Do Interventions Work for Those Struggling With Substance Use Disorder?

June 9, 2022

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Interventions are often a last effort to try and get a loved one to enter a treatment program for substance use disorder (SUD). The good news is that when done right, and often with the help of a trained professional, they can work to accomplish just that. 

There are several different ways to go about an intervention with the overarching goal of convincing someone struggling with substance use disorder to get professional help.

For an intervention to be successful, it needs to be well planned, thought out, and structured with clear and concise goals and expectations. It can often take more than one conversation for an intervention to work as intended. 

Addiction is a chronic condition. In 2020, more than 40 million people in the United States over the age of 12 had SUD. 

SUD is treatable. Often, the first step is a successful intervention.

What Is an Intervention?

An intervention is a conversation between family and friends with a loved one who is battling SUD. The main goal of an intervention is to get the person to seek treatment and professional help. 

Interventions are often sprung on the individual and set up by friends and family members ahead of time. 

The intervention should be a structured meeting planned in advance. It is used to have an emotional conversation with someone about how their SUD is impacting those around them and encourage them to seek positive change.

how to make an intervention successful

How Effective Are Interventions?

Interventions are shown to be between 80% and 90% effective at getting someone into a treatment program (the primary goal of the intervention). 

Of those that are not immediately successful, roughly half will seek treatment within about a week or so of the initial intervention. Sometimes, it takes a little time for the person to realize their loved ones were serious and that the intervention came from a place of love and healing.

Intervention success rates can be hard to measure directly, however. What happens once a person gets to treatment varies greatly, and the intervention itself will have no bearing on treatment retention or recovery. 

The intervention is often the first step toward getting help. An intervention that uses a trained professional to guide the conversation will usually have a better chance of success, as will an intervention that is well structured and planned.

Types of Interventions

With a traditional intervention, the family and loved ones of an individual will meet on their own to discuss the actual intervention. There will be one formal intervention that sets the stage for the individual, encouraging them to enter treatment and setting up boundaries and consequences if they do not. 

There are several different models of interventions, which can include the following:

Johnson Model

This method involves three sessions. The first two are with the intervention and support network, which will include caregivers of the individual, family members, and those acutely involved in their lives. 

These first two sessions in the Johnson Model work to teach the network about enabling behaviors, the goal of the intervention, problem-solving strategies, and how to plan and carry out the intervention itself. The final meeting is the intervention involving the individual and the network.

Love First

This model also uses three sessions, two of which do not include the individual and merely the intervention team, with the final session being the actual intervention. Love First focuses on leading with love to accomplish positive change.

Members of the intervention team will write letters during the first session that will be read to the individual during the intervention meeting. The second session is a rehearsal for the intervention.

ARISE Intervention Model

With this model, the individual is involved right from the beginning and flows through three different levels, stopping at a level when the individual agrees to enter treatment.

The first level of an ARISE intervention is the “First Call,” which mobilizes the support team and invites the individual to participate in the first meeting. The second level, “Strength in Numbers,” can involve two to five intervention meetings with no one person meeting with the individual one on one.

If the individual has yet to accept help, the third level, the formal intervention, will establish strict consequences to ensure the individual will comply with entering treatment.

Family Systemic Intervention

This intervention model also involves the individual from the beginning with no secret meetings. The intervention meetings are conversational and include back and forth dialogue discussing how addiction has impacted everyone.

The process could last months with multiple meetings. At the end of a Family Systemic Intervention, the entire family will agree to enter some form of treatment along with the individual.

Risks of Interventions

The intervention itself does not harm the person directly or make the SUD worse. 

It can be emotional and impact the relationships between the person struggling with SUD and the family members or friends involved. It can result in strained relationships or having to set boundaries that are difficult to adhere to. 

In the end, the hope is that the individual will enter treatment and resolve some of these issues. As a result, the relationship struggles will ideally be short term.

How to Make an Intervention Successful

To make an intervention successful, it is often beneficial to hire or involve a trained professional, such as a substance use disorder treatment counselor or trained interventionist. This person can guide the conversation from a less emotional or personal standpoint.

The most important aspect of a successful intervention comes from the planning. An intervention should be structured and well planned ahead of time to account for things that may come up. 

Overall, the intervention should come from a place of love. Participants should be supportive, calm, and as non-confrontational as possible. 

In this meeting, family and friends should talk about how the substance use disorder is impacting them directly, using “I” statements. 

Set clear and concise boundaries and consequences that you plan to stick to if the intervention does not go as planned. 

Be prepared and have treatment programs and options researched ahead of time. If the individual does agree to get help, there are already options in place to choose from.

Tips for Successful Interventions

  • Choose a time when the person is not high or coming down from a high.
  • Involve people who love this person and are committed to them getting help.
  • Plan the meeting in advance and problem-solve potential pitfalls.
  • Use a trained professional for guidance.
  • Stay calm and assertive.
  • Write letters or notes ahead of time to gather your thoughts and help you stay on track.
  • Research enabling behaviors ahead of time, and express your intent to stop doing them.
  • Be compassionate and understanding.
  • Offer treatment options that have been researched already.
  • Set clear expectations and consequences if the individual chooses not to get help and stick to them.

Be prepared for more than one conversation and high emotions.

Medically Reviewed By Claire Wilcox, MD

Claire Wilcox, MD, is a general and addiction psychiatrist in private practice and an associate professor of translational neuroscience at the Mind Research Network in New Mexico; and has completed an addictions fellowship, psychiatry residency, and internal medicine residency. Having done extensive research in the area, she is an expert in the neuroscience of substance use disorders. Although she is interested in several topics in medicine and psychiatry, with a particular focus on substance use disorders, obesity, eating disorders, and chronic pain, her primary career goal is to help promote recovery and wellbeing for people with a range of mental health challenges.

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  1. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). October 2021. Accessed March 2022.
  2. Intervention – What is the Success Rate? Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS). April 2017. Accessed March 2022.
  3. Johnson Intervention. American Psychological Association (APA). 2011. Accessed March 2022.
  4. Love First Intervention. Love First, Inc. 2022. Accessed March 2022.
  5. An Overview of ARISE Comprehensive Care with Intervention. Arise Network. 2020. Accessed March 2022.
  6. What Is the Family Systemic Model? Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS). May 2017. Accessed March 2022.

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