Millions of Americans struggle with substance use disorder (SUD), and their families and friends see and suffer from the effects of the disease. This illness is treatable, but some individuals with SUD are reluctant to change. In these cases, staging an intervention could persuade them to get professional care for their condition. But here at North Jersey Recovery Center, we help struggling individuals to break free of addiction.

Sometimes, individuals with SUDs feel that they are alone in their struggle. They may realize that they cannot control their substance use, but they don’t know how to reach out for help. Perhaps they are too ashamed and embarrassed to admit to their condition.

Others who deal with addiction cannot see or will not acknowledge how far their condition has progressed. Addiction is a chronic mental illness that severely impedes brain functioning. Whatever the case, staging an intervention can prove to these people that their loved ones are willing, able, and ready to help them turn their lives around.

What Is an Intervention?

An intervention is an event carefully planned by family, friends, colleagues, co-workers, or other concerned people to approach a person about their addiction. These people lovingly yet firmly address the individual with a united front to insist on rehabilitation. Many people who have struggled with addiction and other mental illnesses have benefited from interventions and agreed to enter treatment programs.

Some families perform interventions without assistance, but addiction experts strongly encourage hiring a professional interventionist to help with planning and staging the intervention. The purpose of an interventionist is to direct the struggling individual to take responsibility for his or her addiction and accept help.

This intervention professional also helps everyone focus on a solution that works for everyone involved, not just the individual who is suffering from substance use.

When Is An Intervention Needed?

An intervention is usually necessary when a person is suffering from negative, life-altering consequences of compulsive behaviors. The individual may recognize that the consequences are due to their behavior but cannot control their actions. Their health or financial condition might be rapidly deteriorating because of substance misuse.

The family may notice signs of other psychiatric illness or co-occurring disorders. In some cases, the person is in danger of harming themselves or others due to their illness. They may also become angry, elusive, or unresponsive when asked to consider treatment.

While only a person with an illness experiences symptoms, others can observe signs of a disorder. Addiction often shows telling clues of its tightening grip on someone’s life. If you see any of the signs below in your loved one, especially in addition to obvious evidence such as drugs or paraphernalia, call us at North Jersey Recovery first for professional advice on how to address the issue.

The following are common signs of addiction:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Changes in social circles, hanging out with people who drink excessively or use drugs
  • Breakdown in family relationships and friendships
  • Increasing self-imposed isolation
  • Long absences with no explanation
  • Lying, deceitfulness, secretiveness, or stealing
  • Unexplained financial difficulties, constantly asking for money
  • Sudden inability to hold a job; high amount of work absenteeism
  • Drastic weight changes

Common Addictive Substances

Different substances of abuse can influence the behaviors and health of individuals in varying ways. Genetic, physiological, and environmental factors play a huge part in addiction. The effects could intensify because of the misuse of more than one substance as well. Commonly abused substances include:

Ways to Stage an Intervention

A therapist, counselor, or interventionist can help you determine which type of intervention to plan for your loved one. You should consider the approach that best addresses your loved one’s needs as well as the needs and relational dynamics of those who want to be involved. Interventions don’t always look like what is frequently portrayed in popular media; these events can be conducted in many different ways.

Johnson Method

Developed in the 1960s by Episcopal priest and recovering addict Dr. Vernon Johnson, the Johnson Method is one of the oldest and most popular intervention models. After studying 200 recovering alcoholics, he concluded that a well-defined plan can help people with SUD understand the consequences of not seeking sobriety. Dr. Johnson was one of the first researchers to promote the caring, non-judgmental involvement of family and friends in interventions. 

This intervention model emphasizes confronting the addict in a way that will not unnecessarily raise their defenses. Each team member must compose a letter to the addict listing specific instances when the addiction negatively affected them. The group also decides on clear consequences for refusing treatment and must agree to enforce the ultimatum in order not to enable the addict any further.

The Johnson method has seven components:

  1. Team: An intervention counselor organizes a team of relatives, friends, and colleagues in the addict’s life.
  2. Planning: The counselor and team decide on the time of the intervention as well as what will be shared through the letters.
  3. Focus on Care: It is essential to avoid yelling, shaming, or condemning throughout the entire process.
  4. Only Discuss Addiction: This is not the time to bring up other issues of conflict of the past or present.
  5. Evidence:  The letters must include proof or evidence of addictive behavior with detailed descriptions.
  6. Treatment Goal: The team must agree that the goal of the intervention is that the individual agrees to get treatment. It should not be put forth as a punishment but as a means to improve the person’s life.
  7. Options: The team must devise and present three different options for addiction recovery treatment.

Family Systemic Intervention

The Family Systemic intervention method acknowledges that addiction impacts the entire family unit, so it involves the addict and family from the outset. There is no surprise meeting that could catch an individual off guard or make them defensive. First, family members agree that they need to get their loved one into treatment. Then, they can meet with a professional interventionist for advice on doing so.

The struggling individual is invited to attend every meeting, and the whole family discusses how SUD has affected them individually. This intervention may require several sessions. The goal is to convince the person with addiction that professional help is sorely needed.

At the end of the sessions, both the addict and the family begin some type of treatment together. Families attend family therapy sessions while the addict enters into a rehab facility or program. Everyone involved works together to bring healing to the family as a whole.


A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement (ARISE) also gives family members the chance to have an active part in their loved one’s recovery and helps everyone involved heal and cultivate more productive behavioral patterns. It promotes a holistic approach to encompass a person’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. The person with addiction is invited to participate in ARISE interventions from the start to impart a sense of control over their situation.

In this method, the person who needs help is called a Person of Concern (PoC). Anyone who wishes to be included in the intervention process is called a Concerned Other. The group of active Concerned Others forms an Intervention Network. 

A certified ARISE Interventionist moderates an ARISE intervention, but family involvement is integral to the process for maximum benefit. ARISE uses a Family Invitational Intervention and Family Motivation to Change to facilitate communication. During sessions, family members learn practical ways to support their loved one in recovery.

ARISE uses a three-phase continuum of intervention beginning with the least confrontational option for the PoC and increasing in efforts and expectations to get the PoC into treatment. This state ends at whatever level results in getting an individual into treatment. Even with all the potential meetings, the ARISE method should be completed within 1-3 weeks.

Phase 1: A concerned family member makes the first call to ARISE on behalf of the struggling individual. They arrange the First Meeting of the Intervention Network. Sometimes, this is enough to encourage a PoC to agree to treatment. In most instances, however, an in-person meeting is necessary.

Phase 2: If Phase 1 is not successful, the Intervention Network gathers to discuss the strategy and plans for the intervention and decide if other people might be added to the team. These planning meetings also set forth definite, enforceable consequences for treatment refusal. The PoC is invited to attend if they desire.

Phase 3: The final step of an ARISE intervention is a short meeting in which the Intervention Network presents their concerns to the PoC as well as what will happen if the PoC continues to refuse professional help.

Love First Intervention

The Love First intervention process involves a small team of people in an individual’s support network. The team meets several times in advance of the formal intervention meeting. As with the Johnson model, this method calls on team members to write a letter highlighting a situation in which the loved one’s addictive behavior brought harm.

This model aims to benefit the entire family, not just the addict. It is designed to realign a family’s thoughts toward clear goals, productive behavior, and a sense of purpose. It promotes connection and communication on a deep level.

The Love First method involves three modules

  • Assessment and Training – The interventionist gathers history, makes treatment recommendations, and covers strategy and timing. The team receives training on writing intervention letters and bottom line letters.
  • Rehearsal and Preparation – This stage includes fine-tuning the details of the letters, discussing answers to any objections, and covering pre-admission and travel arrangements. This meeting happens the day before the formal intervention.
  • Intervention Day – After a pre-intervention meeting, the interventionist leads the team through the process and provides support through the travel experience.

Brief Intervention

A brief intervention is a short, one-on-one meeting between a person with SUD and a counselor or medical professional. This type of encounter typically happens in hospitals, especially in overdose cases, or in a doctor’s office when an exam uncovers drug-related health issues. It can be effective when they occur during a “teachable moment”, such as when the addict is in legal trouble or receiving trauma care.

During a typical brief intervention, the person with addiction is given literature that reinforces counseling. The counselor follows with the person to encourage them and check on their progress. Family and friends can ask a healthcare provider, social worker, or professional interventionist to perform a brief intervention with their loved one.

Research indicates that brief interventions are most effective when performed by someone the addict trusts and considers an authority figure. These meetings can take place in:

  • Primary care physician’s offices
  • Prenatal care visits
  • College counseling settings
  • Emergency departments
  • Criminal justice system

Why Is Planning So Important?

Addiction specialists strongly advise against being spontaneous when approaching a person about their addiction. It is critical that family and friends plan and follow through with when and where they will gather as well as exactly what they will say. This will help everyone stay on topic and in control of their emotions. The team will also know how to avoid name-calling, accusations, blaming, or saying hurtful things that further damage relationships and sabotage rehabilitation efforts. 

What Keeps Some Families from Completing an Intervention

Many families start to reach out to get help for their loved one who is suffering from addiction. However, few go through with an intervention. The fear of change outweighs the pain of staying in the same condition. Some families are so accustomed to drama and chaos that they don’t want to be challenged to learn healthy relationship skills. Some family members believe that there is no hope for the person with SUD.

Enabling is perhaps the most challenging behavior to change. When family members ignore, deny, downplay, or excuse the addiction, they inadvertently contribute to it. Justifying or allowing substance abuse gives the addict no motivation to seek treatment. The person with addiction often loses respect for themselves and the enabling family and friends.

Dangerous Myths

Contrary to popular belief, a family does not have to wait until their loved one hits rock bottom before seeking help for addiction.This myth can leave a person to drag through years of trauma, chaos, and grief. Individuals with SUD rarely “hit bottom” alone; spouses, children, and parents can crash as well.

Many people believe the old adage “You can’t help a person who doesn’t want to be helped.” While individuals with SUD may be resistant to treatment, they find it very difficult to resist the power of love coming from family and friends who refuse to give up. Your loved one is worth making the effort to intervene.

Don’t Wait Until You Feel Ready

Your loved one might not be ready to change even though their substance use could be causing distress to themselves and those they love. But now that you recognize their struggle, it is time to act. A major hindrance to taking action is thinking that we must feel ready before acting.

Please don’t be paralyzed by fears of how your loved one will react, what secrets will emerge, or losing control. Make the move toward recovery and healing for your loved one’s sake. Engage in the fight for them against addiction. Reach out to North Jersey Recovery for professional, compassionate support today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Laura-Riley-Cropped-Profile-150x150Laura Riley, MA, LCADC, CCS is an Administrator with North Jersey Recovery Center.