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Planning an Intervention

answered 08:18 AM EST, Mon April 02, 2012
My son is an extremely bad alcoholic. He is now on his 6th day of his latest binge. We are going to try and have an intervention with just the family tomorrow, but since we can not afford to pay we are doing it on our own. Are there any specific things we should or should not do? We are at the breaking point and he just keeps getting worse.

Dr. James Strawbridge Says...

Planning an Intervention

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” People who spend years wishing the alcoholic would get sober are surprised to see what some careful planning can accomplish. The success of an intervention is intricately tied to how it is implemented.

  1. Once you and your team have educated yourself, either by working with a professional or reading a book, methodically follow the directions. This is not a time for shortcuts.
  2. Set a date/time for the intervention
  3. Determine the financial resources for treatment. Gather information about insurance policies, and personal resources to pay for treatment. This will determine what treatment programs you can access. RECOVERY OPTIONS by Joseph Volpicelli, M. S., Ph.D., associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of Maryland offers ideas on how to evaluate a treatment center.
  4. Re: Interveners. My experience has been that the most persuasive interveners are members of the family and friends of whom the son respects or the employer.
  5. Gather and record information about the alcoholic. Different people have different information, so ask everyone on the team to participate. This information will help you in the intervention.
  6. Groups of at least three or four interveners seem most effective. They tend to strengthen each other in getting the task successfully accomplished, and also have the essential ability to break through to reality.
  7. Meet with the group prior to the intervention. Talk with one another about the data you want to be presented. It should be specific and descriptive of events which have happened or conditions which prevailed. Each person should limit themselves to three examples: “I was there when you were put in jail; lost your license after three DUIs; the crisis developed. Obviously, evidence is more compelling when it is first hand.
  8. Opinions should be avoided along with all generalization. “I think you have been drinking too much,” or “I think you ought to quit drinking entirely,” are worse and useless. All general opinions do is to raise the defenses still higher and make the approach to reality more difficult.
  9. The spirit of the intervention should not be judgmental. The data should show concern being expressed. “I am really worried about what has been happening to you, and these are the facts available to me which will give you the reasons why I am concerned.”
  10. The evidence should be directly tied to drinking wherever possible. “After the picnic last Saturday, I saw you leave a bit under the weather. I assumed that your wife would do the driving. But I learned that you drove 90 mph on the freeway with your family in the car.” The more general data should only be used to support the examples of drinking. “Your grades have gone down this year.”
  11. The evidence of behavior should be presented in some detail, and very explicitly, to give the sick person a bird’s eye view of himself during a period of time. “You walked unsteady when you came in and your eyes were blood-shot” are comments which take into account reliance on euphoric recall. Alcoholics cannot, themselves, do this and cannot have this view because of their deluded condition. They are out of touch with reality. And when they are this way, they can be very convincing. They are good actors.
  12. The end result of the intervention, through the presentation of this material, is to have the alcoholic see and admit the truth or reality, however grudgingly, that he needs to accept help.
  13. This is the time that the available choices acceptable to the interveners may be offered.  The key person confronting the alcoholic may say, “Since abstinence is a basic requirement, these alternatives are before us, “This treatment center, that hospital, or Alcoholics Anonymous. Which help will you use?” By approaching the situation in this way, the alcoholic is allowed to be part of the decision. This offers some sense of dignity, which is obviously important. Firmness at this point is again necessary.
  14. The alcoholic’s defenses can and very likely will regroup quickly unless it is clear the interveners mean what they say.  Actually, at this point the group should have predicted what the alcoholic’s most likely excuse will be for not accepting the choices being offered and be prepared to answer them…”I can’t go to treatment now because my work will not allow me to be absent,” or “I can’t go to treatment now because there is a very important family commitment we have made,” and so on. When the group is prepared in advance to answer such excuses, the likelihood of the alcoholic’s accepting treatment is greatly enhanced.
  15. Once you’ve decided on a treatment center or hospital, make an appointment for admission. They will ask for facts about the alcoholic, i.e., how long he’s been drinking; what he drinks; how often; does he take illegal drugs? What? And others. What insurance he has to cover the expense of treatment. If you go the AA route, Call Intergroup. Tell them your situation, they will sent a volunteer to help.

Remember "wishing" won't make it so.


  • Alcoholics Anonymous, World Services (2001) (4th ed.) New York: Alcoholics World Services. 
  • Bales, R.F. (1944). The therapeutic role of Alcoholics Anonymous. Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 5. 267-278.
  • Schuckit,M. S., M.D. (1995). Educated Yourself About Alcohol And Drugs: A People's Primer. Plenum Publishing Corporation, New York, NY. 10013-1578
  • Johnson, V. E.(1980). I'll Quit Tomorrow. Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY 10022
  • Volpicelli, J., M. D., Ph.D. (2000). Recovery Options: How You  and Your Loved Ones Can Understand and Treat Alcohol and Other Drug Problems. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, NY.
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Page last updated Apr 02, 2012

Topics Covered by this Expert
Alcoholic Alcoholism Alcoholism Treatment Intervention

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