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What is an Intervention for Alcohol?

An alcohol intervention is an opportunity for relatives and friends to present their loved one with the chance to accept their alcohol problem and make changes before the problem becomes even worse.

An intervention can help in the following ways:

  • Provides the opportunity for friends and relatives to offer examples of how their substance use has been destructive 
  • Gives healthcare professionals and family members the chance to explain a course of treatment
  • Presents an addicted individual with the consequences of their actions if they do not seek treatment

What is the Goal of an Intervention?

Complete abstinence from alcohol is not always the goal of an alcohol intervention. Some people learn selective drinking behaviors and take themselves out of a cycle of alcohol use.

However, giving up alcohol entirely and maintaining a life of sobriety may be the only way some people can recover from alcohol addiction.

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Success Rate of Alcohol Interventions

There is little data or evidence available on the effectiveness of interventions. This is likely because a successful intervention is challenging to define.

Individuals are more likely to seek treatment when they experience an intervention, but they do not always affect the outcome of the treatment itself.7

If individuals seek treatment without being completely committed to sobriety, they may be less likely to get better.

4 Types of Interventions for Alcohol Addiction

There are various types of interventions for alcohol addiction, including:

1. The Simple Intervention

In some cases, only one friend or family member is all it takes to introduce change instead of staging a big gathering to confront someone.

A one-on-one intervention is effective whether carried out alone or with an intervention team.

2. The Classical Intervention

When a classical intervention is organized, everyone but the addicted individual must be present to work. This intervention involves counseling and education for all participants and family members.

It may be important to discuss a family member's role in this type of intervention before attending it. Participants in the intervention can prepare themselves for any outcomes that may occur from a counselor or intervention team.

3. Family System Intervention 

Family system interventions depend on the family frameworks hypothesis and treatment.

When different people in a family struggle with codependency, this intervention can help address the dependence and family bonds. All relatives are encouraged to participate in family guiding and training.

4. Crisis Intervention

Those suffering from alcoholism and drug dependence sometimes undergo a crisis in their lives that clarifies they require treatment from their friends and family.

Addicted people can become a danger to themselves and others, and a planned intervention may be necessary. 

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What to Expect: How Interventions Work

An intervention meeting usually involves several steps. Interventions require a carefully planned process with specific attention to the addicted person’s requirements and circumstances.

It is best to contact a doctor or addiction professional for help in planning the intervention. You may decide to invite them to attend the intervention to share relevant medical and treatment information.

1. Preparing others for the intervention

An intervention can be an extremely dramatic, emotionally charged experience. It has the potential to introduce a sense of betrayal or resentment from the addicted person.

Seek support from a healthcare professional to learn how best to respond to these circumstances.

2. Gathering an intervention team

The person with the addiction may refuse to take part or leave the intervention meeting. Friends and family should be present in the intervention team to offer support. If the addicted person is a minor, a parent often leads the group.

If the addicted person is married or has a partner, their spouse usually leads. Facing an alcohol or drug problem can be very lonely and scary. Seeing how many friends and family members are willing to support them may provide the boost of encouragement they need to seek treatment.

3. Giving consequences

In many cases, the first time someone is met with an alcohol intervention, they reject the statements and walk away. This behavior should be met with consequences that demonstrate how serious the intervention team members are. 

These consequences may include:

  • Losing visitation rights with children
  • Removing their car
  • Asking them to move out until they are ready to start treatment

4. Sharing

Each member of the planning group should speak during the intervention. This is meant to help the addicted individual understand their friends and family's worries and feelings regarding their health and well-being.

5. Presenting treatment options

Once every member of the intervention group has spoken, the addicted person should be presented with detailed recommendations for a treatment plan. The individual can accept the offer there and then, or the group may be willing to give them a few days to decide.

Who Should Attend an Intervention?

An intervention team typically includes four to six people who are important to the person struggling with an addiction. These are people they love, like, respect, or depend on. This may include a best friend, adult relatives, or a member of your loved one’s faith.4

Intervention specialists can help you decide the appropriate members for your team.

Who Shouldn’t Attend an Intervention?

Do not include in the intervention anyone who: 4

  • Your loved one dislikes
  • Has an unmanaged mental health problem or substance use problem
  • May not be able to limit what they say during the planning meeting
  • May sabotage the intervention

If you think it is essential to have someone involved but worry that it may start a problem during the intervention, consider asking that individual to write a short letter. Someone else can read it at the intervention.

How Long Does an Intervention Take?

Interventions typically last between 30 and 90 minutes. However, there is no set time.

Alternative Options for Alcohol Interventions

Interventions are not always suitable or possible for some families. For some people, a full-scale intervention can create more harm than good. It may cause further distrust and push your loved one further into their substance use disorder (SUD).

An alternative to an intervention is Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT). This treatment allows family and friends to become empowered and do what is best for their loved ones.

CRAFT delivers a comprehensive strategy for family members and friends. The strategy enables them to interact well with loved ones with an alcohol or drug use problem. CRAFT strategies help people learn how to show their loved one that they require treatment and how they can get their life back from addiction.

CRAFT teaches friends and family members how to: 

  • Identify their loved one’s triggers for and results of their alcohol use
  • Stop the patterns that lead to or increase a loved one’s drinking or drug use
  • Develop and improve communication skills to better express their needs and requests
  • Help their loved ones access effective addiction treatment resources when they show interest in treatment
  • Learn or re-learn how to look after themselves and reconnect with their values so that they can still lead a healthy life
  • If violence or the potential for violence exists, help friends and family members identify triggers for violence and create plans to keep themselves and their children safe

How to Find a Professional Interventionist 

The most reliable way to find a professional intervention specialist right for your loved one’s situation is to reach out to an addiction treatment center. You can be sure that any professional interventionist or mental health professional they recommend is carefully vetted and dependable.4

What if an Intervention is Unsuccessful?

In some cases, an addicted individual is not ready to accept treatment. The intervention may set off more destructive behaviors or complicate the relationships between the addicted person and the intervention group members.

No matter the result of the intervention, it is essential to be patient and stick with your plans to implement consequences. This part of the intervention process may help the addicted person realize the impact of their drinking has on loved ones. It may help encourage them to seek treatment.

Resources

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Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2014

Alcohol Facts and Statistics, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, June 2021

Alcohol use disorder, Mayo Clinic, July 2018

Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction, Mayo Clinic, July 2017

Moyer, Anne, and John W Finney. “Brief interventions for alcohol misuse.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne vol. 187,7 (2015): 502-506

Tanner-Smith, Emily E, and Mark W Lipsey. “Brief alcohol interventions for adolescents and young adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Journal of substance abuse treatment vol. 51 (2015): 1-18

Joel L. Young M.D., Drug and Alcohol Interventions: Do They Work?, Psychology Today, August 2014

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