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Things to Know Before Planning an Intervention

It can be incredibly challenging to watch a loved one struggle with addiction. Though a meaningful, heart to heart chat may help start someone you love on the road to recovery, in many cases, individuals with addictions struggle to see and acknowledge that something is wrong.

If your loved one is having trouble acknowledging the problem, you may require a more targeted and structured approach that draws on your loved one’s support network, such as a formal intervention.

Individuals with addictions may be unwilling to acknowledge the problem and reluctant to seek treatment. They may also not recognize the negative impact their behaviour has on those they care about. 

The purpose of an intervention is to present your loved one with a structured opportunity to make changes, and start on the road to recovery before things become even worse than they currently are. A well planned and smoothly executed intervention may help motivate the person you love to both seek and accept help.

What is an Intervention?

An intervention is a carefully planned process lead by friends and family, along with the help of a doctor or other professional (such as a licensed alcohol or drug counsellor, or a professional intervention specialist). The intervention team may also include a religious or spiritual leader or other people who care about your loved one and wants to help them end their struggle with addiction.

During the final stage of the intervention, you will actually speak to your loved one about their addiction and confront them about the negative impact their actions have had on both themselves and those around them. You will also ask them to seek treatment and offer treatment suggestions, or offer to help your loved one connect with an organization that helps individuals struggling with addiction get on, and navigate, the road to recovery. 

To increase your intervention’s success rate, you should:

  • Provide specific examples of destructive behaviours, and explain their impact on both your loved one and their friends, family, and community.
  • Come into the intervention with a pre-arranged treatment plan. This plan should include clear goals, steps, and guidelines.
  • Make it clear to your loved one what each person present will do if the loved one refuses to accept treatment.

Who Should Help With an Intervention?

Your intervention team should consist of between four and six people who care about your loved one, such as adult relatives and friends. Choose people your friend feels comfortable around, loves, and respects, and who are not currently experiencing addiction. 

Depending on your loved one’s religious beliefs, you may also want to include a respected member of their faith community or another type of community leader. Your team should also include at least one professional, such as your loved one’s doctor, a licensed alcohol or drug addiction counsellor, or a professional intervention specialist. 

Who Should We Avoid Including?

You should avoid including anyone your loved one dislikes, or who may derail or sabotage the intervention. You should also avoid including individuals who are currently struggling with addiction or serious mental health issues. 

Anyone who may not be able to limit what they say during the intervention meeting to what they have agreed to beforehand should be excluded. It is also advised to avoid including individuals who aren’t adults. 

If there is someone who cares deeply about your loved one, but for any reason should not be included in the intervention team (such as the loved one’s underaged child), you may wish to ask them to write a short letter to your loved one which someone else can read aloud during the intervention.

What Are Some Things I Can Do to Help Make My Intervention Successful?

Avoid Spontaneity

An effective intervention is built upon weeks of careful planning. However, you should also avoid making the intervention unnecessarily elaborate, as it may become more difficult to get all members of your intervention team to follow through on their commitments. 

Pick the Date and Time Carefully

You will want to time your intervention meeting to coincide with a time and date where your loved one is less likely to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Appoint a Liaison

Choose one member of the intervention team to act as a point of contact for all team members. This will facilitate communication and help ensure everyone stays on track.

Do Your Research

Make sure everyone on your team has a good understanding of your loved one’s addiction. This will help you approach the intervention with understanding and compassion.

Share Information Freely With Your Intervention Team

Make sure all research done on your loved one’s addiction is shared with the rest of the team so that everyone is on the same page. This will help ensure that any inaccurate information is weeded out. Have your liaison schedule regular conference calls or meetings to share updates and knowledge so that you can better present a united front. 

Practice Beforehand

Make sure to stage a rehearsal intervention before your intervention meeting. This will give everyone a chance to practice what they want to say and take note of their key points. Make sure to anticipate any objections your loved one might have and plan appropriate responses.

Plan for Resistance

When things deteriorate to the point that an intervention is necessary, it is likely that your loved one may refuse to acknowledge the problem or refuse to accept help. Make sure you have calm, rational responses prepared for each reason your loved one may come up with for avoiding responsibility or refusing treatment. 

You should also plan for concrete ways you can offer support to help make it easier for your loved one to access the help they need. This may include making childcare arrangements for them, providing transportation, or attending counselling sessions with them.

Avoid Confrontation

Approach your loved one, and their addiction, with love, compassion, respect, concern, and support – not anger or resentment. Make sure you are honest, but the intervention meeting is not a place for hostile attacks. Avoid name-calling, as well as accusatory or angry statements. 

Don’t Get Distracted

If you veer away from the pre-established plan, you likely risk derailing the entire intervention, increase familial tensions, and make it more difficult to achieve your goal of helping your loved one. Your loved one will likely become heated during the discussion, but you need to remain calm and collected so that your loved one cannot derail the conversation or redirect blame and responsibility. 

Insist On an Immediate Decision 

Even if your loved one asks for a few days to decide whether or not they want to go into treatment, they must make a decision during the intervention meeting. Giving your loved one time to decide could allow them to continue to deny responsibility, go on a dangerous binge, or sever communications. Make sure you have a plan in place to get your loved one to the evaluation or treatment centre as soon as the intervention meeting is done so that they can start on the road to recovery right away if they agree to treatment. 

How an Intervention Typically Plays Out

Make a Plan

Interventions begin when a concerned friend or family member decides that one is necessary and forms a planning group. Interventions cause emotions to run high and tensions to rise that can lead to feelings of betrayal, anger, and resentment. Make sure you are emotionally prepared.

Create the Intervention Team

Make sure you reach out to a professional, such as a doctor, licensed addictions counsellor, or an intervention specialist to help you increase your chances of a successful result. Depending on your loved one’s religious beliefs, you may also want to include a respected member from their faith community, as well.

Do Your Research

Once you have established your intervention team, make sure everyone researches your loved one’s addiction, and set up regular meetings and conference calls to share information, plan, and strategize. 

Stay focused on the facts of the problem and creating shared solutions, and while you are likely experiencing strong emotions concerning your loved one’s addiction and subsequent intervention, you should focus on them and getting them the help they need, and less on your own emotional needs at this time. Process your own emotions separately, preferably with a neutral third party.

Make sure your loved one doesn’t know what you are doing until the actual intervention meeting takes place.

Decide on Specific Consequences

If your loved one refuses treatment, each member of the team needs to decide what form of action they will take. This could include asking a loved one to move out, withdrawing financial support, or limiting contact moving forward.

Take Notes on What to Say

Have each member make a list of specific incidents where your loved one’s addiction caused strife, emotional pain, financial issues, or other problems. Make sure to discuss the toll your loved one’s behaviour and actions have taken on you while still approaching the situation with care, compassion. 

Make sure you express your expectation that your loved one change their behaviour. Your loved one cannot argue with your emotional response to the problem or facts that you present. Emphasize “I” statements, such as “I feel upset and hurt when you drink.”

Hold the Intervention Meeting

Get your loved one to the site of the intervention meeting without revealing the reason for the meeting. Give each member of the team time to express their feelings and concerns, then present your loved one with a treatment option and ask them to commit to treatment on the spot. 

Make sure each team member effectively communicates what consequences they will enact if your loved one does not follow through with the plan, and be absolutely sure that you are able and willing to follow through with those consequences if the need arises.

Follow Up with Your Loved One

Appoint a member of the team who spends a lot of time with your loved one daily (such as a spouse or parent) to help keep your loved one on track with their treatment and avoid relapsing. This may involve helping your loved one change the daily routine, offering to participate in counselling sessions, seeking out their own therapist and recovery support, and having a plan for what to do if your loved one does relapse.

Where Can I Refer My Loved One?

If you have a loved one who is currently struggling with addiction, the Calgary Dream Centre is here to help. We offer tailored treatment programs for both men and women, as well as housing options and family support. We meet each client at whatever point they are currently at in their recovery journey and tailor our treatment program to address your loved one’s specific strengths and areas for growth while acknowledging the progress they have made so far.

You can apply online, call in to schedule an appointment with our Intake Coordinator, or stop by Tuesday and Thursday between 8am and 12pm for one of our walk-in appointments. 

Every journey begins with a single step. How can we help your loved one start their journey to recovery?


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  • David Skidmore

    Written by David Skidmore

    Manager of Alumni Services & Family ReVisioning David has been working with the Calgary Dream Centre since 2015. He has a Masters in Theology, a Doctorate in Leadership Development and Educational Systems. In his role at the Dream Centre, David manages Alumni Services and our family support program, ReVisioning the Family. Through these programs, David helps people with lives impacted by addiction understand recovery and gain hope for a better tomorrow. Originally from Oxford, Nova Scotia, David is a licensed skydiver and has raced sailboats in Toronto.

    More Articles by David Skidmore

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