In an intervention, people who are close to the addict -- family, loved ones and friends, for example -- gather together for a face-to-face meeting with them to discuss their drug use. The overall goal of this meeting is to get the addict to commit to getting help. Members of the group try to demonstrate to the addict how their use of drugs causes problems in both their own life and the lives of the people closest to them.
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In television and movies, interventions are often portrayed somewhat like a surprise party, with friends and family gathered in a room waiting for the unsuspecting addict to arrive.
In reality, however, an intervention is planned and led by a professional interventionist. Professional guidance in the process has a very high rate of success, while informal interventions (like those on TV) rarely actually work.
There are also a number of different types of interventions, and no one style of intervention is right for everyone. Some addicts will not respond to any kind of intervention. A professional can assess the situation and determine which model is best, or if an intervention is even going to be helpful in each particular set of circumstances.
Any attempt by an individual to convince the addict to get help can be considered an informal intervention. This takes the form of a personal, often one-on-one conversation in which the addict is informed that people are concerned about their behavior and feel that they should get treatment.
The formal intervention is the structured group meeting with the addict, ideally planned out and headed up by a professional. Formal interventions usually take place after friends and loved ones have already individually approached the addict about quitting and the addict has shown no signs of doing so. If an interventionist determines that a formal intervention is appropriate, it should be conducted as soon as possible -- waiting for the addict to hit "rock bottom" first is a common misconception that can actually make it much harder for them to get sober.