It’s not really surprise or shock that convinces the alcoholic to seek treatment. It’s a combination of influence and leverage.

Our Intervention Got Ratted Out!We’ve tried twice to stage an intervention with my stepdaughter, who’s 22 and we are sure is taking Oxy pills that she gets from her boyfriend. Her roommate is the one who told us. We have a good team and we trained with a counselor but both times she found out we were going to do the intervention and left town so we couldn’t find her. Is she just supersensitive about these things?”

She could be clairvoyant. But I’ll go with the simpler explanation: somebody’s tipping her off.

We know people with alcoholism are ambivalent in the extreme about treatment. We sometimes forget that friends and family may be equally torn about confrontation. And before you ask if somebody could seek help for the alcoholic person and at the same time undermine the effort – well, sure. Happens not infrequently.

It’s about ambivalence. We know the alcoholic person needs help. At the same time, we dread on some deep, emotional level, the prospect of her anger, and the feeling of guilt it engenders in us. We compromise on a subconscious level by acting in contradictory ways. Promoting treatment, and somehow simultaneously sabotaging it.

As to who might be tipping her, it’s not important. But if you’re still encountering this problem after having professional training, your team might want consider abandoning the idea of surprising her. For instance, Ed Storti has what he calls a ‘motivational intervention’ described in his book Heart to Heart. You can check it out on his website. Also the ARISE model, on their site. Neither depends on the element of surprise, and both have been effective in a bunch of different situations.

Try looking at it this way: she already knows you’re coming for her, and she’s figured out that you can’t confront her if she ain’t there. That just alters the challenge. Now you need to figure out a way to convince her to show up despite knowing she will be confronted.

It’s not at all impossible. Just needs an adjustment of strategy.

Remember, it’s not really surprise or shock that convinces an alcoholic person to seek treatment. It’s a combination of influence and leverage. Those are still potent, even if she expects them.


#languagematters using words like “addict” and “alcoholic” further stigmatizes the population we are trying to help. Using “people first language” is less stigmatizing and emphasizes the person not their diagnosis or behavior. Always put the person before the label or diagnosis.

Comment by Traci — March 5, 2018 @ 11:30 am

People are still doing interventions? You know that these things have no real track record of efficacy. You could just as easily ask the person to go into treatment without the whole circus.

Comment by Philip Pellegrino — October 13, 2017 @ 6:54 am

It’s not that complicated, as the Storti books and the ARISE model mentioned in the article suggest. The team selects two members to approach the alcoholic/addict with an appeal to come to a larger discussion meeting with the whole team. These two members are usually those who have influence with the subject of the intervention — usually that means who have 1) the addict’s respect and 2) with whom the addict is not currently conflict. The purpose of the meeting is generally addressed as an opportunity for all to be heard — addict and family alike — and to clear the air, once and for all. No commitment to treatment is asked at that point — only to listening. The addict will want to know who will be at the larger meeting and whether someone will force him or her to stay (no). If the addict remains reluctant, it’s good to remind him or her of the importance the team is placing on this meeting. That’s about it.

Comment by C. Scott McMillin — June 10, 2013 @ 11:14 am

What is the adjustment and strategy for convincing an addict to show up despite knowing they will be confronted? Isn’t an intervention for someone who doesn’t want help? Any thoughts?

Comment by rehabcenternet — June 10, 2013 @ 9:56 am

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