get help.

If you are the wife, be prepared to leave, to sleep in a different room, or to take the kids away and file for separation. A boss might threaten dismissal. Friends could decide not to hang out with their drug-addicted or alcoholic buddy until he gets clean. These are all painful decisions to make, but if you mean them they can make a difference to how seriously an addict takes your efforts.

Getting Help

Few people have got experience performing an intervention until they need to do it. To do this properly, call an addiction support line, talk to a rehab clinician, or contact a local mental health center. Get some ideas, or hire an interventionist to come out and meet with you and your team. She will guide the process or get more deeply involved if the situation is tricky. Someone whose behavior could turn nasty should not be confronted without extreme caution and professional support.

Allow a professional to help you write the lines you and your team will memorize. Role play with her so she can point out any flaws in the plan and also show you what is going well. Take courage from this individual, who will also be eager to offer support to the hurting people who care enough about a substance abuser to try and make him see what he is doing to his life. When the time comes, let her show you where to get co-dependent counseling.