Top 10 steps in drug addiction intervention

Interventions are practices that aim to investigate a potential addiction problem and to motivate an individual to begin to do something about her substance abuse. This list indexes the intervention techniques used to address substance users. Although created for clinicians, these intervention techniques are also helpful for working the 12th Step.

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An intervention ranges from unstructured counseling and feedback to more formalized structured therapy. Brief interventions, are time limited, structured, and directed toward a specific goal. Ideally, the goal is to have an addict accepting responsibility for her own recovery. Brief interventions ARE NOT a substitute for specialized care for high levels of dependency but are used to encourage people to attend 12-step meetings to seek treatment.

Interventions follow a specific plan (sometimes a workbook or pamphlet or a questionnaire) and include a timeline for the change of specific behaviors. Effective interventionists assess an addict’s readiness and willingness to change, plan a corresponding strategy to assist her in progressing to the next stage, and implement that strategy.

  1. Define the purpose of the talk, gain permission to talk, and help the person understand the reason for the intervention.
  2. Raise awareness of the issue in the context of the person’s health.
  3. Screen, evaluate and assess substance use.
  4. Actively listen to feedback and direct toward the purpose of the talk.
  5. Help the addict weigh the costs and benefits of change.
  6. Offer positive change alternatives and options.
  7. Identify potential change strategies.
  8. Help the addict choose the most appropriate change strategy. Address the costs and benefits of various change strategies (e.g., self-change, brief treatment, intensive treatment, self-help group attendance).
  9. Reinforce personal decisions made by repeating goals and outcomes.
  10. Schedule a follow up talk to track progress. This can be in the form of a face-to-face meeting, a telephone call, or even a voice mail message.

Source reference: SAMHSA/CSAT Tip 34

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. I agree…check out my new post on 7 tips for alcoholism intervention, which have come from personal experience when my friends intervened after a rather rough night of alcoholic drinking. Do you have any suggestions for people wanting to perform an intervention?

  2. You’ve providing a very useful outline for an intervention. However, as we know, each individual is unique and thus the methods sometimes need to be adjusted.

  3. This is a very technical article. The one I provide below tells what an intervention involves from the point to view of the interventionist and what the family should expect when they decide to hire an interventionist.

    Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment: What Happens at an Intervention?

    By Daryl Samson, Program Director at the Orchard Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center

    Through intervention the addict is given the opportunity to enter treatment that could be life-saving.

    Intervention is usually undertaken because the family is tired of watching a loved one destroy him or her self. The drug or alcohol addicted person is often the last one to know their condition. Denial can be thought of as an acronym for Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying.

    Addicts actually believe their own lies — that’s the delusional nature of drug and alcohol addiction. There are the same negative consequences in all areas of their lives.

    Most often the families bring in the interventionist as a last resort. They’ve tried everything else from giving the addicted person money, to imposing restrictions, to hiring him or her in the family business, to letting him or her live in the basement, etc. These are enabling behaviors and do nothing to help the addict.

    The actual intervention is the result of extensive planning. The first step is to find when a bed will be available at a drug addiction treatment center. Those who will be involved in the intervention are sent details of the process to make sure they are all “on the same page.” A two hour pre-planning meeting is set up with all participants (except the addict) in attendance. This involves education about addiction and an explanation of what happens in treatment.

    The pre-planning meeting is often a very cathartic and therapeutic experience for family members. Addicts tend to compartmentalize their lives. They will always take one person, whom they identify as a “softie,” and get them to enable their habit. For example, “I haven’t eaten in three days. Please give me some money. Don’t tell Dad.” (The money is spent on drugs or alcohol – not food.) People are amazed to learn that others in the group have heard the same stories and lies.

    At the pre-planning meeting the family members agree to write letters expressing their love and concern for the addict. Each letter ends with: “I want you to seek help today” and may also outline consequences if the person does not go to treatment (e.g., “or you will not be allowed to keep working in the family business”). By the end of the pre-planning meeting each participant agrees to withstand the emotions and reactions of the addict.

    The interventionist vets the letters and meets with the group just prior to the intervention to plan logistics. The intervention will come as a surprise to the addict. For those participating, the intervention is emotionally draining. The interventionist is not emotionally involved and, therefore, cannot be manipulated by the addict.

    At the intervention each participant reads his or her letter. This is a very emotional process. People often see family members cry for the first time ever. The people involved in the intervention are those whom the addict respects and will listen to. Those with whom the addict has a bad history are not invited.

    The addict is being asked only to consider how his or her behavior has affected others. He or she is not given an opportunity to respond. The family has prepared a suitcase and he or she is off to treatment. The addict will resist but the interventionist will be firm.

    Because the interventionist is not emotionally involved they will not back down. It’s crunch time – the addict goes to treatment or suffers the full consequences of his or her behavior. In most cases the addict will have a moment of clarity and will go to treatment.

    It’s a great moment when an addict accepts help. Intervention works because the family then recognizes the problem. They can now start to work on overcoming the trauma in the family caused by the addict and his or her behavior.

    Daryl Samson, MEd
    Program Director, Orchard Drug and Alcohol Addiction Center

    Daryl Samson specializes in the assessment, treatment, intervention and monitoring of addictive disorders and chemical dependencies at the Orchard Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatmen in British Columbia, Canada. He possesses a unique combination of educational, professional and personal experiences that enable him to relate easily to those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. Daryl has 15 years of experience in addictions treatment and intervention. He credits Dr. Ray Baker of HealthQuest as a mentor who influenced his approach to interacting with addicts and their loved ones. Daryl is a model of balanced recovery and is passionate about instilling hope in the hopeless and helping them meet their recovery goals.

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