It has been said that no alcoholic has ever quit drinking because he or she wanted to. They quit because they finally reach bottom, a time of pain and a Moment of Truth.

Alcoholism and drug dependency is an insidious disease. In 2016, an estimated 22.3 million persons aged 12 or older were classified with substance dependence (“Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings”, Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA.)

There is a major obstacle in addressing this disease, however. Alcoholics and drug dependent people often refuse to accept help, and if left untreated the disease continues and progresses often until death. Sometimes, people need to help alcoholics face their “Moment of Truth.”


Chemical dependency is a disease of denial. According to the book “I’ll Quit Tomorrow, A Practical Guide to Alcoholism Treatment”, Dr. Vernon Johnson, Harper Publishers, 1980, there are some 50 types of defense mechanisms which may be at work to protect the disease (anger, projection, rationalization, etc.) Too often the chemically dependent person is unaware that he or she may have the disease of dependency. They cannot see reality as others see it, nor do they realize that it is the substance use itself which is making them ill or destroying their families. When told of behaviors or actions committed while under the influence, they think the family member is “crazy” or “against him or her.”

A Family Intervention or Crisis Intervention

There may be a time when family and friends feel they need to take action on behalf of a drinker or other drug user, perhaps even to save their life. One effective method of helping the chemically dependent person is through what is known as an Intervention. An intervention is a type of family confrontation. It is not designed to get someone to stop drinking or using drugs, it is a process of bringing a person to a point of agreeing to enter into a program for an evaluation and treatment. This is important – most alcoholics or addicts cannot stop drinking or drugging without structured help. The goal of an Intervention is to penetrate that defense system to the point of allowing them to recognize the problem and thereby agree to seek help.

Two Levels of Intervention

First, try a “casual”, informal intervention by speaking to the chemically dependent person about your feelings and concerns. Share your concerns in a caring and compassionate manner, without judgment or criticism. Try to get the person to see the reality of the situation. Leave brochures or pamphlets about alcoholism or drug dependency, and provide names and numbers of local referral resources.

Second, if this does not work, try a “structured” family intervention, a process through which the family and friends come together and lovingly, but firmly, review the alcoholic’s drinking. Describing in detail the situations and behaviors, and how the drinking has affected them.

A structured Intervention seizes the seriousness of the situation and utilizes this as a turning point. By melting down the defenses through love instead of battering it down with anger, often the denial system does dissolve.

Goal of Alcohol Intervention or Drug Intervention

The goal of the Intervention is not to get a person to stop drinking or using drugs. It is to help the person agree to a referral to a treatment program for help. The intervention attempts to present reality in a loving, caring and nonjudgmental fashion; to communicate the seriousness of the situation; and to motivate the person to accept help.

In a family intervention, the family needs assistance to structure it for success. Many treatment agencies have an experienced Intervention Specialist who is willing to work with the family or employer to help arrange the Intervention. The place to start is by contacting a local Treatment Agency or your Employee Assistance Program for more information.

Finally, families should get help for themselves. Dependency is a family disease and families suffer sometimes more than the alcoholic himself or herself.