Brief Interventions & the Stages of Change

Updated on 2/1/2023

The first step for a person who abuses alcohol or substances is to admit they have a problem, but accepting addiction is not easy. For some, the realization of their dependence on a drug or on alcohol can take time. Pushing someone to start therapy can result in the person becoming defensive. There are various ways to get a person to seek help and one of them is to conduct a brief intervention. We’ll also explore how these interventions related to the Stages of Change model, a treatment approach used by Cliffside Malibu.

Brief Interventions

Family members or friends usually can see a substance or alcohol abuse pattern, often before their loved one does. The urge to form an intervention can create a breakdown in relationships. To avoid any ill will or defensive behavior from their loved ones, those developing an intervention can gain insight into how to hold an intervention by employing a trained addiction therapist’s assistance.

Brief interventions are a type of intervention therapy that works with harmful or drug or alcohol abuse. A successful brief intervention carries the goal or hopes that there is a decrease in destructive behaviors like using a substance. A brief intervention’s success increases when it occurs in a professional setting. Addiction therapists can assess what level of consciousness a person has regarding their use. The therapist uses therapy techniques that are appropriate for a person’s level of awareness. 

In some cases, unstructured or formal therapy is advised. A therapist can also utilize other types of treatment to best meet the needs of the person. A loved one can respond to caring, safe or comfortable care if offered, instead of accusations and recriminations. Discussion of the level of consumption and goals are set.

  • Abstainer
      • Brief interventions can seem pointless when they are for those who don’t drink or use substances. However, those who carry some risk for future abuse, like youths, can learn about the dangers of substance abuse. The goal is to prevent abstainers from becoming abusers.
  • Light to Moderate Users
      • Those who are light to moderate users carry some risk of becoming heavy drinkers. Brief interventions are ways to educate and provide guidelines for harmful health or social consequences of their low-use.
  • At-Risk User
      • At-risk users, like alcohol users, consume more than the recommended amount of alcohol regularly or expose them to the possibility of negative consequences.
  • Abuser
      • People who are abusers meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder – defined by the American Psychiatric Association.
  • Substance-Dependent User
    • People at this level of abuse are encouraged to enter treatment, think about abstinence, or go back to therapy after a relapse.

Brief interventions throughout a person’s treatment can help support their effort to work on and retain their sobriety. Treatment plans created by a person and their therapist for alcohol or substance abuse match a person’s unique course through therapy aids to build healthy coping techniques. Treatment centers that follow the Stages of Change model are examples of supportive, caring therapy that can assist in a person’s passage from drug or alcohol abuse to treatment and eventual recovery.

Stages of Change Model & Brief Interventions

Researchers, Prochaska and DiClemente, pioneered the Stages of Change Model. They discovered a therapy model that helped therapists understand and respond to a person’s stage of awareness of alcohol or substance abuse. People require the proper encouragement and backing that applies to their stage. Each step requires patience, acceptance and limits on how far to go while at a particular point. Rushing through a stage or insisting on quicker progress can cause resistance and harm. The Stages of Change Model consists of five phases, though two of these can relate well to the brief intervention that a family might have with their loved one:

  • Precontemplation
      • The person hasn’t considered revision of their behavior, is aware of some harmful consequences and isn’t going to change their behavior right away. Functional users dependent on alcohol or substances can use heavily during off-work hours and don’t have work, social, legal, health or personal problems. 
  • Contemplation
    • After one or more negative situations, the person can consider the up- and downside of alcohol or substance abuse; they feel neutral about making changes. Contemplation can happen after a negative consequence like a DUI.

Many don’t seek help for their substance addiction until they are ready to enter treatment. A center that includes the Stages of Change model in their program recognizes the importance of working with a therapist to move through the stages. Therapy that combines the stages with beneficial activities confirms the need to nurture treatment while supporting the recovery process. 


People can want to help a loved one who they think has a drug or alcohol abuse problem. While interventions consisting of family and friends alone can affect the person they are confronting, these brief interventions can prove ineffective. A therapist trained in addiction can help guide a person through their path to treatment and recovery. Therapists who employ the Stages of Change model provide the support a person requires throughout their treatment. Cliffside Malibu believes their patients benefit from a therapist who is supportive whether their help is needed to overcome an obstacle, provide help or create optimal conditions. We welcome talking with you if you feel you are ready to begin the path to recovery. Call us at (855) 403-5641.