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Serious drug addiction can be one of the worst ordeals in life. Each year, over 750,000 people worldwide die due to complications from illicit drug use.

It’s no wonder the friends and family of a drug addict may want to stage an intervention to prevent an addiction from escalating.

With that being said, what is a drug intervention? Does it really work?

A drug intervention is a carefully planned meeting where an addicted person’s loved ones come together and express their worries toward the subject, often without the addict’s foreknowledge prior to the meeting. 

Effective interventions will end with a clear conclusion and action steps toward supporting the addicted individual’s recovery, whether that means seeking treatment or finding resources that may help them make a clean break from addiction.

Knowing what a drug intervention is, however, is only the first step toward planning one. If your loved one requires intervention, you’ll need to know:

  • How to do a drug intervention?
  • What are the challenges and benefits of a drug intervention?
  • Why is a drug intervention important?
  • Should you hire a drug interventionist? What kind of qualifications should you look for in a drug interventionist?
  • What’s the history of drug interventions?


Read on to find out about drug interventions and how you can conduct one.

History of Drug Intervention

Abstinence-based interventions can trace their roots back as early as the 1750s when sobriety circles were formed to treat alcoholism. Benjamin Rush was the first to argue, in 1784, that alcoholism was a disease that needed proper medical treatment.

Most early interventions revolved around treating alcoholism since alcohol was a more accessible substance and a more likely candidate for addiction. Drug and alcohol intervention were intertwined throughout history, perhaps due to lower demand for the former at first.

Around 1919, the first drug intervention programs were founded in the form of morphine maintenance clinics, which specialized in treating patients with morphine addiction. Many early drug intervention programs experimented on their patients under the guise of drug and alcohol intervention.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Dr. Vernon Johnson originated drug intervention programs. The Johnson model focused on the confrontation between the addicted person and their loved ones to highlight the negative impact of addiction on the patient’s life. The goal is to prompt them to seek medical treatment before it’s too late, and they have done irreparable damage to their reputation and livelihood.

Drug addiction wasn’t identified as a disease until 1987, meaning there was a serious lack of medical research into treatment even as the issue of drug addiction worsened throughout the world.

The stigma surrounding drug addiction was likely a large factor in the slow development of drug intervention programs in comparison to alcoholism treatment. Many people suffering from drug addiction have even committed suicide due to the immense social pressure to conceal their struggles with addiction. There was an association of drug addiction with people who had a lower moral character, which only prevented people from seeking treatment that they really needed.

Now drug intervention is a common practice. All the same, the stigma against drug addiction persists to this day. Although the public perception is slowly changing to recognize addiction to drugs as a medical issue, people are more likely to treat drug users negatively than those with mental health illnesses, viewing them as having a moral failing as opposed to suffering from a disease.

Society’s unconscious bias needs to move a long way before drug addiction is treated with the sympathy and compassion it deserves. Drug intervention may be an important part of rehabilitation, but it still doesn’t have the recognition it should for treating addiction.

Why Drug Intervention is the Most Crucial Step in the Addiction Recovery Process

drug intervention is a crucial step in the addiction recovery process

A drug intervention marks the breaking point in an addiction. It’s the loved ones in an addict’s life coming together to express their love, concern, and hurt in an organized manner to kickstart the recovery process.

So why is drug intervention one of the most crucial steps in addiction recovery?

  • Highlight the consequences of addiction. Just because an addicted person is not functioning well doesn’t mean they understand what it’s doing to the people around them. Showing them the consequences of their drug addiction will illuminate the situation, laying down the groundwork for a serious conversation about the next steps.
  • Breakthrough denial. Many drug addicts are in denial about how bad their addiction issues are, and the way they may be affecting the people around them. Stating the effects of their addiction in plain terms can help break through denial, moving them closer to seeking treatment.
  • Show love and support. People with strong social support are more likely to recover from the debilitating effects of drug addiction. Showing the addicted individual in your life that they have a social group to fall back on for emotional support can jolt them into starting the recovery process.


While staging a drug intervention doesn’t guarantee eventual success in the recovery portion of treatment, when done right it’s a solid first step toward embarking on the journey of recovery in the first place.

How Is A Drug Intervention Session Conducted and Who’s Involved?

The specific components of a drug and alcohol intervention session are simple enough. Trickier than that is bringing everyone together and planning the session. You need to figure out how to do a drug intervention that is at once supportive and motivational, which is no small order.

Here are a few steps to consider when planning your drug intervention session:

Pick the right people. Selecting the best candidates for drug intervention improves your odds of succeeding. You should be choosing:

  • Loved ones. People who have an intimate, trusting relationship with the subject.
  • Stable, positive relationships. Picking people who are on positive terms with the subject makes them more likely to listen.
  • People willing to stick by the talking points. Avoid people who are going into the intervention with their own agenda or who might steer off-topic from the agreed-upon discussions. Volatility in the discussion may jeopardize the effectiveness of the intervention.


Select a good location. A private location apart from the subject’s home may provide the right tone for an intervention. If the drug addict has a pattern of negative or addictive behaviour at home, then it would be helpful to seek out a neutral site to stage an intervention.

Find the right time. You don’t want to catch the subject during a particularly tense or volatile time, or for when they might be under the influence of substances. Schedule your intervention for a neutral, free period of time where your subject can’t make excuses to step away. The group should be free during this time too, so they can stay present the whole time to support the subject.

Hire an interventionist. Having a professional present not only legitimizes the drug intervention process but provides a neutral party who specializes in structuring and moderating the discussion to guarantee maximum success rates.

Develop a plan. A drug intervention needs to be structured properly to guide the addict toward feeling loved, supported, and capable of recovery. Here’s how a typical drug intervention should go:

  • Share instances of how the addict’s behaviour negatively impacted their life. Focus on naming the instances with concern for the addict instead of shaming them for their drug addiction.
  • Discuss the next steps. Friends and family go around discussing the next steps for the subject to move into the recovery stage. This step is best done with the presence of a drug interventionist or other professional.
  • Discuss emotional responses. Depending on the reaction of the subject, loved ones may pitch in to share how they would respond if the subject didn’t go to treatment. Just like the rest of the intervention, this section should be free from shame, encouraging the subject to change their life positively.


Think about self-care. Drug and alcohol intervention is taxing for everyone involved, not just the subject. Family members of drug addicts, especially children, have been shown to experience emotional stress, poor school and work performance, and exposure to other drugs. Participants should take time to account for their own wellbeing before and after the intervention.

Those are the basic steps of a drug and alcohol intervention. It requires painstaking planning to stage an intervention, and you should be prepared to go into the process for the possibility of resistance, conflict, and prolonged discussion on the impact of drug addiction.

Benefits and Challenges of Drug Intervention

benefits and challenges of drug intervention

Drug interventions can be extremely challenging and rewarding, often at once. What are some of the benefits and challenges of this process?

Benefits of Drug Intervention Challenges of Drug Intervention
Low risk (excluding violent tendencies) Can be risky for volatile, violent patients
The group approach increases the effectiveness Without planning, may become emotionally charged
Opens up a dialogue about addiction to reduce the stigma May introduce feelings of shame that drive further avoidance
Establishes expectations about the consequences of continued drug abuse
Introduces a timeline for recovery

With these benefits and challenges in mind, what are some tips you can take advantage of while scheduling a drug and alcohol intervention?

  • No shaming or yelling. Shaming someone for their addiction will only result in them spiraling into negative emotions. Learn to separate the addict and their addiction: it’s a serious disease and they are the victims of this ailment.
  • Be specific. When detailing the ways someone’s addiction has affected you, use specific evocative statements. For example, telling someone they have been abrasive recently is less emotionally impactful than reminding them about the way they snapped at their children last Saturday. Specific incidents are harder to dismiss and make your case stronger.
  • Don’t aim to induce stress. You don’t want the subject to feel stress or guilt. Focus on positive emotions, such as how good they’ll feel once they have recovered from drug addiction. It’s okay to address grievances as long as you don’t focus only on feelings of bitterness.
  • Have a follow-up plan. Plan for every possibility. What if they resist? How about if they are willing to accept treatment on the spot? Could they continue to deny evidence? You want to know what to do in every situation since timing is crucial for addicts.


Most potential challenges with drug intervention programs arise during the execution. When done poorly, they can introduce a whole host of risk factors, negative feelings, and increased volatility to the situation. That’s why it’s highly beneficial to hire a professional drug interventionist to guide the discussion and guarantee things stay civil.

Main Responsibilities of a Drug Interventionist

Put simply, a drug interventionist’s role is to establish a pathway for the drug user’s family to recover, all while decoding the behaviours and reactions of the drug user. They do not serve as:

  • Therapist
  • Motivational speaker
  • Rehabilitation expert


What are the differences between a drug interventionist and these other careers?

Provides Counseling? Supports Patients? Supports Families? Participates in Drug Rehab
Motivational Speaker No Yes No No
Therapist Yes Yes No Yes
Drug Interventionist Yes Yes Yes No

While a drug interventionist may have expertise that overlaps with these areas, they are not supposed to take on these responsibilities. Their responsibility is to:

  • Convince the substance user to accept addiction rehab
  • Help families see how addiction has affected them
  • Assist the family in healing from the situation and setting boundaries
  • Guide the family in figuring out how to do a drug intervention
  • Handle emotional volatility arising from the intervention process


A drug interventionist is mostly responsible for mediating the relationship between a family and drug user, allowing the family to process their feelings in a healthy manner and the drug user to see the impact their behaviour has had on the family. While in an ideal world they would be able to guide the drug user toward receiving treatment, they still serve a purpose in supporting the family if they can’t succeed at doing so.

Qualifications and Schooling of a Drug Interventionist

qualifications of a drug interventionist

How is a drug interventionist qualified to help if they aren’t trained as a therapist or other mental health professional? While the specific qualifications of each drug interventionist may differ, they will often possess:

  • Drug Abuse Professional Certification
  • Certification in Drug and Alcohol Counseling
  • Certified Case Management Interventionist Credential
  • National Certification in Advanced Clinical Intervention
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Experience
  • Degree in Psychology


Keep in mind that these are just a few specific examples of qualifications and schooling a drug interventionist may have. Their experience in the field with drug intervention is another important component of their qualifications. 

  • Do they have experience working directly with drug addiction?
  • How do they apply their learnings in psychology or counseling to an interventionist setting?
  • Can they speak to the treatment of patients in addition to counseling of family members?
  • How many years have they been working as a drug interventionist?


Asking them this type of question will help you find a qualified, knowledgeable drug interventionist for your family.

Other Steps of The Addiction Recovery Process

Drug and alcohol intervention is only the first step in a long recovery process. The National Institute of Drug Abuse developed a roadmap for the four steps of addiction recovery:

  • Treatment Initiation. Drug intervention may kickstart the start of treatment. At this stage, the individual should be considering what kind of treatment they want to receive and explore potential feelings of denial they may have toward their addiction.
  • Early Abstinence. Taking place pre-treatment or during the treatment, individuals withdraw from substance use during this period to prepare for better treatment outcomes. This may be accomplished alone or with the help of an inpatient or outpatient program.
  • Maintaining Abstinence. Drug abuse relapse rates can be as high as 40-60%. Continued abstinence focuses on preventing relapse after 90 days of sobriety. This stage is also highly important for the patient to reintegrate themselves into living a substance-free lifestyle.
  • Advanced Recovery. Advanced recovery means returning to a healthy lifestyle and finding happiness without substance use.


These steps often involve inpatient or outpatient treatment, depending on the severity of the drug addiction. Drug and alcohol intervention early on may result in positive outcomes down the road, as it can help provide a healthy outlook on how living addiction-free may be beneficial.

How and Where to Find Drug Interventionists Across Canada

Looking to assist a loved one in jumpstarting their drug addiction rehabilitation? There are plenty of reputable drug interventionists across Canada. You can find them through the Canada Drug Rehab website, which is a directory for drug addiction recovery resources.

Andy Bhatti Drug and Intervention Services is a great drug interventionist. His coaching expertise in behavioural addiction and abuse, as well as staging interventions for vulnerable individuals such as high-risk youth, provides a holistic recovery path for his patients.

As a survivor, Andy Bhatti understands how challenging it is to recover from drug addiction and find meaning in substance-free living. He prides himself on being there for his patients every step of the way. Visit his website to find out information about his approach to drug intervention.