How Intervention in Addiction Works

Friends sharing about sexual addiction

You have probably heard the phrase “this is an intervention” jokingly used before or maybe even watched a few episodes of the TV show, but what an intervention really entails is very different than what is shown in popular culture.

What is an Intervention?

Interventions are often depicted as surprise attacks from everyone in an individual’s life, bombarding them with all of the wrongs they have done and insisting they change. The truth is, interventions are intended to be recovery-focused events planned lovingly by the concerned family and friends of an individual struggling with addiction.

These meetings may feel like a surprise to the struggling person, but the goal is not for them to feel as if it an attack. As the American Addiction Centers details, the ultimate goal of an intervention is to “help the person realize they have a problem, they need help, and they need support [1].

The Importance of Planning an Intervention

One of the first key aspects of planning an intervention is t do just that – plan it. None of what is said or done in an intervention should be spontaneous. Those participating should be aware of what they will say and where and when they will all gather before the moment of intervention.

Group members should all have met previously on multiple occasions to talk through what their goal is, what their message is, and how they would like to convey this message. Group members can help one another figure all of this out as they work and plan together.

This not only reduces the likelihood of emotional outbursts that may be ostracizing or harmful, but also “helps all team members to stay on topic, and to avoid placing blame, making accusations, or saying other hurtful things, which may lead the person to refuse help [1].”

Stay Positive

Although media portrayals of interventions involve the individual being berated with how their actions have negatively impacted their loved ones, the reality is that interventions should remain positive.

It is undoubtedly valid that the addicted individual’s actions and choices have hurt their loved ones, but “the point is not to blame them for causing harm. Instead, it is to point out that the addiction causes negative changes in behavior [1].”

Although loved ones do write and read impact statements, even these remarks should be focused on lovingly and compassionately, showing the individual that their addiction does not impact them alone.

Check Yourself

In the same vein of not blaming the individual, those considering an intervention need to look within themselves to determine if they are emotionally prepared to calmly have this conversation without causing more harm than good.

“Addiction Center” suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • Can I lay out the points effectively without enraging my loved one?
  • Will I be able to form an inner circle of his or her loved ones to assist me?
  • Will I be able to follow-through with this even if there is a negative outcome from the event [2]?

Professional Help

Couple of young men talking about interventionThere are genuine professional interventionists who are trained to support the loved ones in planning an event like this. These interventionists can be helpful in walking everyone through the process, providing a calm and objective third party, and using their de-escalation and mental health training to increase the likelihood of a more positive outcome.

Having professional help is especially recommended if your loved one struggles with co-occurring mental health disorders and has ever struggled with suicidal ideation or self-harming behaviors.

Negative Outcomes

One thing they don’t get completely wrong in media portrayals of interventions is that the outcome may not be what the individual’s family and friends hoped for. Your loved one may not be violent or aggressive, but there is no knowing how they will respond in a situation as emotionally overwhelming as this.

Even without becoming aggressive, they may simply refuse to accept the help and suggestions being given. If that is the case, loved ones must be prepared to maintain boundaries.

American Addiction Centers suggests, “if the person refuses treatment, relationships with friends and family must change. Everyone present should commit to ending codependency and enabling behaviors. Be clear that there will be consequences if the person refuses help [1].”

Ultimately, each intervention will look different, and there is no magic formula. This blog only skims the surface of things to consider if you want to plan an intervention for a loved one in trouble.

Take your time to process your thoughts and feelings, inform yourself, and get the professional help needed before taking this leap. Waiting until you are prepared could make a huge difference in your loved one’s recovery.


[1] Editorial Staff (2020). The step-by-step guide to staging an intervention. American Addiction Centers. Retrieved from

[2] Juergens, J. (2020). How do I hold an intervention? Addiction Center. Retrieved from

About the Author:

Margot Rittenhouse photoMargot Rittenhouse, MS, NCC, PLPC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 20, 2020
Reviewed & Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 20, 2020
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