Understanding Intervention

One of the most pervasive myths in our culture is that an alcoholic / addict must hit bottom before he or she can be helped. But what is hitting bottom? You might hear an old-timer say, “I didn’t sober up until I lost everything: the job, the home, the wife, everything. Then they threw me in jail, and I knew I was at the end. I finally surrendered.”

There can be many things that intervene on an alcoholic / addict, that will break their denial and help them to accept help. It may be the loss of a job, a relationship, or health. It may be a legal or financial problem. In the example above, a series of unconnected and disorganized interventions took place to finally break the alcoholic’s denial. This is commonly called “hitting bottom,” but it is not the only way to start the recovery process.

The alternative is a structured family intervention. Intervention is a way of raising an alcoholic’s / addict’s bottom, so that they can get help now, before there are any more negative consequences.


Waiting for an alcoholic / addict to hit bottom can be dangerous, or fatal. Former senator George McGovern talked about the tragic death of his daughter Terry as a result of her alcoholism. He writes: “we were repeatedly told by well-meaning, supposedly informed friends that we would have to wait until Terry really hit bottom. The trouble is that when she hit bottom, she died.”

If someone you love is suffering from addiction, whether this means alcohol, prescription medication, street drugs, or destructive behaviors; there is something that you can do about it. You may not be able to control another person’s actions, but you can have a tremendous influence.


First, you can learn about the illness. Knowledge in action is power when dealing with this disease. Next, you can identify and stop your own enabling behaviors. These are often subtle and unconscious. Most families, operating out of simple love and concern, will do all the wrong things when trying to grapple with this illness.


The next step is to put together an intervention team. This means contacting the most significant people in the addict’s life and getting them all on the same page. Most family interventions fail because everyone has a different theory of addiction, viewpoint, and a different approach to the problem. This is a recipe for disaster.

When the intervention team is organized and committed to action, detailed preparations must begin. There are three keys to a successful intervention: Plan, Plan, and Plan. We’ll describe these plans and provide a checklist that you can consult.


A professional intervention allows us to preserve the dignity of the alcoholic / addict. Ultimately, they must make the decision to either continue using drugs / alcohol or change their life. Our role is to help break their denial, so that they can make the best choice. The goal of the intervention is simple—Convince the addict to accept help for their addiction.