5 Family Intervention Tips

family intervention
If you know an addict who needs help, a family intervention might be their only hope.
©iStockphoto.com/Jodi Jacobson

If a close friend or family member is struggling with addiction or dependency, or is facing another problem that is negatively affecting them and the people around them, it can be difficult to figure out how to guide them toward help. It's especially difficult if that person is reluctant to seek help or doesn't realize the severity of their problem. Often an intervention is an effective way to persuade loved ones to take the first step toward recovery.

An intervention is a gathering of close friends, family and colleagues who meet to persuade a person to seek help or treatment for a problem [source: Mayo Clinic]. There are many reasons family and friends might consider holding an intervention for a loved one, including drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, addictions to substances or behaviors, violence or even the reluctance of an elderly family member to move into an assisted living facility.


An intervention is a loving, considerate way to help someone seek the treatment they need. It's also a chance to let the person know that there are people who are concerned for their well-being. If done properly, interventions are non-judgmental and respectful. They can also be therapeutic for friends and family -- opportunities to share their frustrations amid a group of supportive people.

If you're thinking about holding an intervention, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of success and make the process run more smoothly. Read on for five family intervention tips.

5: Involve Close Friends, Family and Colleagues

One of the most important aspects of an intervention is the people involved. In general, there should be at least three people at an intervention, but no more than 10 [source: Jay]. Most interventions center on the sharing of personal accounts of how the person's behavior has negatively affected friends, family and colleagues. Therefore, it's essential to invite those who have a personal relationship with the person, and who are genuinely concerned for his or her well-being. Not everyone needs to speak or share an individual account, but it's important to have a few people there to talk about their personal experiences. Sharing gives the person concrete examples of why his or her behavior is negative and how it is affecting others.

In many cases, involving children in an intervention is acceptable because they are also affected; however, it's important that everyone involved in the intervention is mature enough to handle the situation with respect and care. Involving children should be on a case-by-case basis and should depend on their ages and maturity levels. If you have concerns about including a child, consider having them write (or dictate) a letter instead of attending in person [source: Finnigan].


Don't include anyone who also participates in the negative behavior or in any way enables it. Most importantly, invite people you trust and whom the person is likely to listen to.

4: Prepare and Rehearse In Advance

Meeting and rehearsing ahead of time can help participants feel calm and prepared for the actual intervention. It gives everyone a chance to share and get feedback on their statements. It's also a chance to identify and address any charged emotions that could interfere with or harm the intervention process if they came out on the actual day [source: Mooney].

Meet with everyone to rehearse and agree on common goals, roles and procedures. Arrange who will speak and in what order. Make sure that one person is designated as the leader -- this person is in charge of keeping everyone on track and thinking about the next steps. The leader has the goal of the intervention in mind and ensures the intervention continues to work toward that goal [source: Finnigan].


Testimonials are powerful and persuasive, so make sure everyone who has something to say has a written statement or list prepared in advance. If you have important points to make, you don't want to forget them. Writing everything down in advance also ensures that you aren't speaking in an emotionally charged way -- it allows you to develop what you want to say at a time when you're calm. Have participants make a list of examples of when the person's behavior hurt them or negatively affected them. Information should be factual and specific, and should address how it made the person feel. When possible, use recent incidents [source: Mooney].

3: Choose an Appropriate Time and Location

Choose a time when the person isn't busy or doesn't have other commitments. Doing so will minimize distractions and help make sure the person is available at the time you've chosen to meet. Selecting an appropriate time of day is important, as well. For instance, a time early in the day is sometimes good if it's a drug or alcohol intervention because that's when the person is most likely to be sober.

Use a location that is familiar and non-threatening. It should be private, as well as somewhere there will be no interruptions or distractions, so restaurants or other public places should be avoided. A neutral site is good, but a home or office can work as well [source: Finnigan]. Avoid holding the intervention at the person's home unless absolutely necessary, since they will feel more empowered in their own space and it may be more difficult to get them to listen [source: Jay].


2: Don't be Judgmental or Confrontational

The tone that is set by the way people speak at an intervention can have a big impact on whether or not the message is heard and acted upon. Being supportive and positive, rather than judgmental and confrontational, can help set a positive tone and make the addict more willing to listen.

One easy way to stop yourself from taking an accusatory stance is to speak in "I" statements instead of "you" statements. "You" statements can sound aggressive and can cause a person to become defensive. The indirect approach of an "I" statement will be received better and is less likely to come across as insulting [source: Pachter].


Avoid negative words such as "failed" or "neglected." Using positive words will help maintain a constructive tone and atmosphere in which the person is more likely to listen to what you have to say [source: Pachter].

Another way to keep an encouraging tone is to address the benefits of seeking help rather than focusing solely on the negative aspects of the person's behavior. These benefits can be physical, such as sleeping better or having a healthier body, or emotional and relational, such as being able to spend more time with friends and family.

Lastly, remember to be respectful. Hearing bad news is never easy, and hearing it in a harsh way is even worse. It's important to reinforce the fact that you want to help your loved one, and are not simply trying to point out faults.

1: Stay Focused On the Goal

A major part of the process of organizing an intervention is agreeing on a goal. Know what actions you want the person to take. Do you want the person to seek help or attend rehab? Do you want them to see a counselor or join a self-help group? Make sure you have an end-goal in mind, around which the entire intervention will be structured. At the end of the intervention, you'll need the person to make an immediate decision as to whether or not to accept treatment. To do this, the person will need to be presented with the agreed upon course of action -- the goal.

Whatever the goal of the intervention is, all friends and family members should agree on it in advance. They must present a "united front" and remain focused on the same objective at all times.


If necessary, make arrangements before the intervention to help meet the goal. For example, if a treatment center is desired, choose one ahead of time and make arrangements for the person to attend. It will be easier for your loved one to take the next step to get help when everything has been prearranged. Don't forget the details, such as handling childcare if necessary, since these details could become possible reasons for objection to treatment.

Lastly, be sure the addict understands what the consequences will be if he or she does not follow through and seek help or treatment, or relapses. Like the goals of the intervention, everyone should agree on the consequences ahead of time, as well.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Delray Recovery Center. "Tips on Planning a Family Intervention for Alcohol or Drug Abuse." (June 14, 2011) http://www.delrayrecoverycenter.com/tips-on-planning-a-family-intervention-for-alcohol-or-drug-abuse/
  • Finnigan, Candy, and Sean Finnigan. "When Enough is Enough: A Comprehensive Guide to a Successful Intervention." Penguin, 2008.
  • Jay, Jeff, Debra Jay and George McGovern. "Love First: A Family's Guide to Intervention." Hazelden Publishing, 2008.
  • Johnson, Sharon L. "Therapists' Guide to Substance Abuse Intervention." Academic Press, 2003.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction." Mayo Clinic. (June 26, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/intervention/MH00127
  • McBride, Hugh C. "Addiction Intervention Successfulness: Stepping in to Save a Life." Drug-Rehabilitation. (June 14, 2011). http://www.drug-rehabilitation.org/intervention.php
  • Mooney, Al J., Arlene Eisenberg and Howard Eisenberg. "The Recovery Book." Workman Publishing, 1992.
  • Pachter, Barbara, and Susan Magee. "The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Know to Handle Conflicts at Work, at Home, and in Life." Da Capo Press, 2000.
  • Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "Intervention Quick Guide." (June 14, 2011) http://memorials.drugfree.org/Files/Intervention_Quick_Guide