Intervention for Alcoholics: The Step That Stirs Hope

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

It is hard to see an alcoholic loved one go down the path of doom and destruction. It is natural for you to want to prevent a life being lost, talent being wasted, and bridges being burned. But this is easier said than done.

Considering that alcohol is not a banned substance and is almost a staple part of our social lives and celebrations, many people—including alcoholics—tend to believe alcoholism is not a problem. They believe, “If alcohol is so harmful, wouldn’t it have been on the banned substances list?”

Alcohol in large doses clouds thinking and impairs reasoning faculties. Many alcoholics hardly have senses about them to realize how their drinking habits are ruining their health, relationships, and work. They spend their energies planning how to procure the next drink and live their lives one drink at a time.

So how do you make these people realize they need help? The success of any alcohol treatment and rehabilitation program rests on the willingness of the alcoholic to engage voluntarily with the processes and procedures to achieve sober living.

Have you considered intervention?

What is an Intervention for Alcoholics?

Intervention for alcoholics is a face-to-face meeting between the person who is abusing alcohol and his or her near and dear ones. The following are the principal goals of intervention:

  • Chip away at the denial of the alcoholic.
  • Make the person realize the negative effects of alcoholism on health and productivity.
  • Make the person realize the negative effects of alcohol-induced behavior, action, and words on loved ones.
  • Make the person realize how alcoholism first strains and then destroys close relationships.
  • Create an environment where the alcoholic feels supported.
  • Present a detailed, structured and attainable treatment plan that makes the alcoholic confident about accepting help and embracing change.

Intervention can be between the alcoholic and his or her near and dear ones. An intervention for alcoholics can also be conducted in the presence of a professional intervention specialist.
However, the family members and/or friends of the alcoholics still have to be present during a professional intervention session.

How does alcoholism intervention work?

Intervention for alcoholics works by having a face-to-face meeting between the alcohol abusers and their loved ones. A specialist can conduct the intervention, but the family members of the alcohol abusers have to be present during the session.

One method of intervention is not necessarily better than the other. Whether intervention just by family members and friends would suffice or a professional needs to be called in depends on the peculiarities of a given situation.

How Can You Hold an Intervention at Home?

It is okay for you to decide to hold an intervention for an alcoholic loved one. But you must realize that intervention for alcoholics is NOT an impromptu affair. You just cannot catch hold of the person at any time during the day, start voicing your thoughts and opinions, and hope that you will be able to persuade (or arm-twist) him or her into seeking help with alcohol addiction.

Should you have an intervention at home?

You may not want to have an intervention for alcoholics at home if:

  • If the person has a mental disorder
  • If the person tends to be violent when pressured and stressed
  • If the person has suicidal thoughts
  • If the person is taking mood-altering medications
  • If there is a doubt that the intervention will be successful

An intervention is a structured meeting. You have to plan and prepare for it to ensure you have the outcome you desire and one which is in the best interests of everyone involved.

Remember, the person standing in front of you does not think there is a problem in drinking too much or cannot think straight. You not only need a well-planned strategy to elicit positive action from this person but also have to ensure it is executed flawlessly. An unplanned and hasty intervention has every chance of failing, and if it does, you will probably end up closing all doors of communication forever.

According to the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, home intervention for alcoholics works successfully in 75 percent of the cases.
Follow the tips below to hold a successful intervention at home:

Choose who you want to have in your team.

Choose your team keeping in mind the following pointers:

  • Choose to include close relatives who have been most affected by the person’s drinking habits. These could be one or both parents, the adolescent and/or adult children of the addict, spouse or partner, or sibling(s).
  • Do not include minor children. The meeting can develop into a tense encounter, and it is wise not to expose children—with their impressionable minds—to negativity.
  • Include those people who you believe your loved one will be comfortable baring his or her soul in front of.
  • Include those people whose presence won’t bother or upset you if skeletons tumble out of the closet (they usually do) during the meeting.
  • You may want to include close friend(s) of your loved one.
  • You may include the employer of your loved one.
  • You can include a healthcare worker or a doctor who is not an intervention specialist. Facts about the damaging effects of alcohol, when stated by a professional, would probably convince an alcoholic more than when the words come from a loved one who has no authority on the subject.
  • You can include in the team any other person that both you and your loved one trusts.

 Discuss and/or research into the nature and extent of the problem.

Knowledge is power. Information helps you make the best decision. Facts are irrefutable.

After you have chosen your team, meet up and discuss the nature and extent of the problem your loved one has.

  • Find out how the drinking problem sprouted in the first place. Does problem drinking behavior run in the family? Then you should also plan to make other alcoholic loved ones in your family seek treatment. Has a mental disorder triggered your loved one’s alcoholism? After all, co-occurring mental and alcohol use disorders are common. Then he or she should be treated for both. Is your loved one going through some emotional turmoil? Then you should plan to address these issues. Emotional stress is a powerful addiction trigger.
  • Determine the extent of the drinking problem. You can seek the help of an addiction specialist to find out if your loved one has problem drinking behavior or full-blown alcoholism. This knowledge will help you to research and choose treatment options.

Find out about the treatment options.

The treatment method depends on the nature and extent of the addiction problem. Some alcoholics may need to go through a medically-supervised detox program. Those suffering from co-occurring disorders may need to go through an inpatient treatment and rehab program where both the conditions are addressed simultaneously. Someone else with a less severe form of alcohol use disorder benefits from joining support groups or attending one-on-one or group counseling sessions. It is also imperative to learn more about the availability of aftercare treatment in the facility of choice.

It helps to seek the advice of an addiction specialist to learn about the best option. You need to have this information beforehand, so you can present the options to your loved one during the intervention meeting.

Prepare a script sans the drama.

Yes, you need a script. You don’t want to fumble around for something to say or say the wrong thing during the meeting. This is a precious chance; don’t waste it with the wrong words.

Here’s what to keep in mind when you prepare the script:

  • Ask everyone in the team to prepare notes on what they want to say during the meeting.
  • Before you begin to frame your speech, take a deep breath and reflect on your mindset. Ask yourself why you are going through this rigor. You want to pull a loved one out from the clutches of alcohol. So, your mindset should be one of compassion, and your words should convey your concerns.
  • Don’t use an accusatory tone when you speak to your loved one. Don’t blame him or her for the problem of alcoholism.
  • Tilt the angle of your message and talk about how alcohol has strained your relationship. Tell the person how you have been hurt by their behavior when they were under the spell of alcohol. You can begin by saying, “I was sad when you…” and cite the specific incident. Talking about YOUR feelings won’t create a confrontational situation. Nor can your loved one refute or deny when you tell him or her about your hurt feelings.
  • Steer clear of all drama. Be composed.
  • You can also focus on how alcohol has damaged his or her health and how continuing to drink will worsen the damage. At this point, you might want to present reports, case studies, or other forms of scientific evidence to strengthen your case. If a healthcare worker or a doctor is present during the meeting, you might ask him or her to present the facts.
  • The employer, if present during the meeting, can state the instances when the alcoholic failed to carry out his or her professional duties under the influence of alcohol. This could be a powerful wake-up call.
  • Do not say that he or she has to quit alcohol right away because this is not the goal of an intervention program. An alcoholic can be persuaded into seeking alcohol treatment programs, but most will react negatively if you suggest they have to give up drinking altogether. All alcoholics are dependent on alcohol; they have gone through the pangs of withdrawal. Don’t expect them to agree to quit so readily.
  • Present the treatment plan you have decided on.
  • Assure your loved one that you support him or her on the journey to recovery from alcohol.

Decide on how to enforce consequences if your loved one doesn’t agree to seek help.

Many alcoholics also agree to seek help when they realize how their habits have hurt their loved ones. This is the reason close relatives should be a part of the intervention team because they are the people the alcoholic person cares most about.

However, not all intervention meetings are successful. Despite your best efforts and most impassioned pleas, your loved one might refuse to seek help. You have to be prepared for this situation as well.

You might want to use strong-arm tactics as the final effort to make the person accept help. You can enforce consequences like the following:

  • Put boundaries on the relationship.
  • Leave the house.
  • Leave the house with the children and refuse visitation rights.
  • Ask the person to leave your house and refuse to arrange for alternative accommodation.
  • Stop monetary allowances.
  • Fire the person, if you are the employer.


Family members and friends often ignore this stage. But there are advantages of staging an intervention meeting:

  • A rehearsal is an excellent opportunity to assess how you come across during the conversation (You don’t want to sound like a soprano when you speak.) or if your body language matches the tone of your voice or your words of compassion and support that you say.
  • You can take this opportunity to ask another member of your team to enact the role of the alcoholic person who denies having any addiction disorder, accuses others of overreacting or being the cause of the disorder or flatly refuses to carry on with the conversation. You are thus challenged to come up with the answers while remaining calm and objective.
  • During the rehearsal, the team members can be each other’s sounding board. Together, you can plug loopholes in the script and ensure that it is cohesive, objective, and sticks to the point.

 Decide where to hold the intervention.

Decide on neutral territory to hold the meeting. If you want to conduct it in your house, ensure that you don’t choose a place where you have held intervention meetings with the person earlier. It is likely that the place holds unpleasant memories for him or her.

You can choose a place outside your house, but make sure that you will have privacy and can conduct the meeting without attracting undue attention.

Decide when to hold the intervention.

Keep the following pointers in mind while deciding on the time to hold the intervention:

  • Choose a time when your loved one will be sober. You will want him or her to be able to focus and think straight when you are having the conversation.
  • Choose a time when the addict is not distracted. For instance, regular drinkers wake up in the morning wanting nothing else than a drink. This is a bad time to schedule a meeting because they are now solely focused on how to get a drink and might be edgy or aggressive if you try to make them sit down and talk.
  • Choose a time that suits everyone, including the addict, so nobody is interrupted during the session or has to leave it midway to take care of business.
  • Limit the intervention session to 60-90 minutes. Anything longer will stress everyone.
  • If your loved one is a binge drinker, schedule a meeting as soon as you can after the last binging episode. This is also true if your loved one had a brush with the law after an alcohol-induced illegal act. It is likely that he or she is already repentant; waiting for too long to have the meeting will take the sting away from the incident.
  • Don’t inform the person about the meeting before. This will give him or her the opportunity to frame excuses and wriggle out of the situation.

Hold the meeting.

There are just three rules:

  • Stick to the script.
  • Be calm and compassionate even if the person in front of you is hurling abuses, threatening you, or blaming you for his or her drinking problems.
  • Don’t respond to aggression with aggression.

Follow up.

Many alcoholics try to escape from a lengthy intervention session by making false promises of seeking help. Don’t buy into these. Follow up a few days after the meeting and remind him or her about the promise and pledge your support once more.

Ensure that you make your loved one face the consequences of refusing to seek help.

Now, this is a tough task to act on, but often, alcoholics realize the grimness of their situation and turn around only after they hit rock bottom, which could be losing a job or the roof over one’s head, being away from the kids, or being without money.

Believe that you are acting in the best interests of the addict and carry through with the consequences you had spelled out during the meeting.

What are Professional Intervention Services?

A professionally-conducted intervention session is headed by a qualified interventionist, a mental health specialist, or a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. The session may take place at the counselor or the interventionist’s office or in some place of your choice.

Why hire a specialist for alcoholism intervention?

Advantages of hiring a specialist for an alcohol intervention are that:

  • They have specialized training.
  • They are well-experienced in talking with addicts and knows how to convince them and prevent addiction relapse.
  • They know how to handle situations in the most appropriate and safe manner.

Professional Intervention Services

You should not hold an intervention for alcoholics at home and instead, seek the help of a professional in the following circumstances:

  • If the person also suffers from a mental disorder
  • If the person has shown a tendency to be violent when stressed (Some alcoholics may consider any attempt to talk him or her out of the addiction as an invasion of privacy or regard the meeting as an invitation to a confrontation.)
  • If the person is suicidal or has recently talked about committing suicide (Some alcoholics might regard intervention as a betrayal on the part of his or her loved ones and may become depressed.)
  • If the person also takes mood-altering substances
  • If you are unsure about planning and pulling off an intervention successfully

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), professional intervention for alcoholics results in the person agreeing to get help in 90 percent of all cases. There are several advantages of hiring a professional interventionist:

  • A professional has specialized training.
  • A professional is experienced and knows the tactics that work with an addict—using particular words to convince and stirring specific emotions to elicit positive action.
  • A professional has the objectivity to look at and interpret a situation in a way that family members and friends may not be able to. So a professional can handle a situation in the most appropriate and safe manner.
  • A professional has a profound knowledge of the rehabilitation procedures and can help to choose between inpatient and outpatient alcohol rehab.


According to the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, alcoholics who are made to go through an intervention session are more likely to give up drinking and stay sober than those who never realize the dangers of the path they are traveling on.

You might not get the results you had hoped for after the first session. But you may not realize that your talk has prompted the person you love to ponder his or her drinking habits. You may not realize that the person who stormed out of the room when you tried to reason is probably now feeling ashamed about hurting you. If you have been able to stir second thoughts in the person, be assured that the second or third intervention meeting will bear results.

When you hold up a mirror to loved ones, and they don’t like what they see, they will want to change. Please make an effort and find the alcohol addiction treatment center!


Gregory Okhifun

Dr. Gregory Okhifun

Medical Reviewer

Dr. Okhifun is a passionate medical doctor, with over five years’ experience as a general practitioner. His passion for medical education led to his journey in medical writing. He has a wealth of experience writing for hospitals and medical centers, health organizations, telemedicine platforms, wellness organizations, medical tourism publications, addiction websites, and websites focused on nutrition and nutraceuticals.
He also serves as medical coordinator and content writer for Gerocare Solutions, for which he also volunteers as a health advisor/consultant for the elderly.
Dr. Okhifun enjoys traveling, meditation, and reading.

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