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How to Plan an Alcohol Intervention: Tips from an Expert Interventionist

intervention planning

By Ken Seeley, Founder and CEO, Ken Seeley Communities


As a seasoned interventionist, I have been involved in facilitating a wide array of groups of people who desired to motivate a loved one to seek treatment for a substance use disorder. Managing an intervention effectively takes planning, practice, and knowledge of the features associated with the particular substance of abuse. In this regard, planning a successful intervention for an alcoholic will require specific strategies.

An intervention is a carefully planned event in which family members and close friends of someone with an alcohol use disorder convene to voice their concerns and describe the emotional pain caused by the addiction. The ultimate goal of the intervention is to persuade the addict to agree to get treatment. These meetings can be rife with emotions, including expressing sorrow, frustration, anger, and fear. Navigating these emotional minefields takes a certain degree of expertise, thus the role of a professional interventionist.

Planning an Alcohol Intervention

The disease of alcoholism is one that can seem unfair. Our societal customs often include alcohol consumption as part of a celebration or social event, during which most people can imbibe without ever developing a problem with the substance. However, for individuals predisposed to alcoholism, either due to a genetic predisposition or a deficiency in a gut enzyme, both unbeknownst to them, alcohol use can swiftly accelerate into disordered drinking, resulting in alcoholism.

Once a chemical dependence has formed, it becomes nearly impossible to break free from the grip of alcoholism. In some instances, individuals acquired this dependency while using alcohol to self-medicate a mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression. Alcoholics will begin to realize the devastating effects of this disease as their lives become increasingly unmanageable. Regardless, many are ambivalent about “breaking up” their relationship with alcohol, even in light of mounting consequences.

Trying to convince the alcoholic that he or she is in need of treatment is a delicate balancing act. The interventionist will guide participants during the planning, strategizing, and rehearsal phase prior to the actual meeting with the loved one. The interventionist is extensively trained in alcohol addiction and recovery and can be a valuable resource for managing the encounter effectively.

Participants write personal messages that they will read aloud to their loved one during the intervention. The goal of these testimonies is to share with the loved one the concerns and fears, as well as informing the alcoholic how his or her disease has impacted them. Each participant makes an appeal to the alcoholic in hopes the loved one agrees to get help.

What to Expect During the Intervention

A plan will be devised to gather together in a comfortable and familiar setting. The interventionist is present to facilitate the process and mitigate potential harm, as interventions can be somewhat unpredictable. This way, the participants are guided to stay on task and any potential acting out by the loved one can be handled by the professional interventionist.

The interventionist will introduce him or herself and explain that family members and friends who care for the person wish to share their concerns with him or her. As was rehearsed prior to the actual meeting, the individuals will each deliver their message to the loved one in hopes that it will resonate with him or her. The alcoholic may flatly deny there is a problem, or become defensive or agitated, but participants are coached to remain calm while the interventionist continues to guide the meeting forward.

Part of the script that each participant will read includes a description of boundaries and consequences for the alcoholic loved one should he or she decline to get treatment. These must be very clearly articulated, and followed, should the individual refuse to go to rehab. Enabling and codependency only serve to keep the loved one stuck in the addiction.

What They Can Expect in Alcohol Detox

Prior to staging the intervention there should be plans in place if the loved one agrees to go into treatment. By the time an intervention is needed, chances are the person is already alcohol dependent. This means that the first phase of recovery will involve detox and withdrawal. Due to the unpredictable nature of alcohol withdrawal, it should only be attempted at a medically supervised detox center.

During the detox and withdrawal process, the individual may encounter much discomfort. The expert detox team will provide the necessary medical interventions to help ease the withdrawal symptoms while providing protection against seizures. Generally, the alcohol detox process takes about one week, and symptoms will vary in severity based on the length of history of the alcoholism, the amount of alcohol consumed daily, the general health status and age of the person, and whether there is a coexisting mental health disorder.

Withdrawal symptoms might include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking
  • Hand tremors
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Disorientation
  • Headache
  • Seizures

What to Expect in Rehab

A comprehensive alcohol recovery program will include several different treatment elements that work together to help the individual make fundamental changes in the behavior patterns and thought distortions that have perpetuated the addiction cycle. Addiction recovery encompasses:

  • Individual psychotherapy. There are several types of evidence-based therapy that are effective for treating addiction. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and short-term psychodynamic therapy.
  • Group therapy. Peer support in group therapy is an intrinsic aspect of addiction recovery. Small groups facilitated by a psychotherapist will guide discussion. Participants will be encouraged to share their own personal stories, challenges, and feelings.
  • Medication management. In some cases, medication assisted treatment (MAT) can dramatically increase the recovery success. For alcoholism, naltrexone is a non-narcotic medication that helps reduce cravings for alcohol, reducing relapse occurrence.
  • Recovery skills. Classes or small groups that will educate individuals about the neurology of addiction, guide them in planning relapse prevention strategies, and providing them with new coping skills.
  • Holistic activities. Many rehabs now incorporate activities that promote relaxation, which can aid them while in rehab and teach stress-reduction techniques for use throughout recovery.

The intervention is a highly effective service that can help someone take that first important step toward overcoming an alcohol addiction. The professional interventionist can be a vital partner in guiding your loved one into recovery.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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Author Bio: Ken Seeley is an internationally acclaimed interventionist, having years of experience in this field. Certified as a Board Registered Interventionist-Level 2, Seeley has worked full-time in the business of recovery and intervention since 1989. He is a regular contributor to CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and ABC on the topics of addiction and intervention. He was one of three featured interventionists on the Emmy Award winning television series, Intervention, on A&E. He is also the author of “Face It and Fix It,” about overcoming the denial that leads to common addictions while bringing guidance to those struggling with addiction. Ken Seeley is the founder and C.E.O. of Ken Seeley Communities, a full spectrum addiction recovery program located in Palm Springs, California.


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The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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