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Alcoholism Intervention: How to Help Someone with Alcohol Use Disorder

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

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Last Updated - 12/29/22

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There are many types of alcohol interventions to choose from to encourage a person with addiction to seek treatment and begin the journey toward recovery.

People often use the term “alcoholism” to refer to an alcohol use disorder, the clinical term for alcohol addiction. While alcohol use can be safe in moderation, when a person drinks heavily and cannot control alcohol consumption, an alcohol use disorder can develop.

An addiction professional like a psychologist or social worker specializing in substance abuse can diagnose an alcohol use disorder.

Some signs of an alcohol use disorder or alcoholism include:

  • Drinking more alcohol than intended
  • Experiencing strong alcohol cravings
  • Drinking despite health problems that are made worse by alcohol
  • Consuming alcohol even when it causes physical danger
  • Being unable to stop drinking

Showing one or more of the signs above can mean you or a loved one has developed an alcohol use disorder that requires professional treatment. In some cases, people may be reluctant to seek treatment for alcoholism. If so, an intervention, in which loved ones convince a person to seek help for an addiction, may be warranted.

Alcohol Abuse Intervention Strategies

If a family member or loved one shows signs of an alcohol use disorder and is resistant to seeking treatment, an alcohol intervention may be necessary. A variety of intervention types are available, so each family or group can choose the alcohol intervention model that fits their needs.

Related Topic: Alcohol use Disorder

There are also different strategies for approaching the intervention. Most people probably imagine a more direct model, in which family members and friends hold a meeting to confront someone about an addiction. However, there are also indirect models where the person struggling with addiction may not want to participate. In these models, family and friends come together to discuss changes they can make to stop enabling the addiction. Some people may also be involved in forcible interventions. For example, they may be court-ordered to attend treatment if they face criminal charges or convictions due to alcohol abuse.

Some specific intervention models for alcoholism include the following:

  • Johnson Model: According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the Johnson Model involves caregivers confronting a person about their alcohol addiction. With this type of intervention, you determine which individuals from your loved one’s social life will be willing to participate in the intervention. The group comes together for two planning meetings, in which you learn about the consequences of enabling an addiction and develop goals and problem-solving strategies for the intervention. Your group then holds the intervention meeting with the help of a therapist and confronts the person about the alcohol addiction.
  • ARISE: The ARISE alcohol intervention method uses a technique called the “invitational intervention.” Repeated family meetings gradually increase in intensity to guide your loved one toward seeking treatment. The individual with the alcohol addiction is invited to meetings from the very start, so there are no surprises. Rather than using a confrontational approach, ARISE is gentle and loving.
  • CRAFT: CRAFT is an acronym for Community Reinforcement and Family Training. The CRAFT alcohol intervention model teaches families how to communicate with a person who is addicted to alcohol, practice self-care and use positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behaviors. The model can also teach you how to get a person with an addiction to accept treatment, but it does not use surprise confrontational meetings.
  • Family Systemic Model: The family systemic alcohol intervention model is based on how addiction affects the person struggling with substance abuse and their family members and friends. This model guides the entire family toward seeking treatment and developing healthy communication patterns. The family systemic model does not use any secretive meetings; the person living with the addiction attends all meetings. There may be more than one intervention meeting, but ultimately, everyone in the family is asked to commit to counseling to heal from the effects of addiction.
  • Motivational Interviewing: An alcohol interventionist may use the motivational interviewing technique to help people overcome their resistance to seeking treatment. This method understands it is normal for people to have some resistance toward seeking treatment for alcoholism. An interventionist using motivational interviewing remains empathetic and non-confrontational while looking for opportunities to point out how your loved one’s addiction may be interfering with their goals or desires.

Related: What is Motivation Interviewing? (Webinar)

Regardless of the alcohol intervention model you choose, it is important to have significant people from the person’s life involved. Typically, parents, siblings, spouses or significant others and close friends are involved in an intervention. Older children may also be involved, as appropriate. In some cases, a specific support person, such as a church pastor or a colleague, may participate.

When is an Intervention for Alcohol Abuse Needed?

Alcohol use and even binge drinking are socially accepted, so it can be difficult to determine if your loved one truly needs an intervention. A 2020 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found over 25% of U.S. adults admitted to binge drinking in the past month. In a society comfortable with binge drinking, the lines between habit and addiction can become blurry.

An intervention for alcohol abuse is needed when someone crosses the line from habitual drinking to a clinical disorder. Alcohol use disorder involves symptoms like strong cravings for alcohol, inability to stop drinking, and continuing to drink even when it’s negatively affecting a person’s health. If your loved one seems to have lost control over alcohol use and is drinking despite serious consequences, drinking is not just a habit. In this case, an alcohol intervention is necessary.

How to Stage an Intervention for Alcohol Abuse

Even if an intervention is needed, approaching the subject can be difficult. These tips can support the intervention and help make it successful:

  • Consult an addiction professional or alcohol interventionist to determine the best way to intervene with your loved one. Alcohol interventionists have extensive training and experience in addiction and treatment procedures, so they can help you make a plan.
  • Rehearse what will be discussed in the meeting during the planning phase. Writing out your thoughts beforehand can be helpful. Discuss with your interventionist and your group how to change your behavior moving forward and what consequences may be necessary after the intervention takes place.
  • Stick to the plan during the intervention. All participating members need to stick to their plan, even if your loved one appears upset or resistant. It’s best not to deviate from established consequences if your loved one refuses treatment or isn’t open to discussion. Continuing behavior that enables the alcohol addiction hurts everyone.

However you decide to intervene, always consider your loved one’s safety first. In some cases, stopping alcohol use can be dangerous. According to a 2013 report, severe alcohol withdrawal can lead to seizures or a potentially fatal condition called delirium tremens. When staging an intervention, it is vital to consider whether the person struggling with addiction may require medically-supervised detox to prevent serious alcohol withdrawal complications.

Interventions for Teenage Alcohol Abuse

Your choice of alcohol intervention model may look different for a teenage loved one. Since teenagers often live at home with parents, the family systemic model may be a suitable fit for this age group. It helps families communicate in a healthy way and asks the entire family to seek counseling.

The CRAFT model also guides the entire family toward seeking treatment and can be beneficial for teens. Teens may prefer this model to more aggressive approaches. The CRAFT model is especially appropriate since it urges the whole family unit to participate in counseling. This approach can also help parents recover from the devastating effects of having a child who is addicted to alcohol.

Are Alcohol Interventions Effective?

Alcohol interventions are effective for many families. However, an alcohol intervention does not always convince a person to seek treatment despite best intentions. An alcohol interventionist may be beneficial for some, but this approach does not work for everyone.

Researchers have collected promising data about alcohol interventions. In a 2010 study, the CRAFT model was about twice as effective as the Johnson Intervention model for encouraging people to go to treatment. In this study, about two-thirds of people who completed a CRAFT intervention entered treatment.

Alcohol interventions are effective, and some models may be more beneficial than others in general. Ultimately, whether an intervention works and what model is most effective will depend upon each family’s unique situation and needs.

Alternatives for Alcoholism Interventions

In cases where an alcoholism intervention is not the best option, you may benefit from a brief intervention for alcohol abuse. In brief interventions, a primary care doctor provides this level of care during a routine office visit.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a doctor or other healthcare provider can quickly complete a screening tool called the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test during an appointment. Based on this screening’s results, the provider may educate patients about the risks of heavy alcohol use and motivate them to change their drinking habits or seek treatment.

A brief intervention during a primary care visit may also involve a short counseling session. These brief sessions can motivate people to seek additional treatment or accept a referral to more intensive services, much like an alcoholism intervention can.

Finding Help for Alcohol Abuse in Florida

If you are looking for treatment for alcohol abuse in the state of Florida, chemical dependency hotlines can take your call. Hotline staff can provide you with information about local treatment services and refer you to a provider that suits your needs.

The Recovery Village at Baptist Health’s team of addiction specialists can also guide you and your family through planning an intervention and getting your loved one into treatment. Call us today to get answers to any questions you have and begin the process.

Other FAQs About Alcohol

Is alcohol a drug?

As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol has the effects of a drug. This means it alters the functioning of the nervous system and can affect mood, thinking and behavior.

Is alcohol addictive?

Alcohol can be addictive for some people, especially those who drink heavily. If someone develops an alcohol addiction, it is called an alcohol use disorder.

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is another word for an addiction to alcohol. Someone who becomes addicted to alcohol loses control over their drinking.

What are the signs of alcohol addiction?

Diagnostic criteria for a clinical alcohol addiction include signs such as strong alcohol cravings, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes health problems and being unable to stop drinking.

View Sources

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Use Disorder.” Accessed October 1, 2020.

American Psychological Association. “Johnson Intervention.” 2011. Accessed October 1, 2020.

ARISE Network. “An Overview Of ARISE® Comprehensive Care With Intervention.” 2020. Accessed October 1, 2020.

Center for Motivation and Change. “What is CRAFT.” 2014. Accessed October 1, 2020.

Association of Intervention Specialists. “What is the Family Systemic Model?”  May 2, 2017. Accessed October 1, 2020.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Enhancing Motivation for Change in Substance Abuse Treatment.”  1999. Accessed October 1, 2020.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” February 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020.

Shivanand Kattimani and Balaji Bharadwaj. “Clinical Management of Alcohol Withdrawal: A Systematic Review.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 2013. Accessed October 2, 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 2, 2020.

World Health Organization. “Screening and Brief Intervention for Alcohol Problems in Primary Health Care.” 2020. Accessed October 2, 2020.

World Health Organization. “Brief Intervention for Substance Use: A Manual for Use in Primary Care.” 2003. Accessed October 2, 2020.