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Window of Opportunity

By: Roger J. Gregoire, CAC

After a period of experiencing the behavior of a friend or family member drinking in harmful ways, natural questions arise. When and how does one directly intervene? Is there a right time? What is the window of opportunity? What is the best way to address the problem drinker, and extend a helping hand?

It is likely that just by the nature of an alcohol abuser's behavior that the opportunity to help will present itself – oftentimes by the person realizing on his/her own that s/he is in trouble – a personal realization. As sometimes called in Alcohol Anonymous circles, "hitting bottom". What is the bottom and how far down must the alcohol dependent reach? There is no set "bottom". It depends on the relative losses and consequences, and how aware the alcohol-dependent person is in regarding these losses. It has also been referred to as a "moment of clarity".

As a concerned observer, this can be very painful and sad. The alcohol dependent may begin to confront powerful feelings of shame and disgrace. This is where detachment from his/her behavior and manipulations is necessary. By replacing nagging, pleading and threatening with awareness, resolve and planning, it may pay off when the chance arises to help the individual.

This is not a professional intervention per se. That is a process is more likely to be used when the individual has relapsed repeatedly and presents extremely high risk.1 It may be appropriate, but this avenue requires deeper professional involvement.

The alcohol-dependent person may make a direct and sincere call for help. That is "moment of clarity." Loved ones must be prepared to recognize and respond readily as this window of opportunity may not remain open for long. One must act quickly before the dependent becomes fearful and retreats to defensive denial.

When the request for help is made, knowing what to do is important. By looking into treatment facilities and becoming familiar with admission procedures, the loved one will be prepared. Be aware that the detoxification of the chronic heavy drinker must be medically supervised. It is potentially fatal for the heavy drinker to just stop drinking2 and it is not unusual to have the dependent sip on an alcoholic beverage while on the way to treatment.

Prior contact with a social worker, physician or substance abuse counselor is also recommended. Having knowledge of these services will help to minimize the chaos and potential stress and harm to all involved.

The window of opportunity may also arrive around a distinct and potentially fatal crisis episode. The kind of crisis that may involve law enforcement or calling 911. At this point, there may be no choice for the dependent as they may be taken into custody. This may be a test of the family's resolve to not enable. Rather, use the leverage of the system and circumstances to get the alcohol dependent the help s/he needs. Again, this is where preparation is crucial. Authorities may be sympathetic and cooperative if concerned family members offer plans and arrangements for guiding the dependent into a qualified treatment setting.


  1. Buddy T. Family Intervention – How It Works. Alcoholism & Substance Abuse.
  2. General Alcohol Detox and Drug Detox Information. Drug and Alcohol Resource. Nationwide Alcohol and Drug Addiction Rehab Information.

This page was last modified on : 10/28/2013

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