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How to Hold an Intervention

Every year, almost 20 million individuals and their families are affected by substance use disorders.1 If a person you know struggles with alcohol addiction, you may want to learn how to hold an intervention. If you are unaware of how to hold an intervention, you can start by constructing goals for the intervention and preparing accordingly.

In this article:

The Goals of Holding an Intervention

Alcohol misuse is a public health issue, and nearly one-third of the U.S. population meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) at some point in their lifetime.2 Every year, 95,000 people die from excessive alcohol use.3 Holding an intervention could save a life.

Ultimately, the goal of how to hold an intervention is to encourage someone with AUD to enter a professional treatment program as soon as possible. However, it is critical to prepare to hear denial or rejection from them.

What to Expect During an Intervention for an Alcoholic: Rejection or Denial

Sometimes, no matter what you say or do, they will not accept treatment. In this case, you can take a harm-reduction approach and talk with your loved one about other means to manage their alcohol use and cut back on drinking.

They may deny that their drinking has become a problem. You can help by talking to them about alcohol use disorder. Consider sharing some of the signs and symptoms that indicate problematic alcohol misuse, such as:4

  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Inability to control or stop drinking despite negative consequences
  • Feeling irritable or anxious when sober

If they remain unwilling to enter treatment, suggest going in for an evaluation for AUD.

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Early Intervention for Those on the Verge of AUD

Perhaps your loved one does not meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, but you are concerned that is where they are headed. It may be appropriate to hold an intervention regarding their alcohol misuse before the situation gets worse. Early intervention can act as a bridge between prevention and treatment services, providing information and resources to help reduce and control their alcohol use.

Research has shown that the following populations may benefit from early intervention:5

  • Adolescents and adults who binge drink (defined as more than four drinks on a single occasion for women and five drinks on a single occasion for men)
  • Women who drink during pregnancy
  • People who drink and drive

Preparing for an Intervention

There is some preparation involved when you choose how to hold an intervention. Some factors you may want to consider as you prepare are:

  • Decide who you would like to attend: Do you want to do the intervention alone, or are there other loved ones in the person’s life that you would like to attend?
  • Choose your message: Decide before the intervention what you would like to say to the person. You may even choose to write a letter to read aloud during the intervention process.
  • Consider hiring a professional: An intervention professional can help you prepare and stage an intervention by providing intervention strategies, resources, addiction education, treatment planning, and more.
  • Choose a location: Host the intervention in a place where the person will be most comfortable and receptive to your suggestions. This may be your home or their home, or another location where the person feels safe.

After Holding an Intervention: What Happens Next?

Many do not know what to expect during intervention with an alcoholic or what to do after the intervention is over. How to hold an intervention is simply the first step; what happens next is even more critical for their recovery.

How to Hold an Intervention Follow-Up

Be prepared for the follow-up after the intervention is complete. If you are encouraging your loved one to go to treatment, do some research ahead of time and have a list of treatment centers available to call immediately. Consider making as many arrangements as you can beforehand so that all you must do when the person suffering from alcohol use disorder says yes is drive them to the treatment center.

Expect to be involved in their treatment process once they get to the facility. Perhaps you can come and attend family therapy sessions. You can visit the treatment center if visitors are allowed or write them letters throughout the process.

Worst-Case Scenarios: What to Expect During an Intervention for an Alcoholic

It is important to understand that your loved one may be resistant or reject any treatment. They may even attempt to neglect their treatment plan or program before finishing. Have a secondary plan in place.

Some families choose to offer an ultimatum to encourage treatment. If a loved one is living with you or borrowing money, you may choose to no longer help in this way if they refuse to get help for themselves. Talk over any possible ultimatums and backup strategies with your intervention team, and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Generally, positive reinforcement works better than negative, so many families choose to offer incentives if their loved one chooses to seek help and enter treatment. Discuss possible incentives with your team about how to hold an intervention and decide what you may be able to offer your loved one if they decide to go to rehab.

Know the Risks

It is important to know the potential risks and negative consequences of holding an intervention. If you hold an intervention for your loved one and it goes poorly, there is a possibility that your loved one will become angry and may avoid you afterward. Prepare yourself for this outcome and plan the next steps in place to continue encouraging your loved one to seek help.

Are Interventions Successful?

Unfortunately, there is very little research currently available concerning the success rates of how to hold an intervention because of their personal and nonclinical nature. However, increasingly complex and systematic data-gathering techniques and predictive modeling have made research on intervention efficacy possible.

One 2016 study on the efficacy of psychosocial interventions in people with chronic liver disease showed that interventions alone were not effective at helping people achieve and maintain abstinence. However, when combined with integrative cognitive-behavioral therapy and medical care, abstinence rates go up.6 This indicates that interventions may be more successful for persons with alcohol use disorder when they enter and complete treatment following the intervention.

In a recent 2021 study, machine learning was used to gather and interpret data that modeled the likeliness of an intervention target to achieve and maintain sobriety. Interestingly, these three factors proved to be the strongest predictors of success:7

  1. An intervention goal of complete abstinence rather than moderation
  2. A target goal of abstaining from alcohol use on weekends
  3. Personal engagement in the intervention on behalf of the person with AUD

The question of “how to hold an intervention” suggests a guaranteed path to higher rates of success that one must follow. However, interventions can fail sometimes and be effective at other times. It is imperative to go into the process of how to hold an intervention with this understanding and anticipate any outcome. Whether or not your loved one chooses to enter a treatment program, you did your part in letting them know that you care and are concerned for their future.

Supporting a Loved One with an Addiction

It is hard not to feel helpless when you see someone suffering from addiction and you do not know how to hold an intervention. There are many ways you can support a loved one with addiction, such as:

  • Offer them kindness, love, and support even if they continue to use alcohol. Choosing loving and kind interactions over blaming, shaming, and anger is beneficial as these negative emotions will only drive a wedge between you and could lead your loved one to drink more if they feel attacked or not accepted and loved.
  • Be compassionate. Alcohol use disorder is a relapsing brain disease.4 Your loved one is struggling even if they do not yet realize that their drinking has become a problem.
  • Do not enable your loved one. There is a fine line between supporting and enabling a loved one with an addiction. It is vital to be a source of support and love for the person without enabling addictive behavior. Do not help them obtain alcohol. Do not give them money to buy alcohol—stand firm in your decision not to enable addictive behavior in any way.
  • Offer to attend family therapy or support groups with your loved one.
  • Do not drink in front of your loved one under any circumstance.
  • Invite your loved one to events where alcohol is not present.
  • Engage your loved one in non-drinking hobbies. Invite them to go for a walk or hike, play a sport or game, or engage in another activity you know they enjoy that does not involve alcohol.
  • Offer a compassionate, listening ear. Be a safe space for your loved ones to open up about anything.

Seeking Professional Help

If you are considering how to hold an intervention for your loved one but you are unsure how to hold an intervention or what to expect during an intervention for an alcoholic, call 800-838-1752 (Who Answers?) to speak with an addiction treatment specialist.

Resources

  1. New York State Government. Supporting a Loved One in Recovery.
  2. Tucker, J., Chandler, S., & Witkiewitz, K. (November 2020). Epidemiology of Recovery From Alcohol Use Disorder. Alcohol Research Current Reviews, 40(3):2
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (November 2021). Excessive Alcohol Use.
  4. S. National Library of Medicine. (November 2017). Alcohol Use Disorder.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (November 2016). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol Drugs and Health. Chapter 4: Early Intervention, Treatment, and Management of Substance Use Disorders.
  6. Khan, A., Tansel, A., White, D., Kayani, W., Bano, S., Lindsay, J., El-Serag, H., & Kanwal, F (February 2016). Efficacy of Psychosocial Interventions in Inducing and Maintaining Alcohol Abstinence in Patients with Chronic Liver Disease: A Systematic Review. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 14(2): 191-202.
  7. Ramos, L., Blankers, M., Wingen, G., Bruijn, T., Pauws, S., Goudriaan, A. (2021). Predicting Success of a Digital Self-Help Intervention for Alcohol and Substance Use with Machine Learning. Frontiers in Psychology.

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