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Series / Intervention

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This article is about the show. For the trope, see Staging an Intervention.

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A popular documentary-style reality show on A&E, and winner of the 2009 Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality Program.

Basically, each episode follows pretty much the same format. A camera crew follows one or two addicts around. The addicts merely believe they're going to be part of a documentary on addiction - none of them know they are facing an intervention. The addictions run the gamut from the traditional (alcohol, crack, heroin) to the less traditional (shopping, video games, self-harm).

During each episode, the addicts (or addict if there's only one) are followed around by a camera crew as they go about their daily lives and cope with their addictions. Towards the end, they will face the intervention, where their loved ones will implore that they get help or else they'll have to put their foot down. The addict will then either decide to go to rehab or will refuse treatment. If there's enough time between filming and airing the episode, the viewers can occasionally see what happened since the filming wrapped. There have also been a few episodes strictly devoted to following up with past addicts.

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After 13 seasons, A&E announced in May 2013 that the series had been canceled. However, a further nine seasons have been produced as of spring 2021.


Recurring tropes on this show:

  • Alcohol Hic: Some of the show's heaviest drinkers do this when they're not slurring their speech to the point of near-total incoherence.
  • All for Nothing: In more than a few cases, the addict washes out of rehab and goes right back to their old life, and the family members ignore the bottom lines they set and keep supporting the addict.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Seeing "marijuana" in a list involving methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, or similar far worse substances.
  • Big Eater: Several patients (Amber, Adam, Salina, Jessie, etc.) suffering from bulimia are filmed stuffing their faces and hiding it from loved ones.
    • One patient (Salina) voluntarily devouring four plates at an all-you-can-eat buffet before going home to purge in secret.
    • During a binge, Jessie would eat three days worth of food in three hours. Back when she was in college in her first month of her sorority, Jessie ate six weeks worth of food intended to feed over 70 girls.
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    • Andrew was eating 12,000 calories a day, while binging and purging up to 12 times each day.
  • Creepy Twins: Sonia and Julia, anorexic twins. They were obsessive of each other, dressed nearly identically, measured each other's food, slept in the same bed, and showed almost zero emotion throughout the episode.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Exceedingly common among addicts.
  • Downer Ending: Not all visits to rehab are successful...
    • Earn Your Happy Ending: ...but many are.
    • Also, a handful of subjects (though fewer than you might expect, considering the subject matter) have been revealed to have died after appearing on the series (though not always related to their addictions).
  • Drugs Are Bad: Surprisingly less Anvilicious here than in a lot of other media - probably because this series actually shows the effects of drugs from consumption to high to crash.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Again, more than a few. One family featured a mother who felt that her children bringing up her inability to say 'I love you' was "emotionally manipulative". She also made clear a few times that it was never said to her growing up, and she had an almost pathological discomfort with showing emotion.
    • Abuse — physical, verbal, or sexual—is the root cause of some 60% or more of all addictions on the show.
      • Less commonly the addict themselves are creating an abusive environment for their children. This is not featured as frequently because the show needs the audience to root for the addict, and they are usually only shown if the children are old enough to express their feelings about the addiction. One memorable, very heart-wrenching episode was "Sandra" in season 4, who had been addicted to pain pills for 10 years. She had two sons, one who was 17 and could not control his anger, and another who was 11, who had never seen his mother sober and seemed on the verge of tears at all times. His intense fear about her safety seemed to have gotten worse after finding her unconscious, and every time he appears in the episode, he cries openly about her addiction. It's so hard to watch that you want her to get better for his and his brother's sake more than anything else.
    • There are also a significant number of addicts featured who grew up in a home where one or both parents were addicted to drugs or alcohol. Naturally, this creates some deeply unhealthy relationships that often include abuse and neglect.
      • One addict was given alcohol by his mother whenever he wanted, starting from the time she got divorced - when he was 8 years old. He was an alcoholic by age 9, and he was using and selling meth with her by age 13. He also blamed himself for her fatal overdose even though he was a grown man with a wife and children when it happened.
    • Absentee parenting is also a major root cause, especially if there's abuse involved.
    • Parental Abandonment: Yes, missing parents come up a lot too. Quite a few of the addicts have cited that as the source of their Freudian Excuse. This includes the addicts themselves if they have kids.
    • There are many addicts who come from families that are not overtly abusive, but the families have such controlling tendencies that similar damage is done. They might not beat or neglect their child, but their inflexibility on some issues amounts to emotional abuse. Typically, this is shown through overly critical parents, parents with misogynistic tendencies (such as pushing their daughters to marriage/children rather than any non-familial achievements the child might want). The show also features a number of gay or lesbian addicts who initially start using to deal with their family's refusal to accept their sexuality.
      • Spiritual or religious maltreatment is shown often, too, sometimes as a self-justification for the parent's other controlling behaviors. An interventionist had to tell one parent that prayer was not enough to deal with drug addiction. One accused his self-harming daughter of sinning. This may be included in part because of Jeff Van Vonderen's personal interest in this subject. In addition to writing about addiction, Van Vonderen has written a number of books about this topic and its contribution to mental and emotional conflict in people raised in the church.
  • Fallen Hero: Several addicts were exceptional students and/or shining citizens. Then again, no one would want to watch the show if all anyone had to say about the addict featured was that they're an asshole.
    • Notably, Jeff Van Vonderen, one of the show's stable of interventionists, suffered a relapse of his own and took a leave of absence in Season 5 to work on his own sobriety. He returned the next year, healthy and happy, and continued with the show through the end of Season 13. When the show returned in 2015, he did as well.
    • A couple of addicts were famous before being featured on the program. Among the most notable was Travis Meeks, lead singer for Nineties alt-rockers Days of the New, who threw away his successful career for his methamphetamine addiction.
  • Freudian Excuse: A lot of the addicts have as their reason an unhappy homelife/childhood.
  • Genki Girl: Allison, an inhalant addict, is an incredibly dark example. "I'm walkin' on sunshine," indeed.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: It's been chronicled a few times. These people are very hard to force through an intervention.
    • Being addicted to alcohol or drugs like cocaine or meth, all of which can alter moods significantly, doesn't help.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Quite obviously, a great number of alcoholics.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Jessa's mother being a specific example, but other relatives of gay or lesbian addicts sometimes tend to be these as well.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: One of the patients Freudian Excuse is seeing a loved one die or be killed and not being able to stop it, leading them to drown their sorrows in drugs, alcohol or eating disorders to cope.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Most of those being given an intervention say they will go to treatment only to back out either at the last minute or immediately.
    • The episode with the bulimic Andrew. When his family didn’t know they were being recorded, though, producers overheard Andrew discussing his upcoming intervention. “I’ll follow through with the intervention and when they ask me, ‘Will you go to treatment?’ I’ll say, ‘No,’” he said. The family and the producers and camera crew couldn’t believe that he knew about the upcoming intervention. In fact, Andrew had submitted himself for the show.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Many of the addicts, while in their various altered states, are rather good at tricking friends, family, and others into giving the addict money and drugs. For example, Linda - who was addicted to a painkiller 100 times more powerful than morphine - was able to get her parents to spend half a million dollars on her for prescriptions, jacuzzis, and a four-bedroom house. How? She had a delusional disorder, certainly not helped by the painkiller, and was able to get her parents to believe the delusions too.
  • Nothing but Skin and Bones: Seen either because the person has been consuming mostly drugs and little food or has an eating disorder.
  • Parental Favoritism: Another common thread, where many of the addicts at least accuse their parents of playing favorites. Some of them were enabled by their parents' favoritism towards them.
  • Reality Show Genre Blindness: Admittedly less of an issue here because it's a cable show, but you'd think at some point an addict would have watched the show and seen through the "does not know he's facing an intervention" thing.
    • Most of the addicts are so out of it that they never even think about another person, let alone an intervention.
    • A handful of the addicts have been tipped off to their family's intentions by their more genre-savvy "friends".
    • And, as of December 2010, it finally happened when an addict saw the room, swore, then ran off, later admitting she was a fan of the show and saw it coming.
    • Overall becoming subverted in the later seasons. It's becoming more and more common for an addict to see his/her family in the room and know EXACTLY what's going to happen, which prompts him/her to run.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Increasingly common in later seasons when addicts walk in to the intervention. While they usually wind up coming back to listen, in some rare cases the intervention doesn't happen due to the addict running away before even a single letter is read.
  • Self-Harm: Some addicts exhibit this behavior, either directly (cutting, hitting themselves) or indirectly (such as a diabetic who didn't take his insulin or control his blood sugar).
  • Staging an Intervention: The entire point of the show.
  • The Tooth Hurts: Several patients eventually suffer dental problems due to hard-core drugs, alcohol or eating disorders.
    • Amber says to the camera that her tooth fell out. Again. She just super-glues it back into her mouth. The scariest part is how nonchalant she is about the whole thing through her bulimia and alcoholism.
  • Unwitting Pawn: In many episodes, the addict's family members have fallen into patterns of co-dependent/enabling behavior without realizing it. Taken to its extreme in an August 2011 episode: the addict's grandparents, who were largely responsible for getting her onto the show, called her just before the intervention to tell her what was about to happen. The interventionist then asked them not to participate, and the meeting turned into a shouting match in the street.
    • A different extreme surfaced in a February 2013 episode. Andrew, a bulimic, submitted himself as a candidate for the show and talked his family into covering for him. The interventionist and crew found out about the deception and were ready to call it off, but Andrew's severe medical problems persuaded them to continue.
  • Wham Line: In the episode about Andrew suffering from bulimia, "It's my intervention!". He knew he was being filmed for an intervention and refuses to seek help for his eating disorder.

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