What Are the Top Causes of a Failed Intervention?

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If you have someone in your life who struggles with addiction, you understand better than anyone the frustration, sadness, and helplessness that comes from watching them make decisions that negatively affect their life and health. Millions of people in the United States live with addiction and struggle with the negative impact it makes on their mental and physical health and their communities.

Most people want to help their loved ones get the help they need to overcome the addiction. It is not always clear how to accomplish this goal. Balancing the urgency of their need for treatment and wanting to protect their feelings can be very difficult. Many people find that staging an intervention is the best way to do this.

An intervention is a planned event that usually involves concerned friends and family members who want to encourage their loved one to seek addiction treatment. While there are many methods of holding an intervention, most involve prepared statements, expressions of support, and assistance in finding a treatment program.

Sometimes, an intervention can fail. Understanding the most common reasons for an intervention gone wrong can help you prepare to stage a successful one of your own when you need to do so. Here are the top four causes of a failed intervention.

1. Your Loved One Reacts Badly

When faced with their friends’ and family’s concerns, many people with addiction may feel overwhelmed or become defensive. They may react with anger or even violence. They may refuse to listen or respond, leave the intervention without hearing you, or refuse treatment. This is the most common reason for a failed intervention.

A trained intervention specialist can help keep the intervention calm and focused. They can help your team prepare and practice the intervention and will de-escalate heightened emotions during the event. A professional can also help determine if the intervention needs to be postponed and what steps to take if your loved one refuses treatment.

2. The Intervention is Poorly Planned

When friends and family members attempt to stage an intervention without enough preparation, the intervention is much less likely to be effective. A lack of planning can lead to unclear expectations and not being on the same page. The intervention can lose its focus, become emotional, or end in negotiations with your loved one about the next steps.

To avoid a failed intervention, be careful to:

  • Plan the intervention ahead of time
  • Agree to your expectations and consequences–and stick to them
  • Educate yourself about addiction and treatment options
  • Get professional help

It is not enough to guess how things will go during the intervention and hope for the best. Prepare, plan, and practice beforehand to give your intervention the best chance of success.

3. Your Loved One is Intoxicated During the Intervention

Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most common reasons why interventions fail. Since people with addiction are often not in control of their substance use, it can be difficult to determine the best time to hold an intervention.

If your loved one is intoxicated during the intervention, they may:

  • Be unable to process the information you’re giving them
  • Become violent
  • Leave
  • Refuse treatment
  • Be unable to make a choice about accepting help

It is important to make every effort to hold the intervention at a time when your loved one will be sober. A trained intervention specialist may be able to determine if your loved one is under the influence of drugs or alcohol if it is appropriate to proceed with the intervention, and what steps to take if you need to try again in the future.

4. Your Loved One Refuses Treatment

Even the most organized, focused intervention can fail to convince someone that they need to go to treatment. Addiction impacts people’s ability to make good choices about their health and wellbeing. If someone is in the depths of an addiction, or if they are living in denial, they may refuse to go to treatment, resulting in a failed intervention.

If this happens, it is important to follow through on the consequences you decided on while planning the intervention. These consequences may be refusing to give your loved one money, not letting them live with you, or stopping other enabling behaviors if they refuse help.

Some forms of interventions involve education and counseling for the family members and friends of the person with the addiction. Even if your loved one refuses treatment, you and the other people around them may be able to change the environment enough to reduce their substance use. Follow through on what you agreed to do and work with a professional intervention specialist to plan another intervention in the future.

Learn More About How to Avoid a Failed Intervention at New Jersey Addiction Interventions

If you or someone you care about struggles with addiction, please know you are not alone. At New Jersey Addiction Interventions, we know that nobody chooses to live with an addiction. We believe that with the right treatment and support, anyone can recover from addiction. That is why we offer a range of comprehensive, compassionate programs to give people the skills they need to overcome addiction.

Your new, healthy life is waiting for you. If you need addiction treatment or want support as you plan an intervention for a loved one, please call us today.

Medically Reviewed: September 28, 2021

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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