What is a Substance Abuse Intervention?

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  • Written By: Liz Fernandez
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2019
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A substance abuse intervention is a technique used by families and friends of addicts to confront the problem and offer help. Whether it is alcohol, drugs, gambling, or sex addiction, a substance abuse intervention can help the addict understand the problem and take action through treatment. An intervention can be formal or informal. The purpose of both is to lead the addict to resources for help.

An informal substance abuse intervention involves having a discussion with the addict. Formal interventions involve a structured meeting with the addict. A group of family members, friends, and coworkers usually are brought together along with the substance abuser to discuss the addiction and its effects on each person’s life. This technique is often used when other avenues of help have been refused. Whether informal or formal, professionals typically suggest conducting interventions when the addict is not under the influence of his or her addiction.

When seeking a formal substance abuse intervention, the first step is to gather all the people that are close to the substance abuser. These people may be family members, friends, employers, coworkers, or neighbors. Anyone who has witnessed firsthand the physical and emotional damage caused by the substance abuser may play a role in the intervention.


The next step is to meet with a professional that can guide the intervention. This person can be a therapist or counselor with experience in substance abuse interventions who can educate the loved ones on what to expect during the intervention. The interventionist can also help them organize their comments in order to increase the chances of a successful outcome.

Meeting with the substance abuser is the final step. Under the supervision of the interventionist, the group expresses concern for the addict, presents factual evidence of the personal impact of the addiction, and presses the person to face the problem. Each participant states what consequence will occur if their loved one refuses treatment.

Professional interventionists usually advise that people involved in the process stay calm and show concern. They suggest loved ones confronting substance abusers cite specific incidents of the person’s addiction, as well as information they know firsthand. Intervention guides typically warn participants to prepare for denial and resentment from the substance abuser.

The goal of a substance abuse intervention is to get the person to attend a treatment program immediately. It is not enough for the substance abuser to promise to quit. He or she must commit to get help during the intervention in order for it to be considered a success. The guide typically will advise the participants to work out all details of the treatment, including insurance and travel arrangements, so that the substance abuser can get the help he or she needs immediately.


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