Family Addiction Intervention | Why an Invitation Is Always Best

DO NOT ambush a loved one in an intervention. It will end with resentment. Instead, consider an explicit invitation. Here is how and why.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: DO NOT ambush a loved one in an intervention. It will end with resentment. Instead, consider an explicit invitation. Here is how and why.

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 10 minutes or less.


What Is a Family Intervention?

A family addiction intervention might just be the best thing you ever spend your time and money on. But what is it? And why would you consider spending thousands of dollars on an intervention in the first place?

An intervention is an invitation to change. The interventionist’s end goal is to get someone struggling with an alcohol or drug problem to enter treatment. As such, an intervention is a critical conversation. In some cases, this is a life or death conversation. And in the best cases, an intervention is a life-saving conversation.

However, interventionists do not work one-on-one, as in individual counseling. Interventionists always work with groups, family systems. They do this for two reasons: first, addiction affects the entire family; second, groups provide a larger context and sphere of influence when combined. Change must take place in the context of people, places, things, thoughts, and feelings.

A successful intervention has the potential to transform not just the identified client, but an entire family.

I didn’t know about the efficacy of treating the entire family during an intervention until I started working with expert, Dr. Louise Stanger on the book we wrote together, “The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions.” But it totally makes sense: change happens on a systemic level. If we only expect one person to change, it won’t be sustainable.

Evidence states it takes much longer than most people think to change a habit: an average of 66 days. The goal of professional interventionists is to work with the whole family system while the identified patient is in and out of primary treatment, so that all may change. Treatment gives people time to grow and change. The correct treatment or placement will also provide families with the help they need to disengage and rethink how they may love, as well.

Why Use the Invitational Method?

So, writing the book with Dr. Stanger also taught me about types of interventions. There are four current models of addiction intervention:

1. The Surprise Model
2. The Invitational Model
3. The Systems Model
4. The Action Model

Of these, some elements work better than others. And the main point of advice I’d give to anyone who wants to plan an intervention is this:

Stop ambushing people by surprising them with an addiction intervention!

During typical interventions, members of the drug/alcohol user’s social network participate directly in the process, often secretly or without the person’s knowledge. These folks gather together and surprise the individual to ask her/him to go to treatment. The idea is that if a person is surprised they will have less time to ruminate and their defenses will be lowered. The theory is that when startled, a person ill be more likely to say, “Yes” to treatment.

Nothing is further from the truth.

Often, Surprise Model interventions generate great upset and distrust. As noted in the 2017 Surgeon General’s Report, “Facing Addiction in America”:

“Confrontational approaches in general, though once the norm even in many behavioral treatment settings, have not been found effective and may backfire by heightening resistance and diminishing self-esteem on the part of the targeted individual.”

People report feeling disrespected, ambushed, and shamed. They report feeling cornered or pressured into treatment. It’s no wonder that many of them drop out of treatment. In fact, dropout rates seem to increase as relapses occurred. Many identified loved ones who were subject to the Surprise Model of Intervention reported this type of rebellious thinking:

“At first, I stopped my drug and alcohol use because of the pressure from the Intervention, but then I found myself thinking ‘I’m not going to be told what to do!’ so I started using again.”

Just imagine, you’re struggling with a substance abuse or mental health disorder and a pack of people descends upon you. Well, we know that substance abuse and mental health disorders are beset with shame and feeling awful. If families choose set up an ambush or an adversarial relationship to begin, you’ve got to work through the resentment first.

How Invitational Interventions Work

I agree with Dr. Stanger, in that the best way to frame an intervention is by using The Invitational Model. In this model, you invite your loved one to a family meeting and rely on willing participation of all involved. According to founding practitioners, this style of intervention does not require threats or consequences; they state that less than 2% of families even talk about consequences. So, there are often no letters involved. No bargaining. No ambush.

Instead, emphasis is on family education, developing strategy, and communication. The desired outcome is not only on treatment engagement of one person. The desired outcome also includes long-term, intergenerational family well-being and recovery.

During an Invitational Intervention, the family has a Chairperson who helps organize members and works directly with the interventionist. The interventionist or clinician guides the family strategy and facilitates from between 2-5 face-to-face sessions. S/He completes a family genogram, conducts interviews with family member, coaches family members on crafting recovery messages, and directs conversations toward change. Some interventionists focus on a specific “Change Plan” customized to the ILO’s needs for treatment. Finally, the group invites the ILO to change. If there is no movement by the last meeting, the group sets limits and consequences in a loving, supportive way.

To read a complete description of all intervention models, please order my book here.

How to Do an Intervention

The best way to do an intervention is with the help of a professional interventionist. The Intervention itself is a well-orchestrated event, a drama that is created and stylized. There are many skills that go into the intervention: counseling, social work, and psychotherapy are at the heart. Still, the main goal of the intervention is this:

Interventions help move the identified loved one to change and to accept treatment.

It is important to note that some interventionists stop there. Some interventionists are only interested in moving or getting someone to treatment. However, when interventionists drop you at this point, it can result in many negative outcomes:

  •  Complications
  •  Financial problems
  •  Increased complexity
  •  Legal problems
  •  Relapse
  •  Treatment drop-out

Indeed, what happens after the intervention is equally important. A good interventionist will help you navigate through treatment, support group attendance (12-Step work, ALANON, ACA, Open A.A. Meetings, or SMART Recovery are most often used), and possibly dealing with refusal for treatment. You’ll need to continue to learn how to take care of yourselves as you deal with substance abuse, process disorders, physical issues, and mental health issues in the system.

Families also need to learn to set healthy boundaries, for themselves and their loved ones. Family members may be referred out for care to family counselors, individual therapists, recovery coaches, or other behavioral/mental health care providers.

The key point is this: follow up is crucial to the success of developing healthy family systems.

So, select an interventionist who can use a systemic approach that includes case management and active coaching over time. From experience, it can take many months for a family to become “collective” and to operate in harmony again.

Intervention Services Near Me

There are a few ways you can identify the best person for your family.

1. Search professional associations.

The Network of Independent Interventionists (NII) and the Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS). list members’ credentials, licenses, and certifications for professional addiction interventionists. You can search member listings here:

2. Seek a reference from a mental health professional.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) exists as the nation’s premier advocacy group for addiction treatment. This NGO recommends that you seek help from the following professionals for intervention services:

  •  An alcohol and addictions counselor
  •  An addiction treatment center
  •  Psychiatrist
  •  Psychologist
  •  Social Worker

Some of these professionals may have experience in interventions themselves. Other times, a mental health professional can refer you to a colleague or someone with a good reputation in the field.

3. Call us for help.

The telephone number listed on this page will connect you to a helpline answered by American Addiction Centers (AAC). The helpline is offered at no cost and with no obligation to enter treatment. Caring admissions consultants are standing by to discuss your treatment options, which can include family intervention specialists. So, if you are ready to get help for you or a family member, reach out and pick up the phone.

Your Questions

Still have questions about how to hold a successful family intervention for addiction?

Please reach out.

You can leave your questions in the comments section at the end of this page. Or, you can call us on the phone number listed above. Whatever you do…do something. Nothing changes until something changes.

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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