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The True Role of Addiction Intervention in Recovery

A drug or alcohol addiction intervention may begin with concerned members of your support system coming together to discuss how your alcohol addiction or substance use disorder is impacting relationships and your ability to maintain a job, financial stability, health, or meet other responsibilities.


Who Is the Most Likely to Respond to an Alcohol or Drug Addiction Intervention?

An intervention is a way for a social group to communicate the impact an addiction has on themselves and others in a manner that inspires change.

There are several definitions of intervention. However, they all converge on one central idea: 1, 2, 3

An addiction intervention is a targeted, planned, and intended operation within a system or process aiming to prevent or remove an undesirable phenomenon (i.e., harm) by implementing change in social structures (e.g., friends, family, or coworkers).

The alcohol or drug addiction intervention aims to mitigate, postpone, or treat effects of a disease, reduce case fatality and mortality rates, and disability. It may or may not include friends and family members confronting someone with a substance use disorder in a respectful, non-threatening way to motivate treatment-seeking behavior.

Substance use disorders, or addictions, are categorized by type and severity—mild, moderate, or severe.

If you are diagnosed with a mild substance use disorder, you will most likely respond well to guided self-change like self-monitoring and brief motivational interventions.3 Specialty addiction treatment facilities and aftercare are best for anyone with a substance use disorder that is not only chronic but complex.3

Collaborative practices between a person and their treatment providers yield the most successful outcomes.3 For example, the collaboration between social services, health treatment facilities, and law enforcement can minimize the cascading effects of addiction. This collaboration can address social functioning, financial stability, interpersonal relationships, self-esteem, physical health, and involvement with the law.

Who Will Not Respond to an Addiction Intervention?

Many reasons exist as to why someone with a substance use disorder may not feel motivated to enter treatment after an addiction intervention, including:3

  • Not yet ready to stop using the substance of choice (40.7%)
  • Underestimating the extent and severity of substance use
  • Overestimating the ability to control their use
  • Either cannot afford healthcare coverage or do not have coverage (30%)
  • Might lose their job (16.4%)
  • May feel judged by the community (11%)
  • Do not desire the type of treatment that is available (11%)
  • Co-occurring condition creates a treatment barrier, such as severe mental health symptoms
  • No transportation
  • Distance
  • Inconvenient hours
  • Do not know the treatment options available (12.6%)

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How Do You Hold a Drug or Alcohol Addiction Intervention?

One common type of addiction intervention is the Johnson Intervention. The Johnson Intervention functions as a catalyst to help get someone into a treatment program. It is a personal and confrontational approach led by one or more family members.

This approach is best used with those who do not have a problem with substance use and believe that they do not have a mental health issue that needs to be addressed. The Johnson Intervention includes the following steps.4

Team Selection and Training

Team members may include friends, family, and, when feasible, employers. All need to understand the situation and adhere to the same objective.

Each team member has their own script. The script is honest and specific to behaviors connected to the individual’s substance of choice and includes the expression of deep-seated feelings.

Setting a Boundary

Each family member needs to establish a boundary about their personal behaviors. Enabling behaviors are destructive.

Action Plan Creation

The plan should include checking insurance eligibility and costs and selecting a treatment facility. Several questions, such as the following, should be addressed:

  • Who will take care of any children?
  • Who will take care of my property?
  • Who will take care of my pets?

Ideally, the plan needs to address any reasons why the individual may claim that they cannot go into treatment immediately.

As part of the plan, an appointment for an approximate arrival time at the treatment center is made so that the individual can be taken to the facility immediately following the intervention.

Time and Place

It is not advised to conduct an intervention at the person’s home or office. Instead, hold the intervention at someone else’s home. Selecting the right day of the week and time is also essential.


Rehearsing provides an opportunity to evaluate each team member’s script, make sure that they are trained, understand the addiction, and ensure everyone approaches the situation from a place of support.

Sometimes it may be beneficial to predetermine an order. Rehearsals also benefit the team members to feel safe and supported while sharing intimate feelings and perspectives about what they will be sharing with the individual with the substance use disorder.

You can increase the likelihood that an intervention will succeed by remembering to focus on the individual in need and that it’s not a time to vent, shame, or lash out; professionals can be utilized to create a buffer between loved ones who may be too emotionally involved to fully participate in planning.

If you need substance use treatment and feel supported, you will be more likely to agree to treatment.5

Goals of an Intervention

Regardless of the type of intervention, the goal is to help someone feel like treatment is a collaborative process where they get to maintain choice. Part of this process includes the incorporation of harm reduction and re-establishing boundaries with yourself and others. Harm reduction focuses on being:6

  • Nonjudgmental
  • Compassionate
  • Respectful
  • Not feeding into the stigmatization of substance use disorders
  • Using evidence-based practices
  • Understanding that behavioral changes are nonlinear
  • Rather than heavily focusing on abstinence, focusing on improving the quality of life
  • Empowering you to feel comfortable and confident that you can reduce harm related to substance use

Harm reduction provides support while also minimizing the negative consequences of substance use associated with health, economic, and social areas of life. Examples of this include:6

  • Needle exchange programs
  • Referrals to medical physicians
  • Medications such as naloxone
  • Outreach and education programs
  • Detoxification (i.e., withdrawal management facilities)

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During addiction treatment and harm reduction models, the issue of setting and re-establishing and then appropriately asserting boundaries becomes a common focal point of treatment.

Boundaries are physical, emotional, and mental limits that the recovering individual sets to help maintain sobriety. Some examples of unhealthy boundaries include:7

  • Impulsively entering a new relationship
  • Ignoring feelings or intuition to make others happy
  • Expecting others to read minds and automatically know needs or wants

Some examples of healthy boundaries include:7

  • Thinking about the benefits and consequences of entering a relationship
  • Maintaining values even if they conflict with those of others
  • Clearly expressing needs, wants, and desires to others

Establishing or re-establishing boundaries has many benefits that help you:7

  • Learn how to say “no,” which helps determine how time is spent and with whom
  • Gain self-worth. When this is lacking, it makes people vulnerable to making decisions that negatively impact their life or others. Conversely, when a sense of self-worth is gained, it can give a sense of identity and improve how you respect yourself and others.
  • Improve communication without blaming
  • Take responsibility by accepting the consequences of behavior as well as establishing a healthy structure in life
  • Establish more rewarding and healthier relationships with others

Which Professionals Can Assist With an Addiction Intervention?

A professionally-led addiction intervention benefits you and your loved ones in achieving recovery. To find a professional interventionist, you can:4

  • Ask members of your support system
  • Get a referral from therapists or medical staff
  • Search a directory, such as your in-network providers through your insurance
  • Contact your insurance provider membership services phone line
  • Ask a social worker at a rehabilitation center or hospital

Individuals who are qualified to assist with seeking substance use disorder treatment include:4, 5

  • Trained interventionists such as nurses, nurse educators, or physicians during routine medical care
  • Licensed clinicians (e.g., psychologists, LMFTs, LCSWs, LPCCs)
  • Psychiatrists, particularly psychiatrists specializing in addiction medicine
  • Social workers or substance use counselors

Depending on the situation and your or your family member’s needs, a professional interventionist may be helpful to keep everyone involved focused.

Relying on the interventionist’s skill set is helpful if you use multiple substances, have a co-occurring mental disorder, or have a self-harming behaviors.5

What Can You Expect After a Drug or Alcohol Addiction Intervention?

After an intervention, you can expect to feel a bit disoriented because they are now learning more effective ways to cope with stressors without using the substance of choice. You may also find that some of their relationships will end or change, but there can also be many who will unexpectedly step up to support.

If you or a loved one needs help, call 866-470-3561 (Who Answers?) to talk to a treatment specialist to discuss available addiction treatment options.


  1. Seaman, J. (2013). The Process of Intervention. Scripps Health.
  2. Smith, P.G., Morrow, R.H., & Ross, D.A. (2015). Types of Intervention and their Development. Field Trials of Health Intervention: A Tool Box, 3rd Edition.
  3. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2016). Facing Addiction in America.
  4. American Psychological Association. (2022). Johnson Intervention.
  5. Lesser, B. (2021, November 21). A Comprehensive Guide to Johnson Treatment Model.
  6. Harm Reduction International. (2022). What is Harm Reduction?
  7. Hofmann, K. (2020). Build Better Boundaries: A Guide and Workbook. Hofmann Naturopathic.

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