The Stages in Reducing Alcohol: What Does It Look Like?

When we consider the process of personal change, it often relates to something that has been internalised for a while, before we take action. For some, it can involve thinking a lot about something & puzzling it over. Am I ready to give up alcohol? How will cutting back affect my relationships? What will my friends say if I turn down another glass of wine on the weekend?

Generally, it’s only when we have weighed up the “decisional balance” in our minds that we invest time & resources into addressing the change – whether that be buying books about alcohol, listening to podcasts, going to AA & Smart Recovery meetings, or signing up to Daybreak.

One thing we have noticed about Daybreak members is that they are incredibly engaged & motivated – often doing a multitude of activities to deep dive into change and to start seeing positive shifts in their relationships with alcohol.

Really, this is indicative of what we call the “action” phase in the change process – once we have decided to make a change, we’ll spend some time investing our resources to make that happen. For example, people who decide to lose weight & get fit might start exercising, paying attention to what they’re eating, self-monitoring as well as reading articles about health & fitness. The same thing occurs with alcohol use – often, people throw everything they have at the issue & will find that this is a very interesting time in learning about alcohol & their own patterns.

The Daybreak Process

Generally, the process that one of our Daybreak members goes through looks a bit like this:

Pre-contemplation – using alcohol & not really wanting to make any changes. There are more ‘pros’ than ‘cons’ with alcohol use and it is something that makes sense to continue using. Reasons to drink may include relaxation, to be social and because it is a bit of ‘me’ time.

Contemplation – starting to think about change. Perhaps they have noticed health issues, or a friend has commented on their drinking. The ‘pros’ & ‘cons’ are shifting, but there are enough ‘reasons’ to keep drinking so change doesn’t happen yet. Some of the ‘cons’ might be lower energy, physical symptoms and hangovers.

Ambivalence – this is where a member is at a crossroads – they are aware of the ‘benefits’ of drinking, as well as the ‘costs’. This is where a person will describe really enjoying some of the aspects of drinking (e.g. a glass of wine after work with their partner, or in a social setting) but also be struggling with the negatives of drinking regularly, or in high volumes (e.g. low mood, weight gain, lack of energy, poor sleep, hangovers or anxiety). This is where they may make the decision about whether to change – or whether to double down on the alcohol and use it to manage some of the issues (which is often when dependence starts to come into play).

Preparation – this is where a person has decided to make a change and they are going through the process of getting ready. This can look like reading articles online about change, reading through the Daybreak forum at what others have said, speaking to their GP or friends about potential change. Sometimes preparation can be so daunting that a person can slip back into ambivalence or contemplation, especially if help isn’t available (e.g. a long waiting list to see a counsellor, or negative reactions from friends). This may change a bit later on when there is more support.

Action – this is the stage at which a lot of people come into Daybreak. Having moved through the process of change to get to the point where they are invested in the process, members are taking steps to reduce their alcohol use long term. For many, this is an interesting time, as so much can change – they are making changes to their wellbeing (e.g. increasing exercise, focusing more on diet and sleep) as well as alcohol consumption (e.g. cutting back, AF days, or longer periods of time without alcohol). They might be pleasantly surprised to find so many kindred spirits in the Daybreak feed – supportive and positive people who are also working towards change and improvements in their quality of life. They may also be doing things like listening to podcasts, reading books, going to meetings or using other digital therapeutics to help the change process.

Maintenance – this is where a lot of members will move out of Daybreak. Just like with any change (exercise, diet, career), after an initial transformative period, we (hopefully) will settle into our ‘new normal’ – the new routine of doing things. For many members they will have arrived at their ‘ideal’ relationship with alcohol – whether that be total abstinence, a reduction of drinks per week, the institution of regular alcohol – free days, or even a safety plan for ‘risky’ drinking situations. It is called the maintenance phase because, just like with any behavioural change, it does require maintenance – in this sense, it is check-ins with the community and coaches, and reflection of situations where things haven’t gone according to plan.

Many members will move from using Daybreak daily to a couple of times a week, a few times a month, and then so on. The community is always there, and within the Daybreak feed are members who are in the process of moving out of the community, as well as those who are brand new to change and just starting the process of making changes to their relationship with alcohol.

This is just an example of what change might look like for a Daybreaker. As we know, each of our circumstances and relationships with alcohol are different, and change can look remarkably different for every person. What we do know is that it is a process – with ups and downs – and what is really important is the progress we make over time. If you’re interested in hearing more about the Daybreak community, or the process of change, it might be helpful to reach out to one of our health coaches who can provide some advice and support in the change process.

Would like some help as I try to reduce drinking days…

Excellent read thank you . My husband & I are at the maintenance stage, have cut back and having AF days . Planning not to drink alcohol except occasionally. A coach would be very beneficial & appreciated. Daybreak provides an incredibly supportive community of like minded people who too have identified struggle in our drinking society. Thank you.

Great article as someone who has decided to go AF after being a HSM reader for about a yr i think to map out these stage’s is really visual path when the path seems so rocky.

Again I find every post so beneficial – I have printed this out – as it is something I will refer to regularly – I am heading into the action phase – have made big changes this year at total zero use – then alllowed small amounts – but it creaps back when life is very challenging. thankyou for this read. Perfect timing.

I am abstinent and feel so much more energy more positive and more secure in who I am and this healthier person. More mindful and spiritual. My mind is clear and focused.

I live in Canada. I am interested in the Daybreak Program. Am I entitled to register? Thank you!

I want to get rid of alcohol habit

I am from the states , got very interested on using daybreak. I being struggling with alcohol for many years but it is getting to a point that I must have changed my relationship with the alcohol. I don’t want to lose all the wonderful things that I have.

If you want to give up keep coming to this site, think carefully about your own reasons for wanting to give up, write things down, including obstacles such as habits and environments that you will need to alter, read widely about the benefits of giving up and strategies you can use and seek professional help perhaps through your GP or local health centre, or do a search for local supports such as AOD workers through your local health centre or attend smart recovery groups… and develop some new healthy interest. Remember real change is slow and you need daily to remind yourself of your (realistic) goals and your reasons for them.

Just checking in. I quit drinking with support from HSM over 5 years and 2 months ago. I can’t thank you enough for proving me with the perspective and hope that I needed to improve my life. I am so proud to be sober.

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Jacintha Akkerman