How can I help someone I love change their relationship with alcohol?
It’s important that the person wanting or needing to change receives continuous support. Our behaviour change mobile service, Daybreak, offers this support for the person who wants to change their relationship with alcohol, and it is not intended as a tool for family and friends to help this person. Please read on for our advice on how to support someone the best you can in this situation.
Be a good listener
When it comes to discussing drinking habits, it’s not a topic everyone wants to talk about.
If your family member or friend is not ready to talk about their relationship with alcohol, you can still provide support by checking in to see how they’re doing and listening to what they have to say, without making the push to discuss alcohol.
When they are ready to talk about their drinking habits, they will know they can trust you and that you will continue to support them.
Socialise without alcohol
One of the challenges for people trying to change is the culture around drinking in our society.
When someone chooses not to drink in situations where they feel like everyone else is drinking, it can make them feel socially isolated.
You can help by socialising with your family member or friend at events that don’t include alcohol– try taking them on a hike, going to a yoga class, or doing other activities that do not involve taking them out to a bar or a party.
Many people do not respond well to being pushed to change their behaviour.
When the person is ready to start on the journey towards change, they have to make the choice themselves.
It will help them to know you’re there for them to provide love and support, and to give them your attention when they need to talk.
“I am worried about someone I love and their relationship with alcohol”
This is a challenging situation, and one that is not uncommon. A person that is having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol might not be ready to change, and as someone who cares, we need to first understand how the change happens.
We are impacted by the drinking of someone we love and want them to address their alcohol use. It is possible to encourage change positively, but only after we understand what this person is going through and the process of change.
Perhaps their drinking is serving a purpose, such as managing stress or grief. Or perhaps they enjoy drinking, and don’t necessarily see any reasons to change. Before you try to make a person change, you may want to ask yourself three good questions:
1. Is this person ready to change?
2. What are the reasons for this person to change?
3. What are the reasons for this person to continue this behaviour?
The reality is that until a person is ready to change, they will probably not stop drinking. That said, there are some things that we can do that will help to move them towards change. In this we are addressing the ‘decisional balance’ – trying to make it clear that there are more reasons to change, than to stay the same.
When you think about decisions you may have made in your own life, you may find that it is only when there are more reasons to change than to stay the same, that we actually take action.
“How do I know if this person is ready to change and how can I help?”
Giving the right support will depend on the stage of change the person is at. A person whose drinking is becoming problematic will go through several stages:
“How can I help someone in the pre-contemplation stage?”
Encourage them to talk about their behaviour, try to be non-judgemental and curious about it and choose a quiet and private moment to have this conversation. People tend to shut down when the conversation is around something like this which may be the source of a lot of guilt and shame. If we can be curious and reflective, it is likely that the person will engage with us more and be more open to exploring the reasons for their behaviour.
Reflect back what they are saying about it. For example, “It sounds like having a drink at the end of the day helps you to deal with the stress from work, and it is your way of having some ‘you’ time, is that right?”
Reflect back the conflict. For example,
“It is hard because it sounds like you feel you need to have a drink after work to relax, but it also means that you don’t sleep well and so are tired the next day”.
“How can I help someone in the contemplation stage?”
Reflect on how their behaviour is impacting you. If you can find a way to let them know how you are being impacted by their drinking, it may be an additional ‘reason to change’.
Let them know that you are feeling worried about them. For example,
“I wanted to say something because I have noticed you look absolutely exhausted at the moment and I am worried that the alcohol is affecting you more than you realise.”
“How can I help someone in the ambivalent stage?”
Ask them what the pros and cons of changing or staying the same are and reflect these to them. For example,
“So, it sounds like cutting back would save some money and help you to lose weight, but it might also be hard work to say ‘no’ to your friends who want to go out, how can I help with this?”
Talk to them about possibilities of support like the Daybreak app. You can also point them to some of the blog posts about behavior change or health goals on the HelloSundayMorning website.
“How can I help someone in the preparation stage?”
Ask them about times in the past when they have been able to accomplish really good things and how they went about it.
Ask about how change has happened for them in the past, what they have done to work towards goals, and what helped.
Ask about any possible challenges that might come up in the next couple of months, like a busy time at work, a wedding or a holiday.
Encourage them to download Daybreak and read through the feed. When they are ready they can make a post about their plans for change or reach out to a Health Coach.
“How can I help someone in the action stage?”
Offer support and reflect to them the positive changes that you can see. For example,
“You seem to be much more energetic.” Or “You seem much more focused at work.”
Reflect to them if you notice they are not travelling well and encourage them to seek support or use coping strategies.
Encourage them to make use of Daybreak for the supportive community, experiments and one-on-one support from a Health Coach – all of these features can help to consolidate the changes they are looking at making.
“How can I help someone in the maintenance stage?”
Continue to reflect positive changes you have noticed, in order to keep motivation high.
Encourage goal setting and reinforcement of positive gains.
Offer to monitor for signs of slipping or relapse, in a supportive manner.
Encourage them to check in on the Daybreak feed at least a couple of times a week and to check in with other members or their coach for support or advice.