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  • David Marion

What Not To Do At An Intervention: 9 Mistakes To Avoid

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Loving someone with an addiction can be chaotic, to say the least.

You want to be there for them and support them, but you don't want to enable them. You want to let them know how much you love them, but you also want them to know how much their addiction has affected their life, and yours.

You may not know how to approach conversations with your loved one, wondering whether you’ll say the wrong thing.

The good news is, if you’ve decided to have an intervention for your loved one, you’ll have the opportunity to let them know how you feel in a safe and controlled space. However, there are a few things to make sure you don’t do or say at an intervention in order to best support your loved one and your family system as a whole.

After going through the 9 tips below, you’ll be better prepared to hold an intervention for your loved one, without second-guessing your actions or words.

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What is the goal of an intervention?

Before we jump into what not to do at an intervention for your loved one’s addiction, it’s important to understand what the goal of an intervention is.

When it boils down to it, the goal of an intervention is to get your loved one to agree to go to treatment. It isn’t to attack, blame, or belittle your loved one.

The goal of an intervention is to come together with the people who truly love and care about your loved one, and to help them make even the slightest shift in their thinking to propel them towards treatment.

On your end, getting your loved one into treatment is something you’ve likely been longing for.

On their end, however, going to treatment can feel incredibly overwhelming, scary, and maybe even embarrassing or shameful.

For your loved one to decide they’ll go to treatment is a huge step. It'll require them to reach a place of vulnerability, open-mindedness, understanding, and transparency during the intervention itself.

In order to help your loved one reach this place internally, and to help them make the best decision for themselves, it’s so important to create an environment of non judgment, safety, and support.

Knowing what not to do at an intervention will help you create an environment of compassion and safety for your loved one, and will give them their best chance at starting their recovery journey.

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9 tips for what not to do during an intervention

Below are 9 tips for what not to do during an intervention:

1. Don’t have an intervention without planning it first

If you’re thinking about having an intervention for your loved one, you may be feeling a sense of urgency. It’s likely that something happened in your life or your loved ones’ that’s causing you to finally go forward with an intervention so they can get the help they need. As much as you may feel like you want to hurry up and throw the intervention together, it’s so important to thoughtfully plan the intervention out in order to give it its best chance at getting your loved one into treatment. Some things you’ll need to plan are:

  • Who’s attending the intervention

  • Will you be bringing on professional help

  • Where will you hold the intervention

  • What time of day will you hold the intervention

  • What you’ll write in your letter to your loved one to read out loud during the intervention

  • What treatment center will your loved one be attending if they say yes at the end of the intervention

  • What bottom line will you present to them if they say no at the intervention (we’ll dive into this later in this blog)

  • Are you prepared to follow through on that bottom line if they do say no

The outcome of an intervention can never be certain. However, thoroughly planning the intervention with intention through every step can help increase the likelihood of its effectiveness.

2. Don’t go in without knowing what you’re going to say

Don’t go into an intervention without knowing what you’re going to say. This goes for you as well as everyone else who’s attending the intervention.

Once the intervention begins, it can be so easy for emotions to run high. Without having a letter prepared beforehand, or at least knowing what you’re going to say, you may say things you don’t mean. You may unintentionally say things that aren’t conducive to the goal. To make sure everything you say during the intervention is supportive and oriented to the goal of getting your loved one into treatment, be sure to plan what you’re specifically saying beforehand.

3. Don’t invite anyone who may trigger your loved one

It’s important that everyone who attends the intervention has positive, strong relationships with your loved one. This may seem obvious, but do your best not to include anyone who may agitate or trigger your loved one in a negative way. In addition to this, don’t invite anyone who previously engaged in substance use with your loved one. Even if they’re presently sober, it may be more difficult for your loved one to heed their messages.

4. Don’t allow your emotions to get the best of you

Even if you have a script, it’s difficult to not get caught up in a whirlwind of emotions, especially when you’re in front of someone you love. It’s okay to feel angry or upset with your loved one – you’re human and your emotions are entirely valid. However, don’t let these emotions get the best of you during the intervention. An intervention isn’t a time to berate your loved one, even if you feel you’re at your wit's end. Stick to reading the letter you’ve prepared, as the words you’ve thoughtfully crafted will connect with them.

5. Don’t judge or blame your loved one

An intervention isn’t the time or place to judge or blame your loved one. If they’re struggling with addiction, they already feel terrible, and likely grapple with feelings of guilt and shame on a daily basis, even if they’ve never outwardly expressed this to you. Being judgmental, berating, or blaming them will only make them feel worse. This can cause them to become defensive, or can trigger them to shut down.

Remember, your intention is to create a safe and supportive environment for your loved one to feel vulnerable enough to say yes to themselves, and yes to treatment. Any sort of antagonizing towards them will only have the opposite effect.

6. Don’t hold an intervention when your loved one is more likely to be intoxicated

This may seem obvious, but try to hold the intervention during a time of day when your loved one is less likely to be intoxicated. If the intervention is held during a time that they’re under the influence, they won’t be able to truly process the gravity of the event. They won’t be able to process what their loved ones are communicating to them. They may even laugh off the entire thing. You want your loved one to be in a clear frame of mind where they can truly take in everything you’re saying to them. This is why, to the best of your ability, it's helpful to be sure your loved one isn’t under the influence during their intervention.

7. Don’t make excuses for your loved one

When you’re in the midst of the intervention, you may encounter moments when your loved one starts making excuses for their alcohol or drug use, or process addiction. As much as you love them, it’s critical that you don’t buy into their excuses. It’s critical that you don’t also make excuses for them. When you love someone with an addiction, it’s easy to enable their behaviors without even realizing that’s what you’re doing. Making excuses for them is part of enabling their behaviors, so be sure to stay on track and focus on the goal of the intervention.

8. Don’t get into arguments with other family members and friends during the intervention

It’s important that everyone at the intervention remains a united front. Arguing with one another during the intervention will only dismantle the foundation your intervention team has built.

For instance, let’s say you’re holding an intervention for your son and his girlfriend, who you don’t approve of, also attends. The intervention is not the time for you to berate or blame your son’s girlfriend. It’s important for everyone to remain on the same page with the same focused goal of getting your loved one into treatment. Not doing so could cause additional chaos and commotion during the intervention which could prompt it to go off the rails. This is one of the key benefits of adding an interventionist to your intervention team. They can help mediate if emotions run high and they can keep the intervention on track.

9. Don’t leave without a definitive answer

Do not close out the intervention without receiving a definitive yes or no from your loved one. Your loved one may easily tell you they’ll “think about it” or they’ll “start in a few weeks.” This isn’t the answer you’re looking for. When they do this, your loved one is simply trying to appease you in order to get out of the situation.

You need them to give you a yes, meaning they will go to treatment right now after the intervention, or a no, meaning everyone who attended the intervention will enforce their bottom line. The bottom line is what you’re willing to do if your loved one refuses treatment. Some examples of this could be no longer giving your loved one money, or no longer providing them with housing.

In either case, be sure to receive a definitive answer, and be prepared to follow through on your bottom line.

10. Don’t lose faith in your loved one

Finally, don’t lose faith in your loved one. Even if they said no, be ready to follow through on the bottom line you’ve laid out, because this will ultimately help them in the long run. Even if they said no, everything you and the rest of the intervention team shared during the intervention has planted the seeds into your loved one’s mind. Addiction is an incredibly complex disease, but your loved one can get better. It’s important to hold onto that faith in them, and to not give up on them.

- David


Check out these related blogs:


David Marion Interventionist
David Marion: NCIP, NCRC

Hi, I’m David Marion. I’m a Nationally Certified Intervention Professional, Nationally Certified Recovery Coach, Addiction Recovery Speaker, Author of Addiction Rescue: The No-BS Guide to Recovery, Sober Companion, and Sober Escort.

If you’re interested in having an intervention for your loved one, book a free call with me today (click below). After struggling with addiction myself for decades, I know the depth of the battle your loved one is going through.

Let’s pull them out of the trenches – together.

Worried your loved one is in the midst of an addiction crisis? Unsure of what to do next?

Download my free Addiction Crisis Guide. This in-depth guide covers everything you need to know including the stages of addiction, the emotional, behavioral, and physical signs of addiction, signs of addiction to different substances, and more.

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