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Can a Heroin Addiction Intervention Facilitate Treatment?

The aim of screening and brief interventions in a primary care setting is to investigate and identify current or potential problems with substance abuse. They also aim to encourage affected individuals to change risky behaviors associated with substance abuse.1

Brief interventions are a limited approach that is not intended to treat people with serious substance dependence. They also do not constitute a substitute for adequate care for individuals with a high level of dependency, especially if they are unwilling or unable to unwilling to seek care.2 However, they do represent a valuable tool available to clinicians for the treatment of substance abuse.1

Brief interventions can be used to engage individuals struggling with serious issues with substance abuse, such as dependence on heroin to seek intensive treatment in a primary care setting or referral to a treatment facility.1

They can be an effective addition to specialized substance abuse treatment programs, especially in a treatment setting where they can replace standard treatment approaches and address specific behaviors and issues more effectively.

Interventions are led by trained intervention specialists who strive to help individuals at risk understand the possible ramifications of their continued substance use and encourage them to seek substance abuse treatment.1

An interventionist approach should be personalized, supportive, and non-judgemental. There is growing evidence of the effectiveness of brief interventions in addressing heroin addiction.1 

Heroin addiction intervention - Substance abuse intervention strategies

Who Can Conduct a Heroin Addiction Intervention?

It is essential that interventions are conducted in consultation with experienced professionals who specialize in this type of service. Brief interventions for problems with heroin abuse and other forms of substance abuse are techniques used by:2

  • Alcohol and drug counselors.
  • Psychologists.
  • Physicians, nurses, and hospital emergency departments. 
  • Social workers and social service agencies.
  • Court-ordered educational groups. 
  • Vocational rehabilitation programs. 

Potential Benefits of Interventions for Heroin Abuse Treatment

Brief interventions can be effective in:2

  • Improving attendance at the beginning of treatment.
  • Reducing no-show and dropout rates at the later stages of treatment and for continuing care.
  • Increasing treatment engagement and compliance with treatment.
  • Addressing non-compliance with treatment program rules.
  • Enhancing group participation.
  • Reducing aggression, hostility, and isolation.
  • Increasing support group attendance.
  • Increasing compliance with outpatient treatment for mental health.
  • Engaging individuals on treatment program waiting lists.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Is a Brief Intervention Conducted?

For a brief intervention for heroin addiction to be effective, it should be organized and conducted by an experienced professional. It also needs to assess a person’s stage of readiness, plan a strategy to assist and support their progress to the next stage, and implement that strategy.2

What Are the Components of a Brief Intervention?

Although interventions can differ in duration and number of sessions, there are 6 components considered to be critical to an effective brief intervention:2

  • Feedback on personal risks associated with drug abuse is provided.
  • Responsibility for change is placed on the participant.
  • Advice to change offered by the clinician.
  • Alternative self-help or treatment options are presented.
  • Empathic style is used by the counselor approaching the participant.
  • Self-efficacy is evoked from the participant.

What Are the Steps of a Brief Intervention?

Intervention specialists may apply 5 basic steps that incorporate the above components:2 

  1. Introducing the issues in the context of the participant’s health.
  2. Screening, evaluation, and assessment.
  3. Giving feedback to the participant.
  4. Discussing change and setting goals.
  5. Summarizing and reaching closure.

How to Do an Intervention for a Family Member?

Helping an individual transition from active heroin abuse and heroin’s potentially long-term effects on the brain to treatment can be difficult, and professional intervention may be needed to ease that transition.8 

Even after completing a medication-assisted detox from heroin and a corresponding rehabilitation program, the person may require continuing post-rehab follow-up care, as well as a strong social support system and supervision.8 They may need someone to ensure they continue to take their medications, and it is at this stage in the process that the family can play a critical role in consultation with an interventionist.8

Should We Hire an Intervention Specialist?

Those in the close social circle of individuals struggling with heroin addiction who are unwilling to cooperate and seek treatment, be it the father, mother, child, or partner, often wonder if staging an intervention would be an effective approach.4

There is no evidence that confrontational family interventions for heroin treatment are effective at convincing these individuals to admit they have a problem or motivating them to change their drug-seeking and other risky behaviors, especially when driven by negative emotions and accusations.4

Those whose loved ones struggle with heroin addiction might have a better chance of realizing if they leave the conversation to professionals.4

Treatment can be effective even if it is not voluntary.5 However, when a person is compelled to enter treatment following an intervention for heroin addiction due to pressure from those in their social circle or the court system, the intervention can have the opposite effect of its intended purpose and even escalate into a violent conflict.4 Therefore, families should always seek professional help and guidance from specialized interventionists when staging an intervention. 

What Are Preventive Interventions?

Preventive interventions are considered an effective method of prevention of risk behaviors among the younger population.6

Preventive interventions are a powerful tool against risk behaviors among adolescents, including escalating heroin abuse. They are especially effective at enhancing the levels of protective factors which safeguard high-risk youth against the risk of long-term heroin abuse and addiction.7

Depending on the target audience and intervention level, we can differentiate between various prevention programs carried out for intervention purposes such as:6

  • Universal and community prevention programs (organized in schools, clubs, faith-based organizations, and the media) for the general population.
  • Selective programs for high-risk groups.
  • Indicated programs for people who have experimented with drugs.
  • Tiered programs that incorporate all three intervention levels.

However, if an individual’s signs of heroin use go unnoticed long enough, the problem may get out of hand and staging an intervention may prove to be an ineffective approach to the problem.6 Consulting experienced professionals specializing in heroin addiction treatment may be the only meaningful way to address the problem.

What Are the Risk Factors Contributing to Teenage Drug Use? 

It is common for people to start experimenting with heroin and other substances at a young age. This problem can quickly escalate into addiction.4

Adolescents may start exhibiting strange behavior, such as acting withdrawn, looking tired or depressed, or becoming hostile for no apparent reason.4 Parents and others in their social circle may overlook these changes in behavior and attribute them to puberty, unaware of the fact that all of these could also be signs of heroin use or another drug-related problem, or agitation caused by withdrawal.4

For many individuals struggling with substance abuse, interactions with the family set the patterns and dynamics for their problems with substances, which often makes family involvement critical to treatment success.2

It is essential that family, friends, and educators be aware of the major risk factors and be able to recognize adolescent risk behaviors. They should be familiar with the early signs and symptoms of heroin use, as well as the short-term and long-term effects of heroin and potential signs of heroin withdrawal.6 

Although what may constitute a risk factor for one person may not be a risk factor for another, the following are considered risk factors for drug use:6 

  • Aggressive behavior
  • Poor social skills
  • Academic difficulties 
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • History of substance abuse
  • Drug availability

Absence of impulse control is a major risk factor that should be addressed during early preventive interventions.6

What Is the Role of Family in the Prevention of Drug Abuse? 

Family can play a critical role in drug abuse prevention. Aside from addressing the issue directly and starting a meaningful conversation about their heroin use, family members should learn to readily recognize the warning signs, both the physical and the behavioral ones.6 

Family-based prevention within the educational system not only enhances family bonding but also reduces the risk of heroin use from escalating into addiction among adolescents.6 

The sooner family members learn to recognize the signs of heroin use, the sooner they can take action to prevent the problem from escalating, and one way to do that is to seek assistance from professional interventionists who can stage an intervention.

How Is Level of Care for Treatment-Seeking Individuals Determined?

Each individual struggling with heroin addiction has unique needs, which is why treatment centers typically perform an in-depth assessment of the person’s condition and level of addiction on admission.4 The level of treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) is defined based on the placement criteria set by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), and treatment options are recommended accordingly.4

The first step for anyone struggling with addiction and to those in their social circle who wish to help them overcome the problem can be to call a specialized helpline for treatment-seeking individuals.


  1. World Health Organization. (2003). Brief Intervention for Substance Use: A Manual for Use in Primary Care.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). TIP 34: Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). TIP 63: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder.
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse. (2019). How to Recognize a Substance Use Disorder.
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse. (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.
  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse. (2011). Prevention Principles.
  7. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse. (2011). When and how does drug abuse start and progress?
  8. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). What Is Substance Abuse Treatment? A Booklet for Families.

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