Once you’ve recognized and acknowledged that someone you love has a substance use disorder, you can work toward getting them the help they need. Conducting an intervention can be an effective tool for encouraging someone to seek treatment, and here, you’ll find the resources to make your intervention as effective as possible.

The good news is that interventions work. Studies have shown that 75% of the two million people who’ve entered substance use treatment facilities say their friends and family were one of the major reasons they sought help.[1]

Contact a Specialist

Before you do anything, contact a professional to help you plan your intervention. You can work with an interventionist, an addiction specialist, or any other kind of counselor with a specific background in substance use disorder. Studies have shown that having a professional to supervise an intervention works more effectively than unsupervised attempts.[2]

An interventionist can help you tailor your process to your specific situation and offer suggestions for which model to use and what type of treatment to pursue. A professional can also keep your intervention on track, diffuse emotional reactions, and take a person who decides to seek treatment to the assessment or the facility that’s been reserved.

Decide Who Will Attend

Including the right group of people at your intervention is vital to your efforts. When you’re considering whom to invite, remember that the ultimate goal of the intervention is to provide information and support that will result in your loved one agreeing to seek treatment. To that end, avoid including anyone your loved one actively dislikes or anyone who is emotionally unpredictable or mentally unstable. Don’t include anyone who may be enabling the substance use or who might have motives to prevent treatment. Good options for your intervention team include the people whom your loved one respects or admires – including teachers, coworkers, mentors, members of the clergy, or family and friends. Aim to include four to six people who can be rational, supportive and encouraging during the process.

Choose an Intervention Model

There are several different models that can be used for your intervention. If you’re uncertain about which model to use, meet with an addiction specialist or interventionist to discuss your situation and learn more about which model will most effectively meet your needs.

  • The Johnson Model

This model is what you probably think of when you hear the word “intervention,” and involves confronting the person with a substance use disorder.[3] Friends and family gather together and explain all the negative repercussions of the substance use, encouraging treatment as a solution.[4] While support is offered if treatment is pursued, friends and family also discuss the repercussions and consequences if a person chooses not to enter treatment. This can sometimes make the Johnson Model feel like an ultimatum. Research has shown that when conducted under professional supervision, the Johnson Model is effective at getting someone to enter and complete treatment.[5]

  • Invitational Model/ARISE

It’s interesting to note that while 9% of non-addicts in the US have daily contact with their families, 57% of persons with substance use disorders contact their families daily.[6] This model galvanizes the entire family to use that connection to create change.[7]

Sometimes called the ARISE (A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement) model, the invitational model starts with the family seeking to get a loved one into treatment for a substance use disorder and conducting the intervention. The family schedules a meeting with an interventionist, informs the loved one about the meeting and what it will be about, and invites them to come. The person with the substance use disorder can then make their own decision on whether or not to attend. The meeting occurs in either case, and if the loved one attends, the family discusses the negative effects of the substance use disorder and encourages treatment, which can be accepted or refused.

The ARISE model is cost effective because most of the intervention is conducted by the family, and it works quickly. When the invitational model was used, 83% of people with substance use disorders agreed to enter treatment or to pursue self-help – and 50% sought treatment within one week.[8]

  • Family Systemic Model

This model is very similar to the Invitational/ARISE model, but instead of encouraging only the person with a substance use disorder to enter treatment, the entire family agrees to undergo therapies to improve communication and change behavioral interactions.

Like the ARISE model, the Family Systemic Model starts with the family contacting an interventionist and inviting the loved one to a meeting or series of meetings. In these meetings, the family may discuss the specific substance use and its effects, but they also may learn more about substance use disorder in general and how to encourage substance-free behaviors. The loved one is encouraged to seek treatment, but the whole family commits to supporting the recovery effort, including undergoing therapy.

While there a variety of different options for family therapy that can be incorporated, there’s evidence that shows substance abuse treatment that involves a family therapy component is more effective than treatment that does not.[9]

Stage a Rehearsal

Before the intervention, it is helpful to meet with everyone who will attend to discuss the ground rules and create a plan. You can decide who will speak, establish what you each want to say, and offer one another constructive criticism. You can also consider the arguments or objections that your love one might offer to avoid treatment and come up with counter arguments or fact-based responses.

Conduct Your Intervention – Dos and Don’ts

On the big day, you’re bound to feel anxious and apprehensive. After all, you’ve been planning this with the hope that your loved one will seek treatment. Ultimately, your success will depend upon how ready your loved one is to make a change. Here are a few dos and don’ts that can help the process to go as smoothly as possible.


  • Explain that substance use disorder is a disease, not an issue of willpower
  • Present specific treatment options
  • Share information about what happens in treatment and beyond
  • Keep negative emotions in check – remember you’re coming from a place of love
  • Offer concrete examples of the negative effects of the substance use
  • Be supportive and encouraging
  • Plan ahead and have a specific treatment option available
  • Ask your loved one to go into treatment and ask for an answer right now


  • Blame the person with the substance use disorder
  • Make accusations or air grievances
  • Use name-calling or other shaming techniques
  • Ambush or attack the person with the substance use disorder
  • Lose your cool – keep your conversation as fact-based and rational as possible
  • Dig up the past – this is about what’s happening today and how to fix it today
  • Accept excuses or false promises

As you conduct your intervention, try to remember that even if your loved one decides not to seek treatment at this time, that doesn’t mean your intervention has failed. Presenting facts, information, and treatment options may “plant the seeds” that lead to seeking help down the road. Recovery from substance use disorder is a long process, and this is only the first step. For more information and additional resources about how to help your loved one become substance-free, visit Treatment <link> and Recovery <link>.


[1] McCrady B. 2006. Family and Other Close Relationships. In Wm. Miller & K Carroll (Eds) Rethinking Substance Abuse. Gilford Press. New York, NY

[2] Loneck B1, Garrett JA, Banks SM. A comparison of the Johnson Intervention with four other methods of referral to outpatient treatment. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 1996 May;22(2):233-46.

[3] 4American Psychological Association. “Johnson Intervention” http://www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/practice-settings/intervention/johnson-intervention.aspx


[5] Loneck B1, Garrett JA, Banks SM. A comparison of the Johnson Intervention with four other methods of referral to outpatient treatment. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 1996 May;22(2):233-46.

[6] Stanton & Shadish, 1997

[7] “Invitational Intervention: The ARISE Model for Engaging Reluctant Alcohol and Other Drug Abusers in Treatment.” Landau, Judith, and James Garrett. Co-published simultaneously in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly (The Haworth Press) Vol. 26, No. 1/2, 2008, pp. 147-168; and: Family Intervention in Substance Abuse: Current Best Practices (ed: Oliver J. Morgan, and Cheryl H. Litzke) The Haworth Press, 2008, pp. 147-168.

[8] Landau, J. (2004a, March). Family motivation to change using invitational intervention in substance abuse treatment. Paper presented at the 14th World Congress of the International Family Therapy Association on Families in Times of Global Crisis, Istanbul, Turkey.

[9] Stanton, M.D., Todd, T.C., and Associates. The Family Therapy of Drug Abuse and Addiction. New York: Guilford Press, 1982.