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How to Stage an Intervention

When you must step in, keep these tips in mind.

If you have an addict in your family who has resisted all of your efforts to get him or her into treatment, you may be considering an intervention. Intervening in a structured and well-planned way succeeds (meaning the addict goes to a treatment program the day of the intervention) 85 percent of the time. So says Debra Jay, coauthor of Love First: A Family's Guide to Intervention, which includes a chapter on how to intervene with older adults. She offers these tips about the perils and rewards of the process:

Finding a qualified interventionist

Be deliberate in your choice of an interventionist. It's not a regulated profession. "Anyone can hang out a shingle," Jay says. People who aren't trained and experienced in working directly with addicts can do more harm than good. So seek out an interventionist who can document his or her direct clinical experience working with people in recovery. Jay suggests contacting the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, or Hazelden, based in Center City, Minnesota, both of which maintain lists of experienced professionals. Or ask a local substance-abuse clinic for referrals. In all cases, Jay says, the interventionist should describe his or her methods; this lets you weigh whether those methods are likely to be a good fit for your family.

Including children

The heartfelt words of a child — written by a daughter, son, or grandchild — can often convince an addict to seek help. Experts caution against including young children in the process, however. Rarely has Jay, an interventionist herself, allowed a child under 13 to participate. (She was shocked that the Dash family had included an 8-year-old in Ron's intervention, despite its positive outcome. The circumstances of an intervention are difficult for younger children to understand, and involving them can be harmful if the venture fails.) Instead, Jay asks young children to write letters or draw pictures, which adult relatives read or show to the addict. Given the stakes, always get the advice of a pro before including a child.