The friends and relatives of addicts often feel forced to make a painful choice — endure the addict’s destructive behavior or cut the addict out of their lives. There is a third option — stage an intervention. An intervention is a group effort by family and friends to convince an addict to seek treatment. Despite the widespread belief that addicts never change their ways until they hit bottom and are desperate for help, 80% to 85% of addicts agree to accept treatment when confronted with an intervention. Interventions can be effective with drug addicts… alcoholics… gambling addicts… people with eating disorders… even seniors who refuse to acknowledge that it is no longer safe for them to live alone or drive a car. How to make an intervention work…


The power of interventions lies in the power of groups. Many addicts are masters of manipulating the individuals in their lives, but they find it more difficult to argue when those individuals join together. Contact the people the addict most loves, respects, needs, likes and admires. This typically means relatives and friends but also could include the addict’s coworkers, boss, neighbors, clergy and/or doctors. Explain that you are exploring the possibility of staging an intervention, and ask if they will attend a meeting to discuss this. At this point, do not ask anyone to commit to taking part in the intervention. The meeting is for them to learn more about the process.

Try to build a group of between three and eight people. Fewer, and you won’t have the power of a group on your side… more, and the intervention process could become too drawn out. Helpful: When staging an intervention for a parent or grandparent, include people from the addict’s generation or older. This increases the odds that the addict will respect the group’s opinion. Exclude anyone whom the addict strongly dislikes… anyone who is currently an addict him/herself… and anyone whom you suspect will be unable to keep the intervention plan secret from the addict.


When the group meets, explain why you think the addict’s behavior needs to be addressed and invite everyone present to share how the addict’s behavior has harmed him/her. Explain that an intervention is the most effective way to convince an addict to agree to treatment. Mention that the addict must not know about the intervention in advance, or he might not attend. Also…

Have the group select a chairperson. This individual must be respected by the addict and be capable of remaining cool and responding intelligently if the addict argues.

Alternative: Hire a professional interventionist to serve as chairperson and plan and conduct the intervention. An addiction treatment center or support organization can help you find one. Expect to pay $2,500 to $5,000. If you would like assistance but cannot afford to hire a professional, you might be able to enlist the help of a member of the clergy or a member of your local Alcoholics Anonymous (or Narcotics Anonymous).

Ask every member of your intervention group to write a letter to the addict prior to the intervention. These letters will be read during the intervention, not mailed. They should follow this structure…

  • Start with a heartfelt message of affection. Explain why you truly love, respect and/or admire the addict. Discuss some of his best qualities. This should be the longest part of the letter.
  • Explain how the addiction is causing problems for you. Cite one to three specific, firsthand experiences from the past 12 months. Example: “You borrowed $3,000 from me in March, lost it gambling and never repaid me.” Close the letter by reiterating your care and concern for the addict.
  • Write in the first-person singular. Do not try to speak for anyone but yourself.
  • Format it as you would an actual letter. Example: Open with “Dear Bob,” and conclude with “Your loving brother, Tom.” Each letter should be one-half to two double-spaced pages in length.

Have each group member prepare a separate written “bottom line” statement as well, to be read only if the addict initially refuses treatment. These bottom line statements lay out the consequences of not accepting help. Example: A wife might tell her husband that he cannot live in their house any longer if he refuses treatment… a parent or friend might say that there will be no more loans… an adult child might say that there will be no more visits by the grandkids.

Explain to the group the inpatient residential treatment options available to the addict. Before the group meets, research the options. A list of treatment centers can be found on our Web site ( Determine what the addict’s health insurance will cover… or ask if members of your intervention group will help pay the costs. Choose a treatment facility, and make arrangements for the addict’s arrival.

Hold an intervention rehearsal prior to the actual intervention. Ask the group to read their letters aloud, and strive together to edit out any anger — voicing anger will only inspire anger from the addict. Decide the order in which the letters will be presented. The first and last presenters should be the two group members most loved and respected by the addict, to decrease the odds that the addict will walk out of the intervention at these crucial moments.

Schedule the intervention for a time when the addict is likely to be sober — morning often is best. Hold it at the home of someone the addict respects.


Let the addict believe that he is visiting this home for a different purpose, such as for a meal or to pick up money promised him. It will be obvious that this is not so once the addict steps through the door. The group all should be there before the addict arrives. To keep the addict from leaving, a close friend or family member should take the addict by the arm and guide him to a seat on a couch between two people he loves, with the rest of the group facing them. The chairperson should explain that the group has gathered because of their love and concern for the addict, and ask group members to read their letters.

After the letters are read, the chairperson should ask the addict if he is willing to accept the help that the group is offering. The addict is likely to offer objections (see below). If the addict refuses help, each group member should read his bottom line statement. If the addict tries to leave, the chairman should follow and try to convince the addict to return. If help is accepted, bring the addict immediately to a treatment facility. Have a bag packed and someone ready to provide transportation. If the addict needs to make personal arrangements, allow this only from a cell phone in the car on the way to treatment.

What to Say When the
Addict Argues

Many addicts initially voice objections at an intervention. The intervention chairman must be ready with calm responses. Common addict arguments…

“I don’t have a problem” or “I have my problem under control.”

Response: Say, “People with this addiction usually are the last to realize that they have a problem. It’s time to get a professional’s assessment. If you don’t have a problem, a treatment center will let you know.”

“You drink or gamble, etc., too.”

Response: The chairman (not the group member whom the addict has accused of sharing the problem) should say, “Today we’re talking about you.” If the addict persists, add, “The issue isn’t who drinks — it’s what happens when we drink. For you, drinking alcohol causes problems.”

“I have one or two beers a day.”

Response: Don’t get drawn into a debate about exactly how much the addict drinks (or uses drugs… or gambles). Instead say, “However much you drink, your behavior tells us it is too much.”

“I don’t need treatment. I can stop on my own.”

Response: Say, “The odds of success are better with help.” If the addict refuses to budge on this issue, at least obtain a promise that the addict will stop drinking/taking drugs completely and seek treatment if he touches alcohol/drugs again, even once.

“I can’t go to rehab, I have to go to work… take care of my dog… pay my bills (or some other responsibility).”

Response: Anticipate excuses, and before the intervention, recruit members of the group to handle the addict’s chores while he/she is away… pay the cost of treatment or determine whether it is covered by the addict’s health insurance… and/or explore the addict’s employer’s medical leave policy.

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