Interventions & Legal Options
Interventions are simply conversations where those who know, love and trust your loved one discuss how addiction can be overcome.
If they blew you off when you brought up the topic of treatment privately, an intervention is your best route. Even if you’ve had an intervention before, you can always have another or explore legal options. People enter treatment after honest conversations with loved ones and with some external motivations.
You don’t have to wait for something to happen. The intervention process ensures your love and desperation is heard. They cannot live in the denial that they aren’t hurting you or that you don’t care about them.
Planning an Intervention
Select 5-6 people who’ve been impacted by the drug or alcohol use and are invested in your loved one’s future. Consider spouses, parents, siblings and close friends. Don’t include people your loved one doesn’t like or trust, or anyone that may disrupt with anger or by coming to their defense – including those they use or drink with.
You may feel a child is too young, but they already see and feel the pain. Their innocence and honesty can be powerful. If you’re uncomfortable, ask them to draw pictures of your family to see if they include addiction-related behaviors — yelling, sickness, missed events, sleeping, hospital stays, etc.
Interventionists have advanced training in the science of addiction and know how to plan and hold effective talks. Look to include a professional if:
- they have a history of violence, anger issues or suicide attempts
- you’ve held unsuccessful interventions in the past
- you don’t have at least four other people to attend
- they have an obvious mental health disorder or psychiatric state
You can get recommendations by calling (888) 492-1633. If Ambrosia is the right fit, your intervention assistance could be free.
If not, costs aren’t usually covered by insurance and range from $1,800 to $10,000 — based on factors like credentials, experience, travel and intensity of the addiction. Though not a substitute, clergy or family therapists can offer free or low-cost guidance.
Addiction only gets worse without treatment, so act quickly. You don’t need to wait for something bad to happen. There’s nothing to be gained by waiting and no such thing as “too soon” to discuss your concerns.
Choose a time in the next few days when everyone can be there, and your loved one is most likely to be sober.
Try to find a private, neutral place. People tend to be on their best behavior in settings like therapy offices or conference rooms, and it’s harder to walk out or hide in new surroundings. It also sends a message of seriousness. Consider contacting churches or community centers.
If your loved one is homeless or on the run, the team will have to go to them — maybe a hospital bed, shelter or jail.
If you don’t know where they are, you can call the police to file a missing person report after 24 hours without contact. When police locate your loved one, they’ll be asked to call you and the police can provide their location. At that point, you can try to meet them (if safe), call them an Uber or urge them to come home or meet you at another location. (NOTE: If they’re doing something illegal or are delusional, they can be arrested or taken to a hospital).
Telling them that you think there’s a problem isn’t enough to stop the addiction. They need professional help.
1. Understand Treatment Options
If you haven’t already, visit the treatment page to learn about the process, what to look for in a facility and what to expect financially.
2. Select a facility
Research facilities and be able to talk about why you suggest a treatment option.
3. Prepare for Admission
Figure out what steps are required for admission and have everything ready in advance, so they go immediately.
4. Plan Transportation
There should be no stalling between the intervention and admitting to treatment. Have a plan to ensure they physically get there. Book any plane tickets ahead of time or during the meeting.
An intervention doesn’t have to be a surprise. If you think they’ll show up, ask them to join. You can be transparent about who will be there and why you’re meeting with a compassionate, yet firm tone. Having someone on the team pick them up and ride together is ideal.
“Your family and I are going meet to talk about your drinking. I know you don’t think there’s a problem, but I really hope you join us. We know how unhappy you’ve been since your mom died. We all want to say how we can and will support you.”
If you don’t think they’ll show up, you can make an excuse for why they need to go or use an already confirmed event (like Monday family dinners). If nothing else, the team can all go to their house.
Meet as a team beforehand to get on the same page and remove any isolation and secrecy. Friends may know more about the seriousness of what’s going on than a spouse…or divorced parents may be taking different approaches. It’s not about blame, shame or guilt. Unify around the goal of treatment and help each other feel better.
What can each team member do (or stop doing) to help make treatment a reality? How are you going to get them to show up to the intervention? What is expected of each person during the intervention?
Ask “what if” to prepare for worst-case scenarios and plan the team’s best response. What if the person is drunk, storms out and drives away? Maybe we agree to report them to police. Come together as a team to create a solid plan and to support each other regardless of the outcome.
What Should I Say?
Most people prefer to write down their thoughts ahead of time to stay focused on the most important points.
Open With Affection
Starting any talk with negativity causes the person to shut down or respond with attacks. Leading with love and support helps them understand that the conversation won’t be about judgment or yelling, but an expression of concern from those that love and respect them.
“I have always believed in you…You’re one of the most important people in my life….I love you.”
Describe Specific Behaviors
Denial is part of addiction. Evidence of behaviors you’ve seen firsthand can help them think more critically about their drug and alcohol use. Examples include — impaired driving, arrests, skipped family functions, missed work or reduced contributions at home.
“I got the phone call that you were arrested for a DUI when I was putting Megan to bed on Friday around 9. I was angry at the idea that driving like that could’ve killed a little girl like our Megan, and I was worried about your health and safety.”
Facts and statements that begin with “I” are most effective. The idea that “I’m not hurting anyone” should be obviously disproved. It doesn’t matter if they don’t want to be hurting you or if they don’t want you to care. You do!
If your loved one is already in desperate shape (homeless, jobless, etc.) you can skip this part.
Detail the Physical Consequences
Emotional and financial damage caused by addiction might not be enough. Research long-term effects and statistics and share the undeniable, objective information.
“Six people die a day from alcohol poisoning. You know you have dangerously high blood pressure and drinking makes that worse. The more you drink, the more likely you are to become a statistic. And, I need you.”
Outline Treatment Options
Discuss how treatment works and why it’s the best next step. To help ease their mind, talk about the specific facility and reassure them you will be there for them. Proactively address excuses and use statistics about the effectiveness of treatment (even they haven’t had success in the past).
“I want you to get the right treatment. I feel Ambrosia is the best option because it has the highest accreditation and positive reviews. It’s adult-only in Singer Island, Florida with marriage counseling, so I can understand how to support you. You’ll be surrounded by palm trees and on the water, so you can relax. Ambrosia will take care of the paperwork with your job. They won’t know the specifics, and we’ll still get short-term disability. You might be nervous to go to Florida, but long-term recovery is five times more likely after rehab. I promise to support you during and after treatment. I care about you, and I want to see you happy and healthy. Will you please accept this offer of treatment?”
As soon as your loved one agrees, nail down the specifics. The more your loved one feels committed to the plan, the better. Their buy-in will only decrease as time passes.
If treatment is refused, state consequences
Over half of interventions end successfully without even talking about consequences. However, if treatment is still refused, consequences may push them to say “yes.”
Consequences must be meaningful and enforced immediately. Since consequences are not negotiable, don’t engage in arguments or accept half agreements.
You need to be emotionally and operationally prepared to enforce the consequences. If you said you’d kick them out of your house, you’re hoping a bed in treatment is more appealing than couch surfing or sleeping in their car. The reality is, you may have to call the police to follow-through. As heart-wrenching as it may be, the consequences cannot be idle threats.
It may feel harsh to set consequences for someone who is struggling but keeping them comfortable in addiction gives them no motivation to change. You can control what behaviors you tolerate. You can choose to be more present for others that also need you. And, you can regain their respect.
- Older children choosing to live with grandparents
- A husband moving out of a shared house
- Parents cutting off all financial support (including paying rent or school)
Remember, the goal is to motivate them to seek treatment.
Guide the conversation
Each person should get the chance to share their love, feelings and observations about the drug or alcohol use, always ending with a request to get help.
Your loved one should be asked to listen until one person is finished, then be given a chance to share their feelings.
As they talk, really listen and try to relate. Don’t accept excuses, but if they open up about their emotions, validate their feelings.
SAY: “I understand you were hurt when grandpa died. You were very close. I also miss him.”
NOT: “We’re not here to talk about grandpa, we’re here to talk about your drug use.”
You loved one may say or do things that are frustrating but get through it as a team. Respectfully redirect team members that are unable to control their anger or use humor.
SAY: “I understand you’re frustrated, but we’re here to come together and support John. Let’s move on to Lisa.”
If your loved one does these things, dig into it. Try to get them to figure out why they’re acting like that.
Ask: “What specifically is making you so angry right now, John?”
You’ll likely face plenty of pushback. In their mind, every excuse is valid. Though, from the outside, it’s obvious that nothing is more important for their health, family and future than ending addiction.
“I need my job” or “I can’t go to rehab because I’ll lose my job” are typical responses. First, you cannot lose your job for seeking treatment. It’s the law. (Although, you can lose your job for showing up high, drunk, hungover or late). Also, your employer never has to know why you’re going on leave and many people receive full or partial salaries. A quality facility (like Ambrosia ☺) will take care of the paperwork when you get here and answer any questions. A job is never a valid excuse.
Family should be a top priority, but with addiction, it’s not. Addiction pushes everyone else aside to give drugs and alcohol the attention that loved ones deserve. If children (or pets) need care during treatment, offer to take them in or figure out an arrangement. Being high, drunk or withdrawing while responsible for children is dangerous. And, children are emotionally impacted when their parent isn’t there or isn’t’ fully there. The sooner the addiction is addressed, the less damage it will cause to vulnerable children.
Spouses that aren’t dealing with their own issues are usually on board with treatment. However, relationships formed during addiction cause problems. “I can’t leave my boyfriend” or “My girlfriend needs me” are frustratingly common. If the significant other is blocking treatment, ask: “Why wouldn’t someone you love support you in getting the help you need?” and “Why are you so afraid of leaving them for a few weeks?”
“It isn’t the right time” or “I will later.” The reality is, there’s never a “right” or convenient time to go to rehab. The best time to go is now. Addiction only gets worse over time. As frustrating as this vague excuse is, understand that it comes from fear. You can ask what things they intend to take care of, but the most effective stance is to firmly let them know they can take care of anything after treatment. Change happens based on action, not stalling.
“I can stop on my own” or “I’ve got this under control” are also common. If they could stop, they would have before you felt compelled to hold an intervention. Point out times they’ve said this before and ask what would be different. Empathize that change is scary, but don’t buy into the idea that addiction has an easier fix.
They may think treatment is stupid, pointless or ineffective. Maybe they’ve seen others relapse or relapsed themselves after treatment. They may convince themselves that they’re beyond help. But, what do they have to lose? Treatment is the only way to stop the chaos. And, it does work! There are millions of success stories to prove it.
“I’ll only come if I can (insert any number of reasons).” Let them know that it’s time to start playing by the rules of professionals. If a facility has a specific policy against something, there’s a good reason why. This is not a negotiation.
After an Intervention
Hopefully, your next step is to begin healing during and after treatment. But, if you did not get the results you were hoping for, here are the 5 things you should do.
Even if they walked away in angry denial, your expressions of care and concern are always helpful. Now, shift focus to your own support. You’re going to need it to enforce consequences, take care of yourself and move forward productively. The right thing to do may go against your instincts. Attend support groups or private therapy and stay connected with the rest of the intervention team.
When you follow through on consequences, your loved one may plead or demand that you change your mind. Stand firm and don’t allow their bullying or emotional manipulation deter you. If you give in, they lose respect and take more and more advantage of you, while continuing to live in addiction. If they feel consequences, it becomes clearer that addiction isn’t the best path. Most importantly, you’re part of the solution instead of stuck in the chaos.
Hold Another Intervention
After a serious consequence (like arrest or job loss) or after several months, try again. See if anything could be improved. Were they high? Did you lose focus because of things said in hurt or anger? If you skipped an interventionist before, get one this time. It costs money, but it could also be the difference you’re looking for. Or, get free advice from a non-profit group, therapist, treatment center or religious leader.
Continue the Conversation
Don’t stop talking about treatment and your feelings just because the intervention is over. Tell them about your own meetings and progress to show you’re serious, trying to understand and being proactive. If denial is the issue, film their behavior to see for themselves. Don’t worry about upsetting them by bringing up the topic. They want to pretend it’s not a big deal and they’re not hurting you. The more you break down that isolation and excuse, the better. That said, the tone should still be loving.
My daughter already had two DWI’s and was still drinking and driving. When I told my husband, we knew it was time for an intervention, but we were scared to put pressure on her. She gets depressed easily and was going through a breakup. We didn’t want to add to her problems, but we decided that it was more harmful to continue to drink and blame her problems on other things.
The first meeting was the five of us without her to get on the same page. The next meeting, she signed a contract to stop drinking. It was only a matter of days until she was drunk again. Since she chose not to attend the next meeting, we agreed that her brother would follow her when she said she was going to AA. I was surprised she did actually attend, but she stopped at the liquor store on the way home and drank directly in the parking lot before driving home.
At the next meeting, she recognized she could no longer fend us off with stories and evasions. Everybody was together, and treatment was the only way out. We agreed that if we caught her drinking and driving, we’d report her to the police unless she agreed to treatment. The pressure worked. She got on a plane that day for a 30-day program in Florida. When she was there, we all met one more time to talk about plans for after. It was comforting to know we were all in this together and we had a plan to hold her accountable if she relapsed.- Vicki R.
Alcohol had been an issue for Harry for most of the 25 years we were married. Even though he went to AA every week, he hadn’t been sober for longer than a couple months. Everyone around me was so sick of hearing about his drinking. Out of desperation, I called an interventionist.
The first meeting felt like a disaster. My brother and sister didn’t show up. Our kids spent the whole time blaming me for his drinking and talking about how they couldn’t wait to get out of the house. The interventionist could tell that I needed help. He reached out to my siblings directly and convinced them to come next time.
I broke down at the next meeting. For the first time, everyone could finally see the depths of my hopelessness. The bossiness and control that pushed them away was just a front to hide my desperation and fear. The truth was Harry had advanced liver disease. One way or the other, he wasn’t going to be able to live like this much longer. With the renewed support from everyone I love, I agreed to set and follow-through on consequences if he didn’t go to treatment.
Harry was invited to every meeting, but he only showed up to the last one knowing exactly what he was walking into. I let him know that I would have to leave with the children if he didn’t agree to treatment. Having the support of everyone in the room helped him see that I was serious, and that treatment was really the only option. He went to detox that day.- Sarah B.
Being in recovery myself, it didn’t make things easier on my sobriety when my dad started drinking more around the house. In the beginning, he kept it away from home by going out to bars after work, but over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed that things have gotten worse.
I don’t want to be selfish, but it’s as if he’s completely forgotten what I suffered through and how difficult it was for me to get to this point in my life. I’ve tried to talk to him about it, but he’s stubborn; words go in one ear and out the other. I held an intervention with his brother once. We weren’t prepared for the backlash we received, and he just buried himself deeper in the bottle after that.
I asked my support group for advice, and they recommended that we try once more. Although I was hesitant to fail again, I knew he needed me. So, I had some family members meet me at the house early one Saturday morning when I knew he’d be relatively sober. This time, I felt more in control and more prepared. I had facts to back me up and members of the family in attendance for support. It wasn’t easy, but it worked, and he attended therapy about a week later. In a roundabout way, the intervention helped my recovery as well. Being on the other side and seeing the concern in my loved one’s eyes was incredible. And knowing that no matter what, they weren’t willing to give up just yet made all the difference not only for him but me.- James L.
I lost my sister to addiction 5 years ago. I come from a big family and we have busy lives, so she was able to hide her addiction for a long time. Eventually, she overdosed, and we tried to help but it was too little too late. Now my younger brother is struggling with his own addiction. At first, I couldn’t believe how stupid and selfish he was being. we just lost our sister due to this and now he was following in her footsteps.
Reflecting on my decision, I realize that this was the reason I ignored the signs at first. He was making a conscious decision to drink and put our family through this again, and I just didn’t have the energy to deal with it. I had attended a grief support group and made some great friends, and they suggested I attend Families Anonymous. What an eye-opener! I learned that instead of pulling away, ignoring the problem and staying angry, I needed to offer love and support. He was suffering and needed real help, not more shame and guilt.
I had no idea how to help him, so I hired an interventionist and he coached my family and I on how to handle the situation. I am so proud of the man that he is today. He’s working hard every day at maintaining his recovery. His future looks bright, and we are all closer than ever.- Steven G.