Classical Intervention

Each year, tens of thousands of young people answer the Monitoring the Future survey, which asks them about their drug use and how they feel about drugs in general.  Funded in part by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the study is based at the University of Michigan and includes approximately 50,000 students in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades.

According to the latest results from the survey conducted in 2011, daily marijuana use increased in all three grade levels, while the perceived risks involved in daily use of marijuana has gone down.  Our children are using drugs more often, and they don’t think it is all that dangerous.

If your child is using drugs on a regular basis, particularly if he is like eight percent of his classmates who also abuse prescription drugs, it might be time to consider hosting an intervention, and a classical intervention is the most common type. As parents, we have the desire to see our children well and whole. We take on the responsibility of protecting them from the moment they are born, and it is painful to see them suffer with uncontrollable behaviors brought on by drug abuse.  But there is something that we can do about it.  As parents, we have the control to help our children make the right decisions, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.

Helping an Addict Understand They Have a Problem

When it comes to your underage child, it might seem like a viable solution to simply check him/her into the nearest treatment center and demand that they recover.  After all, addiction is a disease and if our child had tonsillitis, we would arrange for a tonsillectomy.  Drug addiction, unfortunately, is much more of a convoluted disorder than the typical ailments our children face—the ones we are prepared to conquer.

As with any disease, drug abuse is characterized by certain symptoms.  If your child is suffering from any of these types of behaviors, an intervention to help them understand they have a problem with substance abuse or addiction may be in order:
  • Does your child fail to live up to his or her responsibilities, such as meeting their requirements in school or at their after-school job?
  • Has your child been cited or arrested for criminal activity, even “minor” infractions such as smoking cigarettes?
  • Does your child expose himself to dangerous situations in order to obtain his drugs, such as visiting abandoned buildings or purchasing drugs from individuals he does not know?
  • Does your child continue to use drugs, regardless of the negative effect the abuse has on her social and family relationships?

An Intervention Is Not an Attack

Generally speaking, when we think of an intervention, we think of crisis situations where several people gang up on another individual and tear them apart with accusations and ultimatums.  The truth is, there are several types of intervention models currently in existence, and many of them are non-confrontational.  The classical intervention approach is one that combines direct, sincere communication with consequences for non-action on the part of the addict.  This, in effect, would raise the proverbial “rock bottom” that an addict is believed to hit before turning their attention to recovery.

According to an article in Counselor magazine, Fr. Vernon Johnson, an Episcopal priest who developed the modern intervention process in the 1960s, believed that confrontation was necessary to get the afflicted family member’s attention, but that the information should be presented in a way that would be received well by that person.  Those participating in the intervention should be caring but firm.  If the addict chooses to continue using drugs, the consequences should be immediate.

This concept is based on the belief that the person suffering from addiction was willing to stop using drugs or alcohol on their own, but simply unable to do so without help.  With this understanding in mind, an intervention is designed to show the addict just how badly their disease is affecting everyone around them. In essence, during an intervention, you aren’t asking your family member to simply stop using drugs.  Rather, you are offering them a chance to receive immediate treatment for a life-threatening condition because you love them so much – you don’t want to lose them.

Planning a Classical Intervention

A classical intervention is the most frequently form of intervention, and it’s based on the Johnson Model. In this model, the focus of the intervention is on the addict, not those affected by the addict’s actions. The ultimate goal is to get the addict to seek the treatment help they so desperately need.

An intervention is not a spur-of-the-moment event.  It can take weeks to plan and certain arrangements should be made in advance of the actual intervention day.

Each step of the planning phase is important, and adequately preparing yourself for the many possible reactions your loved one may have can help you create a better chance for success. Here are the steps involved:

Hire an intervention specialist

While it is not required that you hire a professional to help with the planning and execution of an intervention, a professional interventionist has experience and knowledge that can make the process easier for everyone concerned.  An intervention is a stressful and emotional time for everyone involved, so having a trained individual who isn’t personally or emotionally invested is a good idea.A professional interventionist might work for one particular treatment facility, or they might be an independent who has contacts at many facilities with different perspectives, availability or treatment programs that offer unique services for rehabilitation.

Select the intervention team

Preparing and training for the intervention is the longest part of the intervention process.  During this phase, you and your interventionist will select the intervention team. Team members might consist of any number of individuals who care enough about your loved one’s health and happiness to take the time necessary to participate fully. In staging an intervention for your child, the team members might include:

  • Parents and step-parents
  • Aunts, uncles, cousins
  • Siblings (if they are emotionally ready and mature enough to participate)
  • Teachers
  • Coaches
  • Close friends
  • Boyfriends/girlfriends
  • Grandparents

Learn about the disease

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the disease of addiction affects the human brain in a chronic manner that is often marked by relapse. Simply gaining the knowledge you need to truly understand how the disease reacts, and how your child may react to the disease, can be of great benefit to the entire family.  A professional intervention specialist will take the time needed to educate you and the entire intervention team on the specifics of addiction.

Find and book a treatment center

The goal of any classical intervention is to place your loved one – in this case, your child – of his/her own free will, into a treatment center immediately following the intervention.  If you do not have a facility lined up and ready to admit your loved one, they will have time to second-guess or minimize their decision to enter the program.  Once your loved one agrees to get the help they need to treat their disease, put them in the car or get on a plane to enroll right away.  Do not wait until your loved one agrees to check into rehab before you start looking.

Take care of business

Pack a bag for your loved one that contains only those items they will be allowed to bring with them.  Secure a location to hold the intervention and make sure you will not be interrupted for as long as the process might take. Interventions can last several hours, so be prepared to stay for as long as needed.Some interventions will include writing letters to your loved one, outlining your reasons for holding the intervention.  In the letter, you can provide examples of behaviors, including lies told and proof of those lies, as well as reiterating how much you love them.  Because the interventions are such emotionally charged events, having your thoughts written down will ensure that you say what you mean to without leaving out pertinent details.  Each member of the team will read their letter aloud.


A professional intervention specialist has heard just about every excuse or argument that a drug addict or alcoholic can think of.  Rehearsing the intervention so that you are also prepared for the manipulation, excuses and blame-shifting your loved one may attempt will make the event more effective.

The Intervention Day Consequences

On the day of the intervention, you and each member of the team will attempt to show your loved one how devastating their addiction has become not only on themselves, but on the entire family and social unit.  Fr. Johnson developed his classical intervention model because he found that the alcoholics who participated in his study had all lost things of value because of their addiction. Money, family connections and opportunities – all of these had been lost in cascading and drastic ways but the addicts were still drinking. When you perform the intervention, keep this mind to convey to your loved one just how desperate the situation has become.  With luck, they will understand your message and agree to seek help.

If your loved one doesn’t agree to treatment, you will need to draw the line very clearly to show them what they are giving up.

The consequences you set up during the planning phase should be communicated.  If you have decided that your child, depending upon his or her age, cannot reside in your home anymore, do your best to enforce the new restriction immediately.  If you have decided that you can no longer give your child access to funds, collect any debit or credit cards they may have in their possession.

It is possible to love your child – or anyone in your life – throughout their fight with addiction and substance abuse, and it is possible to use that love to help them make the right decision about their own future.  An intervention is a tool to help you help them.

For more information about performing an intervention or hiring a professional, please contact us.  We have trained professionals waiting to serve you.