Each program follows one or two participants, each of whom has an addiction or other mentally and/or physically damaging problem and believes that they are being filmed for a documentary on their problem. Their situations are actually being documented in anticipation of an intervention by family and/or friends. Each participant has a choice: go into rehabilitation immediately, or risk losing contact, income, or other privileges from the loved ones who instigated the intervention. Often, other tactics are used to persuade the addicted person into treatment, which vary depending on the situation; some of these include threats to invoke outstanding arrest warrants, applying for custody of the addict's children, foreclosing on the addict's property, and break-up of marriages or other relationships. The producers usually follow up months later to monitor the addicted person's progress and film it for "follow-up" episodes of the series or for shorter "web updates" available on the show's website.
The addicts featured on the show receive an offer of a 90-day treatment plan at one of a number of rehabilitation facilities. As in real life, not all interventions featured on Intervention end well. Several addicts have walked out of the intervention, though almost all who initially balk at the offer eventually accept the show's gift of a 90-day all-expenses-paid stint at a rehab facility; as of 2010, only four addicts--Alissa in Season 1, Marquel in Season 8, Adam in Season 9, and John in Season 9--have completely refused all offers of treatment. A number of addicts who initially agree to get treatment have left treatment early due to rule violations, behavior problems, or a general desire not to be in attendance any more. Some addicts who leave early go to prison or enter another facility to continue treatment; unfortunately, many addicts who either leave rehab early or are kicked out of the show's chosen rehab facility never return to complete the rehabilitation process, and the majority of those cases relapse and return to their former addictive habits.
As of 2010, three addicts profiled on the show later died of complications related to their addiction--Lawrence from Season 4 (alcoholic; bled to death from ruptured esophageal varices); Bret from Season 6 (alcoholic; diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer 80 days into rehab, died 3 weeks later); and Chris from Season 6 (alcoholic; took his own life after relapsing).
Occasionally, during the filming of an episode, the plight of another addict in the featured addict's circle becomes apparent, and the show often makes additional plans to help the other addict find treatment as well. These secondary interventions, like the primary ones, have a mixed track record of success and failure. Additionally, the secondary addict sometimes promises to seek treatment in order to get the primary addict to agree to the show's treatment offer, only to back out of their promise once the primary addict heads off for treatment (example: Paul, stepfather of Oxycontin addict Ryan from Season 3, tells Ryan that he intends to seek help for his drinking problem, but later backs out of going to rehab himself, though he does quit drinking on his own).
In situations where the family/friends/other members of the addict's circle have become co-dependents or are otherwise traumatized by the addict's behavior, the interventionist usually recommends that the entire family seek counseling to enable them to move on with their own lives. This has led to some very happy family reunions (Coley, a serious meth addict, got clean while his family went through counseling, and his marriage to wife Francine was saved by the intervention), but has also led to complete dissolution of relationships (Leslie, a suburban housewife alcoholic, went through court-ordered rehab while her family received counseling at the Betty Ford Clinic; after both treatment programs ended, Leslie and her husband finalized their divorce). Some families will promise to attend counseling for their co-dependence in order to convince the addict to agree to the treatment plan, only to break that promise after the addict leaves for the treatment facility (example: Bulimic alcoholic Amber from Season 9 agrees to go to rehab only if her entire family signs a contract to attend the Betty Ford Clinic's family counseling program; though everyone signs the contract in her presence, none of them followed through once she headed off to the treatment center).
Each episode ends with a series of black screens, upon which appear a short narrative discussing the addicts and their progress since the intervention (including a sobriety date, if known), followed by a screen that invites viewers to find out more information on addiction and recovery at the show's official website, aetv.com/intervention. The black screens are updated with new information each time the show is re-aired on A&E, and some video updates are made available on the show's website. Occasionally, a black screen update documents an outreach to the addict from fans of the series. The black screen update for drug addicted siblings Brooks and Ian's follow-up episode that re-aired in early 2008 indicated that Brooks had met and married a fan of the show in 2007. At the end of the original episode featuring alcoholic banker and bar brawler Jacob, he stated that he was planning to enroll in college for the upcoming semester; the black screen update for his episode that re-aired in early 2008 indicated that a fan of the series had contacted the producers after the show's airing and offered to pay for Jacob's college education.
In conjunction with interventions that involve strong drug addictions where sudden withdrawal can be dangerous, a nurse travels with the addict to the rehab center, providing medical assistance to keep the addict from suffering during the journey. Patients with addictions that could cause serious risk to their health upon cessation of the substance abuse usually spend time in a detox facility before entering the rehab phase of their recovery.
The "cast" for each episode is primarily the addict and their family members, circle of friends and others. The other regular cast member in each episode is the interventionist, whose job it is to conduct the intervention. The show originally featured three regular specialists:
- Ken Seeley: A former meth addict who founded Intervention-911, a service specializing not just in interventions but also in finding appropriate treatment centers for each kind of addict.
- Jeff VanVonderen: A former pastor and former alcoholic who became a full-time interventionist to help families through their moral and social issues involved with addiction.
- Candy Finnigan: A former addict who became an interventionist to help families work through their issues and problems.
- John Southworth: Founder of Southworth Associates, LLC, an Idaho-based intervention/counseling service. He was the interventionist for Jason, a heroin addict, in episode 123. Is one of two new regular interventionists in the tenth season.
- Rod Espudo: An interventionist of over 20 years. One of two new regular interventionists in the tenth season.
Occasionally, other therapists have made appearances to offset the workload among the regulars:
- Tara Fields, PhD: Also a licensed marriage counselor and family therapist. She appeared in Episode 8 and Episode 15.
- Jenn Berman, PsyD: A Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist who made a single appearance in Episode 22. She was the interventionist for Annie, who had an eating disorder.
- Lee FitzGerald: A staff member at Promises Treatment Centers. She was the interventionist for John in episode 122.
Jeff VanVonderen took an extended leave of absence in Season 5 after admitting during the special episode "Intervention: After-Treatment Special" that he relapsed with alcohol, but returned for Season 6 and remains with the series.
Ken Seeley left the series after completing the intervention for Linda in Season 8 to focus on his personal intervention service, Intervention-911.
Most episodes feature "everyday" people struggling with their addictions, but entertainment professionals have also been featured.
- Chuckie Negron, the son of Three Dog Night vocalist Chuck Negron, was featured in a Season Two episode as he battled heroin addiction.
- Vanessa Marquez, a supporting actress on the first three seasons of ER, appeared in a Season One episode due to a compulsive shopping disorder.
- Travis Meeks, lead singer of the Alternative rock band Days of the New, appeared in a Season One episode focusing on his methamphetamine addiction.
- Antwahn Nance, a 6'10" former NBA power forward for the LA Clippers, was featured in Season Two as he ended up homeless due to his crack cocaine addiction.
- Tressa Thompson, a women's shot put champion whose Olympic dreams were crushed by her methamphetamine drug abuse, was featured in Season Four.
- Chad Gerlach, a member of the Postal Service Pro Cycling Team who ended up living on the streets and smoking crack cocaine after his dismissal from the team, was featured in Season Five.
- Aaron Brink, aka Dick Delaware, a porn star and once moderately successful mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter who lost both careers due to his methamphetamine addiction.
- Robbie Pardlo, formerly of City High, was featured battling his alcoholism.
- Linda Li, an actress who played a Taresian woman in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Favorite Son" as well as appearing as an extra in over 200 TV shows and movies, was profiled in the opening episode of Season 8 battling an addiction to Actiq (transmucosal Fentanyl lozenge on a stick, a.k.a. "perc-a-pop").
- Rocky Lockridge, a two-time Super Featherweight boxing champion, was shown in Season Eight due to his homelessness and drug addiction. His appearance on the show, specifically, a scene where he is crying, has become an Internet meme, known as the "Best Cry Ever".
- Lorna Dune, a Soul Train dancer who worked her way up to an A&R position at A&M Records, was shown in Season 9 battling a crack cocaine addiction.
- David Sax Jr., the son of former Major League Baseball player Dave Sax and nephew of former Major League Baseball player Steve Sax, was shown in Season 15 battling an addiction to methamphetamine and alcohol.
Addictions covered by the show have included:
- sexual addiction
- anorexia nervosa
- bulimia nervosa
- drug addiction, both legal (over-the-counter medication, prescription drugs) and illegal (heroin, meth, crack, cocaine)
- gambling addiction
- compulsive shopping
- compulsive exercise
- plastic surgery addiction
- video game addiction
- rage addiction
- food addiction
- inhalants addiction
- Comorbid health problems that can exacerbate an addiction, such as diabetes
- psychological issues that can exacerbate an addiction, such as bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder
- 2009 Emmy award for Outstanding Reality Program
Matthew Gilbert (The Boston Globe), a critic of the show, argues that the program is exploitative and showcases individuals as they self-destruct. He also argues that the confrontation within the intervention is milked to show only the most dramatic moments and that the final results of the intervention and subsequent rehabilitation is glossed-over.
Melanie McFarland, another television critic, also laments that the show does little to educate on successful intervention and instead deceives the subjects of each episode in order to film them at their lowest point.
On August 27, 2008, Kristin Chenoweth and funnyordie.com released the video "Intervention with Kristin Chenoweth", where Chenoweth gave a gay crystal meth addict a cheerful, Broadway-style singing intervention. More recently, the site released a sketch called "Intervention Intervention,"  featuring Fred Armisen playing a character addicted to the television show Intervention.
Toronto-based television station CFTO-TV aired a spoof commercial in early 2009 in which local weather personality Dave Devall would "assist" families in performing a "wintervention", confronting family members ill-dressed for Canadian winters.
On April 16, 2010, a video entitled "Best Cry Ever" was posted on the popular video-sharing site YouTube, featuring a clip from Season 8 episode "Rocky", which featured former professional boxer Rocky Lockridge. The clip featured a dramatic scene in which Rocky is seen crying amongst his relatives. The original video, as of November 2010, has attained more than 11,000,000 views and has become an Internet phenomenon. A Saturday Night Live sketch featured an Intervention parody with guest host Jon Hamm crying in a similar fashion.
A season 3 episode of the HBO television show True Blood contains a storyline about Hoyt's mother attempting to intervene in Hoyt's relationship with newborn vampire Jessica. Hoyt's mother turns up at his work with Summer, whom she believes Hoyt should be dating, as well as the local school's guidance counsellor. Hoyt says he has work to do and can't stay. The guidance counsellor, acting as the "interventionist", stops Hoyt from leaving, parodying Jeff VanVonderen's traditional intervention opening: "I'm here for these folks who really love you like crazy, and want you to hear them out, and then you can say what you want to say." The characters then begin to read out their letters, which begin with "Dear Hoyt", just as the letters the families normally write as part of the interventions depicted in Intervention.
- Chad Gerlach: Former Pro Cyclist, Lance Armstrong Teammate, Subject Of Pending A&E Network Program, Intervention, retrieved June 17, 2008.
- Entry for Linda Li at the Star Trek-based wiki Memory-Alpha.
- "Best Cry Ever". Intervention (episode 113). YouTube. 2010-04-16. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ee925OTFBCA. Retrieved 2010-11-24.
- Gilbert, Matthew (2005-03-05). "Vile 'Intervention' pulls a fast one". The Boston Globe. http://www.boston.com/ae/tv/articles/2005/03/05/vile_intervention_pulls_a_fast_one/. Retrieved 2007-06-01.
- Intervention with Kristin Chenoweth
- Intervention Intervention
- REDIRECT Template:Official website