Loving a drug addict is terrifying.

Approximately 175 Americans die every day from drug overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. For the family and friends of someone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, this fact fills every waking moment with dread.

You can help your loved one get the help they so desperately need by staging an intervention. In an intervention, loved ones confront the addict/alcoholic about their substance abuse problem and offer help.

This article walks you through how to stage an intervention.


Step 1: Gather the core group

The friends and family members who will make up the intervention team should meet. Don’t include anyone who:

  • The addict doesn’t like
  • Has their own untreated addiction problem
  • Might sabotage the intervention

You’ll need to figure out whether you should hire an addiction specialist or interventionist to facilitate the process. This is a professional who gathers information about your addict, recommends treatment options and leads the effort on intervention day.

Can you hold an intervention without one? Yes. However, having an expert at the helm keeps everyone on track and sets the intervention up for the best possible outcome. You should especially consider hiring one if your addict:

  • Has a history of mental illness and/or violence
  • Has recently spoken about or attempted suicide
  • Will likely show up under the influence of several substances

You can find an interventionist in your city from the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence affiliate list or the Association of Intervention Specialists.

Step 2: Find treatment

Someone needs to be in charge of finding treatment options for your loved one. If you hire an interventionist, they’ll do it; if not, you’ll need to place a friend or family member in charge of this important task.

To find appropriate treatment:

  • Find out the addict’s health insurance information (if they have any)
  • Ask a family doctor, mental health professional or someone active in recovery for recommendations
  • Use the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  • Leverage 211.org, a free site that connects people to local resources

Use this information to develop a plan that includes clear steps and goals. Figure this all out ahead of time, so you you can present them to your addict in a clear-cut manner on the day of the intervention. If there are a lot of open-ended questions, your loved one may refuse to go.

Don’t forget about detox. Your loved one may need to be medically detoxed before they can enter treatment, especially if they are abusing alcohol, opiates/heroin, benzodiazepines or stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine. This could take up to five days. Build this time into your plan.

Step 3: Decide on consequences

Everyone should come to the intervention with two things prepared:

  • Specific examples of the addict’s destructive behavior and their impact on the addict, friends and family members
  • Specific consequences of what each person will do if the addict refuses treatment

Examples of consequences include cutting off financial support, asking the addict to move out, cutting off contact with children, etc. Don’t threaten a consequence if you can’t follow through. Some people choose to write these things out and read them to the addict, while others simply talk to their loved one. Either way is fine.

InterventionStep 4: Intervention day

It’s OK to be scared. Breathe; you’re doing the best possible thing you can do for your loved one. To help the intervention go as smoothly as possible:

  • Don’t reveal the reason you’re meeting to the addict ahead of time
  • Remain calm and rational — heightened emotion is fine and expected, but hostility is not
  • Stick to the plan, anticipate the addict’s objections and don’t get derailed easily
  • Ask for an immediate decision (no, they can’t have time to think it over)

What if they say no?

The sad reality is that your loved one may refuse treatment. If that happens, stick to the consequences you set forth in the intervention, and take heart — many addicts seek help down the line. In the meantime, you need to stay healthy for you. Seek support from a group like Al-Anon or Parents of Addicted Loved Ones.