How to Write an Intervention Letter

Interventions are most successful when they are very tightly scripted. For this reason, we like to use letters that follow a formula, as a tool for keeping the Intervention members on track.

During an intervention, emotions can run high. It is most effective if each person writes a letter prior to the actual intervention. Letters are a proven method to prevent you from exploding into spontaneous anger or freezing up at the last moment.

Any hint of anger or blame during an intervention is damaging. The addict will be listening intently for any sign of recrimination, as this presents a golden opportunity to start a fight. Once the anger flares and an argument ensues, the intervention is derailed. To guard against this calamity, we use letters to script our remarks and to maintain a clear and positive tone. In addition, we focus on our “love” for that person and make it clear that we love them unconditionally. But that also means that we will no longer “love them to death.

The letters have several parts. But first I’d like to share with you an “exemplary” letter from a family member that was used during a successful intervention.

“Dear Dad,

We don’t talk about it ever, but I love you very much. I know you love me very much, and you are very proud of me. I wouldn’t be where I am, or have what I have, if it weren’t for you. You taught me that I need to learn how to take care of myself before I rely on anyone else to do it for me. You encouraged me and supported me in my career aspirations. This gave me the confidence I needed to accept job positions that took me throughout the Midwest on my own.

When I went through my major heartbreak with Tom, you were the one whose shoulder I cried on. You were the one I trusted.

You helped me get through it. But Dad, your alcoholism has been a part of our lives for a very long time. We didn’t get here overnight. It is running your life. When I call home to check in, if it is too late in the evening, you’re drunk. You get on the phone and your speech is slurred. When we talk later in the week you don’t even remember our conversations. Sometimes you’re passed out, and we don’t get to talk at all.                                             

When I come to visit you, and I’m on my way out to walk the dog, if you’re in the garage I’ll try to wait a little while because I don’t want to catch you secretly pouring a drink. I do this to save you embarrassment. Or else I try to make a lot of noise in the laundry room so you know I’m coming, and you can hide the alcohol.

If I show up at your house late in the evening, you’re drunk. I see it in your eyes, hear it in your speech and watch you move back and forth from the kitchen cupboard to the couch, with an occasional trip to the garage to drink from your hidden supply.

I love you, and I don’t like seeing alcoholism sucking the life out of you. We’re all here together because we want you to accept help. We’re here to help. Will you accept our help today?


Your daughter, Tina”

There are several parts to a good intervention letter and all of them are displayed in the example above.


The letter should begin with a simple statement of love and concern. You, as the writer of this letter are an important part of the alcoholic’s life. So your statement should come straight from the heart.


Next and most importantly, you must recall a time when the alcoholic has been especially helpful to you or when you have been proud of the alcoholic. Gratitude is the last thing that the addict is expecting to hear. When an intervention begins, the alcoholic will know intuitively what it’s all about. He or she will be on guard and may be ready to do anything to derail the intervention. Imagine the surprise on the alcoholic’s face when letters are read that begin with heartfelt memories of pride and thanks. The alcoholic will be completely disarmed. Instead of starting an argument, the addict will often start to weep. This unique element is a key technique of the “Love First” approach.


The next part is optional and in fact it was not used in the letter cited above. Still, I like to use it in certain types of cases. In this section, you should make a brief statement about your new understanding of alcoholism as a disease and your desire for the addict to get help in a formal treatment setting. This statement will have the effect of taking the addiction problem out of the moral sphere and putting it into the medical professional arena.


Gratitude” or the “I understand addiction” section should be followed by a statement of facts about the alcoholic’s negative behavior. As Sergeant Joe Friday used to say: “The facts ma’am, just the facts.” In this section of the letter, you will need to recall several specific instances that illustrate the alcohol or drug problem. These facts must come from your own first-hand knowledge, not hearsay.

They should be the kind of facts that would tell any impartial observer that there was an addiction problem. For instance, our letter quoted above states: “When I call home to check in, if it is too late in the evening, you’re drunk. You get on the phone and your speech is slurred.” The alcoholic cannot argue with specific first-hand experience.


In the next part of the letter, you will repeat your love and concern, and then ask the addict to accept help for the illness. You may be quite specific about this. In fact, it is appropriate to even name the treatment center that you want them to enter.

An Example of Explaining your “knowledge of addiction.”

“Tom, I’ve taken some time to learn about chemical dependency and I’ve learned that it is a disease that requires medical treatment. This is not a question of your willpower. It is a question of getting real help for a real illness.”


When this simple “intervention letter” format is repeated by all the people on the team, it has a very powerful effect on the alcoholic / addict. Gradually, you will see the addict’s denial slip away. The weight of the facts combined with the loving calm of the group will gently bring the addict into a moment of clarity where he or she can see that the best option is to accept help.

Sometimes the alcoholic will want to continue the conversation. It is important that the team stick with their game plan. It is best to have only one person answer the objections to treatment. Often, the silence and self-control of the group will have a confounding effect on the alcoholic. He or she may try to start an argument, but to no avail.

The Intervention Leader must continue to speak for the group after the letters are read. In addition to answering objections, the Leader will handle any questions that the addict brings up and will keep the other team members from getting emotionally entangled or defocused.

In my experience, very few interventions require the use of a ‘bottom line’ to influence the alcoholic to accept help. However, in about 5% of the cases, it may be necessary.


The bottom line that each team member brings to the intervention can be described as the natural consequence that should follow if the alcoholic refuses help. Here’s an example:

“Dad, I’m sorry to hear that you won’t accept the help that we’re offering you today. Obviously, it’s your choice to make. But I cannot continue to subject my two beautiful children to your abusive alcoholic behavior. So, until you complete treatment and become involved in a program of recovery, I cannot allow you to see your grand children.”

Needless to say, the alcoholic was thunderstruck. He blustered and threatened and tried to pick a fight, but no one responded. They let his words hang in mid-air without a reply. Finally, the son said to his alcoholic father, “Dad, your grandkids just want their Pappy back.” Both men started to cry, and the stubborn old gentleman was admitted into treatment that same day.



Take time in preparing you letters. When it comes time to rehearse the intervention, be sure to read them all aloud. By working together we can all help shape the letters to make them more even more effective. As a team, we can help each other notice subtle comments and details focusing on anger or blame that should be edited out. Often times things that the writer did not intend.

Letters can be a critical part of the treatment process, as well. Many addicts will lie about their use when they finally get into treatment. The intervention team should send copies of their letters to the counselor. In this way, the documented facts will continue to play an important role in the recovery process.