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The Role of Interventions & Getting Help with Substance Abuse

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

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Last Updated - 11/13/20

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Updated 11/13/2020

An intervention can encourage a person with an addiction or mental health issue to seek treatment so they can begin their journey toward recovery.

According to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 21.2 million Americans needed addiction treatment in 2018, but only 11.1% of them received treatment at a facility specializing in addiction. The majority of people who didn’t receive treatment felt they didn’t actually need services.

Often, people struggling with substance abuse will be reluctant to seek treatment and will not get the help they need. In these cases, friends and loved ones can approach them about their concerns in a drug or alcohol intervention with the hope that they will seek treatment. During an intervention, friends and family come together to motivate someone to seek addiction treatment. Interventions may also be used for people with mental health disorders.

What is an Intervention?

The term “intervention” is used widely to refer to a variety of medical procedures. In the mental health and addiction field, it’s when family and friends work together to encourage a person with an addiction or mental illness to seek treatment. Typically, parents, siblings, spouses, significant others and close friends will participate in an intervention. Children can also take part if they are old enough and comfortable with participating.

The ultimate goal is to get a person with an addiction and/or mental health disorder to agree to go to treatment. An intervention may be necessary if someone has a serious addiction or mental health issue but is resistant to getting help. For example, your loved one may have lost control over alcohol use but denies that it’s a problem. In this case, friends and family may plan an intervention, express their concern, and motivate them to get help.

How Do Interventions Work?

Interventions typically involve concerned family members working with a trained interventionist to develop a plan and learn what they can do to help their loved one. Then, the family and loved ones hold a meeting with the person to discuss their desire for them to seek treatment.

During an intervention meeting, loved ones share how the person’s addiction or mental illness has negatively affected them. There is a discussion about seeking and attending treatment. Loved ones often present a list of consequences the person can expect if they choose not to enter treatment.

The person with the addiction may understandably be upset or resistant. It is important to remain on task and committed to the intervention, even if it causes difficult emotions or reactions.

How to Write An Intervention Letter

Many guides about what to say during an intervention recommend using an intervention letter. You can choose to read your letter aloud at the meeting, give it to the person to read or just have a few talking points ready for the conversation.

Your letter should come from a place of love and concern and communicate to your loved one that the situation is serious and treatment is necessary. Avoid being hurtful or shaming them. Instead, list the ways that addiction has negatively affected you and your loved one. Your letter should also include a list of consequences your loved one can expect if they decline treatment. Prepare to stick to these consequences, as that consistency will be vital after the intervention.

Real Life Interventions vs. Intervention TV

Real-world interventions may be different from what is depicted on TV. For example, TV interventions are typically dramatized for entertainment purposes; this may involve family members chasing down the person or forcing them into treatment.

In a real-life intervention, people aren’t forced into treatment the way they might be on TV. Interventions on TV focus on “shock value,” as this increases views. A real-life intervention is usually meant to be more gentle and loving.

Usually, TV interventions involve a surprise meeting where a person faces the need to go to treatment. In real life, there are different types of intervention, and many of them do not involve any surprises.

Types of Interventions & Intervention Methods

An intervention plan may use one of the following common methods: 

  • Johnson Model: In the Johnson Model, you bring together loved ones who are willing to participate in an intervention. Everyone attends two planning meetings with a professional interventionist where they learn what it means to enable an addiction and determine the goals and plan for the intervention. During a secret meeting, the group confronts the person in need with the interventionist’s help, hoping to convince them to seek treatment.
  • ARISE: The ARISE intervention method is an Invitational Intervention®. It uses family meetings where the person with an addiction participates. Unlike the Johnson Model, this approach does not use secret meetings. The ARISE Method aims at a gentle and loving approach, rather than a confrontational one. Multiple meetings may be required to encourage a person to seek help.
  • CRAFT: CRAFT is an acronym for Community Reinforcement and Family Training. This intervention method teaches families skills like communicating with a person who has an addiction or mental health issue, practicing self-care, and using positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behaviors. The model avoids surprise meetings and focuses on skills needed to encourage a person to seek treatment.
  • Family Systemic Model: The family systemic model focuses on how addiction affects a person’s entire family. It guides the entire family unit toward seeking treatment and developing healthy communication skills. The person dealing with the addiction attends each meeting with their family. In the end, each family member is asked to commit to counseling so they can heal and move forward.
  • Motivational Interviewing: An addiction or mental health interventionist may use the motivational interviewing technique to overcome resistance and encourage people to seek treatment. This method acknowledges it is common for people to be resistant to entering counseling or rehab. An interventionist using this approach aims to remain empathetic and non-confrontational while listening to the person as they express desires, goals and concerns. The interventionist can motivate a person to seek treatment by pointing out how addiction may be getting in the way of their life goals.

Beyond the specific intervention method, interventions can be direct or indirect. A direct intervention involves a confrontation with the person in need, even if gently, to convince them to seek treatment. On the other hand, an indirect method does not involve the person struggling with the addiction. A professional works with family members in indirect interventions to help them change their behavior to communicate more effectively and not enable their loved one’s harmful addiction.

Interventions for Teens vs. Adults

The chosen intervention model may differ based on whether the person struggling with addiction is a teen or an adult. A family systemic approach may be most helpful for teenagers since teens often live at home with parents. Parents may be significantly affected by their child’s addiction or mental health issues and need their own counseling. Unlike adults, interventions for teens may also be more forceful: if a teen refuses treatment, parents can still choose to place them in rehab, as they have a right to seek treatment for their children.

A Johnson intervention may sometimes be necessary for adults if the family feels the adult will not willingly participate if they know the intervention beforehand. Adults may be difficult to locate, so the family may have an indirect intervention without the person where they learn how to stop enabling the person’s addiction.

When Is It Time To Stage an Intervention?

If a person’s addiction or mental health issue has gotten out of control and resulted in significant distress, it may be time to stage an intervention. For example, a person with an addiction to drugs or alcohol may continue to abuse substances even when it causes physical danger or worsens health problems. Signs and symptoms of addiction that indicate the need for an intervention vary depending on the substance used.

The right time for an intervention may also depend on the type of intervention you are conducting. If a person has a long-term addiction and has been continually resistant to seeking treatment, it may be time to stage a Johnson Intervention. This person may be unwilling to participate if they know an intervention is happening. On the other hand, a person open to discussing treatment options may be willing to participate in a CRAFT, ARISE or Family Systemic Intervention if drugs, alcohol, or mental health issues interfere with daily life.

Finding a Drug Intervention Specialist

If you want to have an intervention with a loved one, a professional interventionist can increase your chances of success. A drug intervention specialist is a professional who is trained in conducting family interventions. They are also educated in the fields of addiction, mental health and family therapy. They can offer their expertise, help the family better understand addiction and mental health and mediate any conflict that may arise.

Local addiction treatment centers, including The Recovery Village at Baptist Health, may have an interventionist in-house or have a list of professionals they can recommend. An Internet search can also provide information about intervention specialists in your area.

Do Interventions Work?

Interventions can be effective at encouraging a person with an addiction or mental health disorder to seek treatment, but they do not work for everyone. Whether an intervention works also depends on the type of intervention used and how well it fits the family’s needs.

For example, a recent study found that the CRAFT model was more effective than support groups like Al-Anon to motivate people to get help for addiction. Around two-thirds of people who participated in CRAFT ended up going to treatment. CRAFT was also twice as effective as the Johnson Intervention model in this study, so this may be a preferred approach for some people.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has also cautioned that aggressive or forceful confrontation is the least effective way to get people to change their behaviors. While some interventions may be more effective than others, ultimately, each intervention strategy’s effectiveness will vary from person to person and family to family.

When Interventions Don’t Work

Sometimes, even with the best intentions, an intervention will not go as planned, and a person may refuse treatment. In this case, it may be beneficial to evaluate the chosen intervention method. Perhaps the approach was too forcible and confrontational. Consulting a professional who uses motivational interviewing techniques may be helpful to encourage your loved one to accept treatment. This approach is nonjudgmental and gentler than other approaches.

In cases where a loved one still will not accept treatment, it may be helpful for family members to participate in a CRAFT intervention. Even if the person of concern is not willing to be a part of the intervention, a trained interventionist using the CRAFT method can teach family members how they can change their own behaviors to benefit the person with the addiction. Ultimately, the changes that family members make may lead the loved one to seek treatment.

Choosing a Drug and Alcohol Rehab Center

It’s important to choose a drug and alcohol rehab center before holding an intervention. Ideally, if the loved one chooses to seek help, a rehab center should already be lined up so the person can quickly begin treatment.

If you are looking for treatment in Florida for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders, The Recovery Village at Baptist Health is here to help. Our addiction specialists offer medical detoxinpatientoutpatientpartial hospitalization and teletherapy services. Contact us today to learn how we can meet the needs of your loved one following an intervention.

View Sources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” August 2019. Accessed October 4, 2020.

American Psychological Association. “Johnson Intervention.” 2011. Accessed October 5, 2020.

ARISE Network. “An Overview Of ARISE® Comprehensive Care With Intervention.” 2020. Accessed October 5, 2020.

Center for Motivation and Change. “What is CRAFT.” 2014. Accessed October 5, 2020.

Association of Intervention Specialists. “What is the Family Systemic Model?”  May 2, 2017. Accessed October 5, 2020.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Enhancing Motivation for Change in Substance Abuse Treatment.”  1999. Accessed October 5, 2020.

Hendrik G. Roozen, Ranne De Waart, and Petra Van Der Kroft. “Community Reinforcement and Family Training: An Effective Option to Engage Treatment-Resistant Substance-Abusing Individuals in Treatment.” Addiction, 2010. Accessed October 5, 2020.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Enhancing Motivation for Change in Substance Use Disorder Treatment.” 2019. Accessed October 6, 2020.