In the past, people who had loved ones that struggled with addiction were told that the person must hit “rock bottom” before healing could begin. Often, this meant that family members and friends of people with a serious addiction to drugs and alcohol were asked to simply stand aside and let the addiction take its course. They were told that anything they did to influence the course of the disease would be hopeless at best and harmful at worse.

Now, researchers know that standing aside in this manner can be harmful to everyone involved. Drug and alcohol abuse can take a serious toll on the health and well-being of both the addicted person and his or her family. Family members who are forced to watch the addiction play out also face serious consequences. Living with someone who has a substance abuse problem can cause long-term stress, which can put the family members at risk for health problems of their own.1 Holding an intervention is often the best way for family members to deal with any addiction problem. If done right, the addicted person might get the motivation needed to stick to a treatment program. In addition, the family will learn a significant amount about the disease, which might help them provide help throughout their loved one’s journey to sobriety.

It is a good idea to use an intervention specialist if the addicted person has:

  • Resistance to recovery
  • Denial of the problem
  • A violent history or a history of becoming defensive or angry
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • A deep sense of denial
  • Mental health concerns2

During the planning stages, the family members learn all they can about the addiction. The intervention specialist may provide information, or the family might read books as a group and meet to discuss what they have learned. This education might seem trivial, but in fact, it’s quite important. The family is beginning a journey here, and each member must know exactly what they are fighting and how the disease might manifest itself throughout the journey.

Some family members may need to learn entirely new ways of communicating with the addicted person. Active addiction causes people to break promises and hurt feelings, and the family members may have years and years of anger built up and ready to fly out at any moment. These expressions of anger and hostility might be cathartic in the moment, but they’re certainly not helpful during an intervention and they can drive a person with a substance use problem back to the addiction. If mental health plays a role in the addiction, effective communication is all the more important.

Writing Letters

Once family members have done their research and thought a bit about the language they’ll use in the intervention, they may want to write a letter to share with their loved one during the intervention. These are powerful documents that will form the basis of the intervention. In a typical letter, the family members will:

  • Open with a statement of love and support.
  • Describe one situation in which the addict’s behavior caused pain or harm.
  • Describe the course that the addiction will take.
  • Explain how treatment works and why it is important.
  • Urge the addict to enter treatment.

In some cases, family members write down consequences that will occur if the addicted person refuses to change. Some intervention specialists ask the family to place those consequences in the main body of the letter, and others ask family members to write consequences on a separate sheet of paper and hold them back in case the addicted person doesn’t respond to the intervention.

Families that choose to share their feelings through letters are able to take time to compose their thoughts and feelings before the actual intervention, when emotions can run strong. Family members can benefit from sharing their letters with each other and helping each other create a cohesive message.

It’s hard to overstate how important these letters are in the intervention. Each family member will read the letters aloud to the addicted loved one, and those letters must be powerful in order to convince that person to accept treatment. An experienced counselor or intervention specialist can help the entire family craft the most convincing letters possible.

The Big Day

When your loved one arrives at the location, the weeks of planning pay off. The intervention specialist or the head of the family tells the addicted person why the meeting has been called, and the family begins to read their letters aloud. At the end of each letter, the family will ask the addicted person to enter a specific treatment program for addiction. As soon as your loved one agrees to enter treatment, the intervention is over.

It’s important to note that while many interventions are successful, others are not. People often move through a series of steps before they make big changes in their lives.

View Full Infographic
Most clinicians recognize five main stages of change, which include:
  • Precontemplation- “I’m fine; I don’t need to change anything.”
  • Contemplation- “I might have a problem. I might do something about it one day.” Or “I have a problem but I’m too stressed out/busy to change it now.”
  • Determination- “I am ready to make a change, although I don’t have a solid plan to make that change happen.”
  • Action- “I have called a treatment center and I am in the process of taking steps to change.”
  • Maintenance- “I work hard to maintain my sobriety.”

If a person who is already ready to change is approached with an intervention, you might assume that he or she would accept treatment. However, not everyone is in the determination or action phases of change when they receive an intervention. The intervention could make a resistant person open to later conversations about addiction. If a person is so deep within an addiction that he or she cannot see the need for change, an intervention might not motivate that person to change right now. But it could motivate open the door to future changes4.

The Importance of Accountability

Sometimes, consequences can help addicts see the need for treatment. Family members might read the last pages of their intervention letters, all in a row, notifying the addict of the consequences of a refusal. Some addicts might be motivated to enter treatment when they learn that they’ll have no access to their children, home or money without treatment. Some addicts, however, will still not be moved. According to a study published in the journal Substance Abuse and Misuse, addicts were only swayed when they were told to get treatment or go to jail. Since families can’t place their loved ones in jail, they don’t have this option. They can, however, point out that the person could go to jail if he or she continues to break the law in specific ways. This might sway some addicts to submit to treatment.

Once the addict agrees to enter a treatment program, the family members should deliver that person to the program right away. The family has reached a breakthrough, and it’s important to capitalize on that breakthrough while it’s fresh in the addict’s mind. By now, the family has notified the treatment program that the addict is coming, and the family has paid all entrance fees required. There are no barriers to begin treatment. The family can then begin their own therapeutic process, participating in counseling sessions of their own to help the addict on the road to recovery.

Its important to understand when an intervention is necessary for your addicted loved one. If you or a loved one is in immediate crisis, legal trouble, health issues, family trauma, safety issues or money problems – then there should be an intervention. Facing your loved one in this situation can save their life from addiction and mental health and its the first, yet the greatest step that needs to be taken. The reason professional involvement in the intervention process is what's most important is that they can provide you with the resources you need pre and post-intervention. They are educated in this area and can handle the situation in order to help your family overall.

Start the Journey Today!

Sources 1 Orford, J. et. al. Family members affected by a close relative's addiction: The stress-strain-coping-support model. Drugs. 2010. 2 Mayo Clinic. Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction. 27 Jul 2017. 3 Falloon, I. Family Interventions for Mental Disorders: Efficacy and EffectivenessWorld Psychiatry.2001. 4 Gold, M. Stages of Change. PsychCentral. 2016.