Early Intervention Can Help Prevent Substance Use Disorders


When it comes to substance abuse and addiction, we as a society are more reactive than proactive. Too often, a person’s substance abuse goes unnoticed, unchecked or ignored until a disaster forces his or her loved ones to acknowledge that a serious addiction problem has developed and that something must be done about it. By then, the addicted individual may be dealing with health problems, legal difficulties, financial turmoil and damaged familial relationships. An early intervention is the best way to stop a catastrophe before it strikes and can potentially save the life of your addicted loved one.

It’s Never Too Early to Intervene

Two men having a conversation. Whether you suspect your young teenager is beginning to experiment with drugs or alcohol or you’ve noticed a regular pattern of substance abuse from your spouse, there’s never a bad time to step in and say something. The earlier you speak up, the more likely it is that the substance abuse will end there and not grow into something far worse. No matter how uncomfortable the possibility of a confrontation may make you feel, turning a blind eye is never the answer.

This is especially true during the early stages of substance abuse, when addiction has not had enough time to establish itself. The longer you let an addiction run wild, the more powerful it becomes. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, early intervention is one of the most cost-effective ways to address substance abuse and reduce its impact on society.[1] The same can be said about your loved one’s impact on your family.

Unfortunately, many people incorrectly believe that only severe substance abuse problems require treatment. They wait for their loved one to “hit rock bottom” in the form of some life disaster. The minute you notice a loved one using illicit drugs, abusing prescription drugs or habitually abusing alcohol, it’s time to voice your concerns.

Tips for Early Intervention

A man and woman researching something on a laptop.

Knowledge is Power: Before you say anything to your loved one, be sure you’ve learned everything you can about addiction, the warning signs of abuse and the dangers of continued usage. You want to know what you’re talking about before you say anything.

Find a Sober Time to Say Something: While it’s important to speak up as soon as possible, you want to make sure that you and your loved one are sober. This will allow you both to think more clearly and make it so your friend or family member can’t use your intoxication as a justification of their own.

A son and father having a discussion while sitting on a bench.

A doctor consulting with a young man.

Recommend a Screening: There’s a good chance your loved one won’t agree with your assessment of his substance abuse problem, especially if it’s alcohol consumption you’re concerned with. A screening for alcoholism with a physician will give you both an objective view of the problem.

Get Others Involved: You’re probably not the only friend or family member who has noticed your loved one’s substance abuse has gone too far. Work with others who are close to him to emphasize the severity of the problem.

A group of people talking to a loved one about substance abuse.

Early Intervention is Key with Teens and Young Adults

High school and college students abusing drugs and alcohol has become somewhat of an accepted norm, if not a rite of passage, in America. Teenagers and young adults are among the largest groups of drug users in the nation.[2],[3],[4]

  • In 2014, 16.5 percent of all eighth, 10th and 12th graders surveyed admitted to using illicit drugs within the past year.
  • In the same year, according to the findings by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 28.5 percent of people ages 18-20 and 43.3 percent of people ages 21-25 admitted to binge drinking during the previous month.
  • Underage drinkers account for 17.5 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S.

These teens and young adults are at critical periods in their cognitive development, making an early intervention imperative. Nine out of 10 people with substance use disorders began using drugs or alcohol as teenagers, and children who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop an alcohol problem than those who begin after age 21.[5]

You can’t afford to delay speaking to your young son, daughter or sibling about the dangers of substance abuse if you notice some warning signs. It’s critical to stop the problem before it gets too far out of control.

When Do You Need a Professional?

A picture illustrating an intervention gone wrong and one running smoothly. Talking to someone close to you about their substance abuse problems is emotionally charged and can quickly deteriorate into a shouting match if the conversation is not handled correctly. In most cases, the substance abuser will be defensive, and your frustration may show when you try to speak to him or her. Most people have only seen an addiction intervention by watching television and have no real life experience. This is where a professional interventionist can be extremely helpful.

Using a professional interventionist will help ensure that everything goes as it’s supposed to. Your interventionist will coordinate the entire event, which includes determining who should attend, what to say and how to say it, and will also provide instructions on how to enforce boundaries and consequences. Statistics show that working with a professional interventionist results in the substance abuser accepting treatment 90 percent of the time.[6]

At Unity Behavioral Health, we provide professional intervention services while offering a world-class inpatient addiction rehab experience. We are a nationally accredited facility with 24-hour medical care, mental health treatments and innovative therapies all at our patients’ disposal. Don’t wait for disaster to strike before stepping in and saying something. If your friend or family member is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, contact us today at 561-708-5295 to learn how we can help.

  1. https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/ondcp/Fact_Sheets/investing_in_treatment_5-23-12.pdf
  2. https://www.samhsa.gov/specific-populations/age-gender-based
  3. http://monitoringthefuture.org//pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2014.pdf
  4. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh40/29-44.htm
  5. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/newsroom/press-releases/national-study-reveals-teen-substance-use-americas-1-public-health-problem
  6. https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/intervention-tips-and-guidelines