How Does an Intervention for a Substance Use Issue Work?

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It’s difficult to watch a loved one struggle with the disease of addiction. For some, the consequences of their substance use or simply having a loved one express concern will be motivation enough to seek help and pursue recovery. Unfortunately, others deny or don’t recognize the impact their substance use and behaviors are having on themselves and those around them. In these situations, a formal intervention may be needed in which family and friends come together in a focused effort to encourage their loved one to seek help.

What is an intervention?

An intervention is a carefully planned and structured process where a trained therapist guides a team of family and friends in how to address the problem of addiction in a loved one using a message of love, understanding and compassion. It helps families focus on hope and their personal vision for the future. The goal is to break through their loved one’s denial and get them to enter a treatment program. Throughout the entire intervention process, support and education is provided so that the whole family system can enter recovery.

During an intervention, the team members:

  • Provide specific examples of how the addiction and the associated behaviors have impacted the loved one as well as everyone in their life.
  • Offer love and support and the opportunity to enter a treatment program with clear expectations and guidelines.
  • Commit to stopping enabling behaviors, setting firm boundaries with their loved one, and inform them what each person will do if their loved one refuses to accept treatment.

When should an intervention be considered?

An intervention may be necessary if the individual is experiencing the following consequences because of their substance use:

  • Health, relationship, financial, legal, or occupational difficulties.
  • The inability to control their use despite the negative consequences.
  • Denying their substance use is a problem.
  • Minimizing the impact substance use is having on their lives.
  • Dismissing or ignoring the concerns of family and friends regarding their use.

Why use an addiction professional to assist with an intervention?

A successful intervention takes time and careful planning to have the desired outcome. Approaching the problem from a place of love and concern prevents the person struggling with addiction from feeling attacked, isolated and shamed, which can make them more resistant to treatment. 

Addiction professionals, such as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAADC), a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW), a psychologist, a psychiatrist or an interventionist who’ve had specific training in interventions, will have the knowledge and expertise to lead a successful intervention—avoiding the pitfalls of anger and blame, which can often make the situation worse. They will conduct a thorough assessment of the individual and family’s needs, make recommendations for a positive intervention, and guide the individual and family through treatment recommendations.

A professional will have the skill to identify if there are additional needs such as serious mental illness, suicidal behaviors, a history of violence or cognitive impairments that may require specialized services. Professionals will focus on the needs of the entire family and provide resources to address the needs to all the individuals involved.

How does an intervention work?

The intervention program at Pine Rest involves meeting with an interventionist for multiple sessions to prepare and plan for the intervention. 

During the initial phone call, the interventionist will gather basic information from the contact person regarding their loved ones use and how it has impacted them and those around them. The interventionist will review the process, the content of each session, the cost, who will be on the team and the first session will be scheduled.

During preparation sessions, the team will meet in person, through video chat or a hybrid. The interventionist works with the team to complete a thorough assessment of the negative impact of their loved one’s addiction and what they hope to regain. Team members will learn how to set and express boundaries, get connected to resources, and be guided through creation of individual letters to express their concerns. Finally, the team members will finalize their letters and have a practice session.

At the intervention, the team members present their letters of love and support and ask their loved one to enter prearranged treatment. The team overcomes objections that have been planned for, and if needed, presents their bottom-lines. If the offer of help is accepted, the loved one enters treatment as soon as that same day.

What if my loved one refuses help?

Unfortunately, not all interventions are successful in helping someone enter treatment. A loved one may continue to refuse treatment, even when presented with the consequences of that decision. They may respond with anger and resentment at the time of the intervention. It is important to prepare for and recognize that the intervention is a request for the loved one to make changes in their lives, but it does not force or guarantee they will be willing to make these changes.

If the loved one does not enter treatment, the intervention is not a failure. The benefits of an intervention extend beyond getting the individual into treatment. The intervention team members will have a greater understanding of the disease of addiction and their contributions to enabling their loved one’s behaviors. The team will be connected to resources to help them set healthy boundaries, communicate more effectively, and seek the support they need to make positive changes in themselves. 

The changes the intervention team make themselves will help them avoid enabling the destructive cycle of substance use, which may eventually lead to positive change in their loved one.

What is the first step to scheduling an intervention?

Contact me! I'll complete a free phone consultation to evaluate if an intervention is the appropriate step for your loved one.

Heather Hemphill, LPC, CAADC | Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services | 616.258.7467 ext. 2333


Written by Heather Hemphill, LPC, CAADC, Clinical Team Lead at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

Courtesy of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.


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