Staging An Intervention

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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More than half of Americans are regular alcohol drinkers, but only 7 percent have an alcohol use disorder. This is more than 15 million Americans, according to a U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey.

Alcoholism is a significant problem in modern American society. While some people who abuse alcohol can reduce drinking by themselves, many need help. There are many treatment solutions, such as therapy or AA meetings. Friends and family can also offer support by staging an intervention. 

What Is An Alcohol Intervention? 

An alcohol intervention is a structured meeting organized by a person’s friends and family to offer support to a person suffering from alcoholism. The role of the intervention is complex, but it mainly revolves around pointing out the destructive behaviors of the person and the importance of treatment. Interventions are important because drinkers can’t see their behaviors objectively. They can’t precisely determine how alcohol affects their life. The intervention helps drinkers understand how alcohol changed them and how friends and family are affected by their drinking. The drinker gets multiple points of view about their drinking habits. 

Interventions work because they touch the delicate bond between the person, their family, and friends. When close friends and family members explain what’s wrong with you, you tend to notice your issues. Interventions get you out of your subjective motives and make you less selfish. Interventions help you see your addiction from a different perspective. Interventions also work because there are numerous people involved. 

There’s strength in numbers – when many people point out your problems, you are more willing to accept treatment. Your issues will be addressed directly by people close to you who love you and want the best for you. This makes interventions so good! 

Alcohol Interventions – What NOT To Do

Staging an intervention can be hard. The topic is difficult, and it’s a stressful experience for everyone. Alcohol addiction must be approached directly, but you should not create a defensive response from the person with alcoholism. These are other things to avoid:

  • Don’t stage a poorly planned intervention; on-the-spot interventions don’t work and are very stressful; even emergency interventions should be carefully planned
  • Don’t use the intervention to argue with the person with alcohol use disorder
  • Don’t expect the intervention to be smooth sailing – the person will likely be stressed, anxious, or defensive
  • Don’t use the intervention as a way to force the person to accept treatment immediately or against their wishes
  • Don’t stage the intervention if you don’t have a clear scope – you have to be straightforward about the intervention and what you want from it

How Do Alcohol Interventions Work?

A good alcohol intervention should have a clear plan. You should include your scope precisely. You can implement several intervention models, including planning, rehearsals, the actual intervention, and evaluation of its effects. Interventions should include a professional who can help you during the process.  

Here is a detailed guide based on the Johnson Model of Intervention:

  • A group of family members and friends will organize several planning sessions – they discuss what to talk about during the intervention, its scope, and how the intervention will be held
  • After the planning sessions are completed, you should contact a certified intervention professional or a mental health professional specializing in addictive behaviors
  • Through planning and rehearsal sessions with the intervention specialist, you’ll plan questions, write down ideas and discuss important topics about alcohol addiction.
  • Remember that the individual with alcohol use disorder may or may not be included in the planning sessions (in the Johnson model, the person with alcohol use disorder is not present in the planning phase).
  • Discuss what type of treatment should you suggest for the person with alcohol use disorder
  • Discuss what type of consequences should be implemented if the person refuses treatment
  • After the intervention, you should follow up with the person to see if the treatment is going according to plan and if there are any positive results; a second intervention is possible. 

There are other intervention models:

  • The Love First or Tough Love Model – this is a toned down, less confrontational type of intervention; you start by expressing your love for the person and then discuss the issues caused by alcohol abuse; then, you present the possible treatment options
  • The Systematic Family Approach Model – only the family is part of the intervention, offering less-confrontational support for the person with alcohol use disorder
  • The ARISE Model – the person with alcohol use disorder is included in the planning session, and there are more interventional meetings 

The Intervention is Not Working – Why?

Many interventions do not progress beyond the initial planning phase. In these cases, the intervention simply doesn’t happen, so the whole process doesn’t work. Another problem is staging an intervention without professional help. Most of these interventions fail because participants don’t receive adequate guidance. People will vent and accuse the person with alcohol use disorder, making the whole intervention ineffective. Other interventions may fail because there are no actual treatment options available for the person with alcohol use disorder. This happens when the participants do not research or contact good treatment programs or providers.