Language Matters: How to Handle an Intervention

May 16, 2024

Friends and family of someone who abuses alcohol or drugs are often the first ones to notice self-destructive behavior. They’re also the ones most likely to be hurt by these behaviors, making any intervention an emotionally charged minefield. However, there are ways to approach an intervention that maximize your chances for success.

How to Handle an Intervention


Hire an Interventionist

Hiring a professional who has done many interventions in the past is a good way to keep the conversation on track. They can guide you before the intervention on what to say and how to keep hold of your emotions so you can focus on the purpose of the intervention. You’re there to convince your loved one they need help, and that treatment is doable.

Recognize Contributions

Those struggling with addiction wallow in self-recrimination. They judge themselves harshly and expect everyone else to do likewise. They get defensive, expecting an attack. They quit thinking rationally about what they offer and only see their faults. Sometimes, the family also falls into this trap, where there is so much hurt and anger that they can’t see past addictive behavior to the person beneath.

You have a far better chance of success if you show the addicted person that you value them. Tell them what they mean to your family. Recognize their past contributions and present efforts to contribute, whether or not those efforts are successful. Addiction is a disease, not an identity. Let your loved one know that you see them as a person of great worth—not an addict. Help them see they are a person worth saving.

Tell the Truth Without Declaring War

Part of the intervention is explaining how the addictive behaviors have affected your family or friendship. Pent-up anger and hurt can derail the conversation, make your loved one defensive, and effectively shut them down so they don’t hear your message. If you need to seek a counselor before the intervention to approach this calmly, then do so.

A good way to present an inarguable statement is to focus on your feelings rather than label them. For example, let’s say a spouse promises to quit, but the family finds empty liquor bottles hidden in the house. Here are two ways you could handle the discussion.

  1. “You promised you’d quit. You betrayed me. I can’t believe you did this to me again.”
    This statement is inflammatory, even if that’s how you really feel, but the language will make them defensive, and you won’t accomplish much.
  2. “I am scared and hurt. Our relationship can’t survive this much longer. I want you to be part of our lives, but I need a partner who is all in. I need you to get healthy for us.”
    This statement makes a point and starts moving the conversation toward a solution without casting stones.

Express Genuine Love

Let your loved one know they still have a place in your heart. You haven’t given up on them. You love them unconditionally; it’s the illness that needs a cure. Help them see you have faith in their ability to beat this disease. You know they can succeed, and you support them in their efforts to get healthy. You understand this is scary. You want them to be safe and successful.

Come Prepared With Answers

An intervention works best if you act immediately. Make a plan, and if your loved one agrees to get help, act on it immediately. If you are not prepared and have to start researching drug rehabs, you’ll lose momentum. Instead, have a center with an open bed at the ready. Don’t let your loved one negotiate their treatment timeline to next week, next month, or after a future event. The longer they wait, the greater the chance they’ll talk themselves out of getting help.

Be able to answer your loved one’s questions.

  • How long will I be gone at the addiction recovery center?
  • What does treatment look like?
  • Will I have visitors?
  • Who will care for my home/kids/pets
  • What about my job? How can I support myself if I go to a drug rehab?
  • What happens when I get out of treatment? How do I keep going so I don’t relapse?
  • What happens if I relapse? What support will I have access to to get back on track? Is there a group meeting I can attend?

You can start your research by googling “detox facility near me” or “substance abuse rehab.”

Offer to Start Family Therapy

Commit to supporting your loved one once they have accepted help by attending family therapy (which is usually offered through addiction recovery centers). Family therapy helps you know what to expect in the days after your loved one returns from the recovery center, and it prepares you to support your loved one long-term. It helps your family deal with any hard feelings constructively, so they don’t hamper your family’s ability to heal. Showing that you’re ready to learn and change will empower your loved one to do the same.


Approaching your loved one from a position of family unity and support will set your whole family up to succeed and heal. Together, you can move toward sobriety and forge deeper, stronger ties than ever before. Contact our Utah and Idaho addiction treatment centers for more information.