How Do You Do An Intervention?

To stage an intervention, set an appropriate time and place, prepare the right mindset and most importantly, get the help of an Intervention Specialist.

First, in order to set the tone, an initial intervention should be done at a conducive place.

It is useful to remember that the end goal of this initial intervention goal is to get the concerned person professional help.

Second, in order to motivate a person with alcohol and/or substance use disorder to seek professional intervention, family members and/or loved ones must have the right mind-set.

Alcohol and/or drug addiction is a health condition requiring professional attention.

Highly-regarded evidence has shown that alcohol and/or substance use disorders can be effectively treated with comprehensive continuing care [1].

Like other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, alcohol and/or drug addiction should be approached as a disease with a strong behavioural component.

The third step in staging an intervention is to invite the presence of an Intervention Specialist.

Having an Intervention Specialist or another helping professional can communicate to the concerned person that:

  • Nobody is “out to get them”
  • Family members and/or loved ones have the concerned person’s well-being in mind
  • Support is available/ there is adequate and professional help

Individuals with alcohol and/or substance abuse disorder tend not to be receptive if they feel harshly judged.

An intervention staged solely by family members and/or loved ones can be perceived as threatening.

There is a tendency for the concerned person to think:

“They are ganging up on me.”

Whilst, the presence of a third-party, with an objective, the professional stance can communicate to the person that:

  • “We are here to help.”
  • “It is a problem we will solve together.”
  • “You are not alone in this.”

In addition, an Intervention Specialist can help family members and/or loved ones put together:

  • Well-thought-out plans about what to do next
  • Ideas about possible alcohol and/or drug treatment program
  • A helpful and sympathetic tone to carry out the message

Because the initial intervention may be the first time the concerned person is made aware of the problems brought about by addiction, an emotional scene is almost unavoidable.

An Intervention Specialist can mediate between loved ones and the person concerned so that both parties do not feel aggravated or antagonized.

It must be remembered that this initial intervention is just a run-up to the long process of change that the concerned person and his/her supports will face.

What Happens In An Intervention?

In an intervention, a person with substance abuse problems is approached by his or her significant others and an Intervention Consultant to talk about the difficulties caused by addictive behaviour.

Significant others pertain to:

  • Adult family members – spouse/partners, siblings, parents
  • Adult children of the concerned individual
  • Community members – neighbours, members of the clergy, etc.
  • Friends
  • Colleagues at work

Working together, the significant others and the Intervention Consultant try to convince the concerned individual to go to a rehab clinic.

The particular steps taken for successful intervention are:

  1. Contacting the Intervention Consultant
  2. Family members and/or loved ones formulate a strategic Intervention Plan with the consultant; they also check in with each other
  3. The significant others write down in advance what they want to say to the concerned person
  4. A specific time and place are prepared for the event.
  5. The concerned person is gently nudged towards attending the intervention in the appointed date
  6. The significant others take turns talking about the impact of the addictive behaviours in their respective lives.
  7. The Intervention Consultant mediates between the significant others and the concerned person
  8. The most positive outcome would be for the concerned person to agree to enter treatment in a rehab clinic or a similar facility as soon as possible.

To take advantage of the opportunity as soon as it exists, it can be helpful to ensure that a slot is available for the concerned person to go to if he or she agrees to seek treatment.

In addition, the following elements can lead to a successful outcome:

  • Empathic communication
  • A non-judgmental stance
  • A plan that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely (SMART)
  • And a tone that the concerned person is not condemned or judged

Even if the concerned person does not take action immediately, an intervention is not considered an utter failure.

Some individuals may take longer than others to seek help.

Often times, bringing up the issues about the concerned person’s addictive behaviour is already a powerful move.

Chances are, the concerned person would respond to the message.

Hopefully, he or she finds the motivation to change.

What Is The Purpose Of An Intervention?

The main purpose of an intervention is to help a person with health problems find ways to cope better with life.

According to health experts [2], the term “intervention” means activities aimed to improve a person’s life by:

  • preventing a disease
  • curing a disease
  • lessening the number of symptoms of a disease
  • reducing the negative impacts of the disease
  • shortening the time the disease is felt
  • restoring functions lost because of disease
  • helping the person recover or adapt to new ways of doing things after an injury

Because alcoholism and substance abuse are both considered diseases, they can be treated with interventions.

The formal term for alcoholism as a disease is “Alcohol Use Disorder”.

Meanwhile, persons who have problems with drugs have a “substance use disorder”.

For these problems, a rehab facility such as Abbeycare Gloucester can help by offering interventions such as:

  • 12 Step Facilitation
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • Family-therapy
  • Dialectic Based Therapy
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy

In a rehab clinic, an intervention can be classified according to how many people participate in the activity.

Some individuals prefer to participate in Group Therapy.

Some individuals Individual rely on Individual Therapy.

Usually, both group and individual interventions are offered side-by-side.

The logic is they complement each other.

Lessons learned from Individual Therapy can be explored in Group Therapy before being applied outside the rehab facility.

Interventions can also be classified according to the problem targeted. This is why some programs are named:

  • Alcohol Abuse Intervention
  • Drug Abuse Intervention
  • Substance Abuse Intervention (for simultaneous addiction to many substances, called poly-addiction)
  • Behavioural Addiction Intervention (for addiction to sex, gambling and pornography)

Also, there are preventive interventions geared towards changing behaviours target specific groups of people.

For example, some interventions target:

  • Overweight individuals to encourage exercise
  • Teenagers to help raise awareness of problems associated with drug use
  • Pregnant women to explain the benefits of breastfeeding

With these programmes, education is paramount.

However, it is not enough to merely educate the target population.

If individuals are not motivated to change, or if they lack the resources, no new skills will be learnt.

Whatever goal an intervention has, a structured environment provides much-needed support [3].

In a safe place such as a rehab clinic, a hospital, or a community centre, individuals can be adequately supported while learning essential new skills.

Specifically, structured environments help by: [4]

  • Reducing anxiety about unpredictable events – a person in rehab is already dealing with a lot of changes
  • Maintaining and monitoring group dynamics, so everybody plays fair
  • Providing dedicated and professional help when clients ask for it
  • Continuous supervision and guidance

How Long Does An Intervention Last?

An intervention can last 1.5 hours to 2 hours.

This time frame applies to initial interventions such as those intended to motivate individuals with substance alcohol and/or substance abuse issues to seek professional help.

Taken from guidelines used in time-limited group therapy [5], 1 to 2 hours would be enough time for a group of people to discuss a tough issue such as substance abuse without causing fatigue.

As for interventions that happen inside a rehab clinic or an outpatient program, the duration of an intervention depends on the specific type of intervention.

  • For individual therapy sessions –  45 to 50 minutes [6]
  • For group therapy sessions –  75-120 minutes [7].

Recent research says that 15 to 20 sessions can be good enough for 50% of individuals to say the treatment done was effective.  [8]:

Some psychological conditions can take 12 to 16 weekly sessions for significant changes to occur.

Mostly, therapists and their clients prefer to continue treatment over longer periods of time in order to reap the positive benefits.

Some therapists and clients use up 20 to 30 sessions, lasting a period of six months.

The amount of time spent in therapy or intervention depends on the problem tackled.

With alcohol and/or substance abuse, inpatient treatment in a rehab clinic lasts approximately 28 days.

Therapeutic interventions that happen within the rehab facility are generally conducted twice a day, lasting form one hour to two hours.

In a structured environment typical of a rehab clinic, interventions are expected to:

  • Foster independence and feelings of competence
  • Encourage self-efficacy
  • Help restore planning and decision-making skills
  • Decrease challenging and/or aggressive behaviour
  • Promote engagement in community
  • Facilitate friendly social interactions with others
  • Provide predictability in day-to-day functions

After the duration of the rehab stay, clients are encouraged to keep in touch with therapists and to seek further help if needed.


Article references

  1.   US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Available at:
  2.   Smith. P., Morrow, R.H., & Ross D.A. (eds.) (2015). Field Trials of Health Interventions: A Toolbox. 3rd edition. Available at:
  3.   Yen, I. Syme, S. (1999). The Social Environment and Health: A discussion of the Epidemiologic Literature. Available at:
  4.   The Conversation. (2019). How rehab helps heavy alcohol users think differently. Available at:
  5.   Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (1999). Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse. Available at:
  6.   American Psychological Association. (2019). Understanding psychotherapy and how it works. Available at:
  7.   Group Therapy. Available at:
  8.   American Psychological Association. (2019). How Long Will It Take for Treatment to Work? Available at:

About the author

Melany Heger

Registered Psychologist and Freelance Writer, Jinjin Melany passionately writes about mental health issues, addiction, eating disorders and parenting since 2015. Read more about Melany on LinkedIn. Content reviewed by Laura Morris (Clinical Lead).