Most people may be familiar with the term intervention because of the hit reality television series that focused on helping loved ones overcome addictive or self-destructive behaviors. While the show itself introduced an important concept, there is a lot more to helping loved ones or larger communities through intervention techniques.

In the broadest sense, an intervention is a combination of strategies to produce changes in behavior in an individual, community, or entire population. Interventions can range from meetings full of people concerned that a loved one is falling into addiction or substance abuse, or they could involve therapeutic and government policies and strategies to improve the health of an entire at-risk demographic.

Different Types of Intervention

What Is an Intervention?

Interventions to help a specific individual can involve just family members in a structured, round-table environment, or they could include therapists, religious leaders, or medical professionals. Everyone gathers to confront the person who may be struggling with addiction or substance abuse, in order to convince them to seek help through a rehabilitation program. Aspects of an intervention include:

  • Providing specific examples of troublesome or worrisome behaviors
  • Discussing a treatment plan or options for a few treatment plans
  • Explaining what the individual can expect as a consequence if they do not accept treatment

Loved ones confronting an individual can seek help or advice from a treatment counselor or therapist on how to attempt to structure the intervention. For individual interventionists, some may choose to have a professional interventionist plan and lead the event.

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Specific Types of Intervention

There are several ways a person could experience an intervention. Here are a few styles of interventions that are often applied to those struggling with substance abuse:

  • Motivational Interviewing: This is a therapeutic style of intervention that is often applied in primary care settings or outpatient service settings. The structure is designed to discuss the addiction and the need for help with the individual, focusing on strengthening the individual’s intention to get sober and healthy. This form of intervention is also sometimes used in prisons, workplaces, social services, or therapy. It is typically applied to people who may recognize that they have a small problem with substance abuse but are ambivalent to the effects, or to those who do not realize the scope of the problem. Motivational Interviewing involves multiple sessions over several weeks.
  • Brief intervention: This style uses the same collaborative style of conversation to help the person commit to their own recovery, but it does not involve multiple sessions. Instead, the discussion is one session, up to 30 minutes in length. This is an effective method in settings that the individual may not return to, or go to often, such as at the offices of primary care doctors, emergency rooms, and temporary service centers, especially for the homeless. One report suggests that brief interventions are very effective in emergency rooms, but it is difficult to get exact numbers regarding how many patients were helped long-term by brief interventions.
  • Indicated intervention: This is a broader term for interventions focused on individuals. They typically focus on preventing more intense or long-term substance abuse or addiction problems by confronting people who show early signs of drug abuse. Loved ones can learn about specific programs for individual interventions through medical professionals and therapists.
  • Selective intervention: These are nonprofit, charity, or government-based programs and strategies that target subgroups, often by age, gender, or socioeconomics, to prevent or reduce widespread substance abuse problems. Some of these programs include working with children of parents struggling with addiction and offering special education programs in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Universal intervention: These are broad programs, such as laws or public health strategies, that target an entire population, rather than just a subgroup. For example, a federal drug abuse prevention program could target all 3rd grade students nationally, or all medical professionals could be required to screen for smoking in their adult patients.
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How to Structure an Intervention

Although medical professionals and therapists are trained to intervene with their patients when they uncover signs of substance abuse or potential addiction, family and friends may have a harder time. There are many resources available to friends and family of people struggling with substance abuse, and accessing these is as simple as contacting a social worker, general practitioner, interventionist, or psychotherapist. Here are a few guidelines when considering an intervention to help a loved one:

  1. Don’t conduct the intervention without planning. It is important to know what to say and how to say it to encourage the loved one to get help.
  2. Plan the intervention for a time when the person will most likely be sober.
  3. Research the substance abuse or addiction issue, in order to speak more specifically about warning signs and concerns.
  4. Have one person lead the intervention, and do not invite anyone the person dislikes or does not want to see. Oftentimes, it’s most helpful to have a professional interventionist lead the discussion.
  5. Anticipate the individual’s objections, and refrain from blaming statements or humiliating tactics.
  6. Stay on track, focusing on encouragement.
  7. Ask for the individual to make an immediate decision.

If a person is struggling with substance abuse, they may refuse treatment initially, but knowing that they have social support to seek help is a step in the right direction. Individual interventions are designed to help the person know that they have the resources they need to go through detox and a rehabilitation program. They can get healthy and sober because they have friends, family, therapists, and medical professionals who care about their long-term health.