What Is Intervention for Substance Misuse?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 15, 2024
3 min read

If your loved one has a problem with substance misuse, a key first step is to help them agree to the treatment they need. That's where an intervention can help.

Recovery from substance use disorder is a complex process that often needs a long-term plan. People who become dependent on drugs or alcohol can't just stop cold turkey and suddenly feel better. Most need a rehabilitation program.

An intervention is a meeting where family and friends have a calm and open conversation with their loved one about their substance misuse and ask them to accept treatment.

Interventions try to achieve results like:

Awareness. Open the person's eyes to the effect their substance misuse has on family and friends.

Motivation. Get the person with substance use disorder to agree that they have a problem and need help.

Action plan. Create a strategy for recovery with step-by-step goals and guidelines.

Gently warn your loved one about what each friend or family member will do if they refuse treatment. For example, you might say you will no longer join them if they want "a drink or two to unwind" after work.

Families sometimes invite an "interventionist" to plan and moderate the meeting. Typically, interventionists are doctors or licensed counselors. A professional will educate family members on addiction and prepare them for what to expect during and after the meeting.

Along with a professional, an intervention typically includes important family members, friends, and co-workers. It shouldn't involve children or people the person with substance use disorder dislikes.

Experts recommend you follow these tips to make your intervention successful:

Plan ahead. Don't wait until the last minute to plan the intervention. Organize, prepare, and educate yourselves on addiction well in advance.

Time it right. Schedule the intervention for a time of day or day of the week when your loved one is less likely to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The person with substance use disorder shouldn't know about the intervention in advance. Your loved one should learn the reason for the gathering after they arrive.

Communicate with team members. Talk to and coordinate with everyone beforehand. Make sure they all have the same information. If possible, team members should meet before the intervention and rehearse what they plan to say.

Expect anger. Your loved one may feel threatened, react angrily, and refuse help. Be prepared to stay calm and rational. Don't reply with anger.

Stick to the plan. Your friend or family member may attempt to change the topic or deflect the conversation away from themselves. Don't let that happen.

Insist on an answer. Tell your loved one they must agree to a treatment plan at the intervention. Don't accept a request for "a day or two to think about it." They may go into hiding or on a binge.

Also, be ready for rejection despite your efforts. If your loved one refuses to accept help, follow through with your gentle warnings, but stay positive and hopeful. Each attempt to reach out could be the one that finally makes a difference.