Intervention: Halting the Progress of Chemical Dependency

Chemical dependency is a disease. You have probably heard this said before but may still have a hard time understanding that a person who abuses alcohol or other drugs is a victim of an illness. He or she does not abuse or misuse drugs deliberately. When you understand that this dependency is a sickness, hopefully some of the frustration and resentment you feel will subside.

Preparing for the Intervention

The longer you wait, the longer the person you love will suffer. It is very rare for the chemically dependent person to admit he has a problem and decide to get treatment on his own. This usually only happens when a person “hits bottom” so hard that there is no other option. But people who reach this point are some of the sickest. Obviously, early intervention is best.

Gathering the Intervention Team

Make a list of all the people who are important to the victim and have a strong influence on her. If the person is married, then the spouse should be invited. It is also very helpful to have the victim’s employer join the team. You should also try to involve her parents, siblings, and children. According to the Johnson Institute, groups of three to five are best.

The team members must understand chemical dependency. They must be willing to “risk” their relationship with the victim. If a potential team member feels that addiction is a sign of weakness or a simple lack of willpower, he will not be a good addition. Expect some hesitancy from team members. Some may be afraid of how the person will react. Your simple argument is: If they do nothing, the chemically dependent person will die prematurely. 

Rehearsing the Intervention

You should have at least one "rehearsal" prior to the intervention. Rehearsals will help the team members learn that other people have been affected by the chemically dependent person in similar ways. It will increase support and understanding among the members. It will also lessen the chances that someone will say something unclear or something they do not want to say.

Choose a chairperson.

You should all agree on one person to be in charge of the rehearsals and the intervention itself. The victim's boss is usually the best choice. A spouse or child is not usually a good choice. The pain they have suffered is likely to make them too emotional to handle this role well. The chairperson is responsible for keeping the intervention organized and effective.

Prepare to respond to the dependent person.

Chances are good the victim will not just sit quietly and listen. Your responses must be realistic and firm. For instance, is the spouse prepared to take the kids and move out if the person refuses to get help? If not, then this should not be said. No one should give an ultimatum unless they are committed to follow through with it. If the victim tries to leave, someone should be prepared to say, "Please sit down and listen to the rest of what we have to say.” If the victim starts crying and promises never to drink again, the team members should be ready to say that he needs help or treatment in order to be able to keep that promise.


Johnson, V. E. Intervention