How can I encourage someone I love to change their drinking?
This is a challenging situation, and a common one.
You might be impacted by the drinking of someone you love, and you want them to address their drinking.
This takes courage and thoughtfulness.
You can encourage them to change but only after you understand what this person is going through and the process of change. A lot of people drink because it serves a purpose. Maybe it serves to manage their stress or grief. Or perhaps they enjoy drinking and don’t necessarily see any reasons to change.
Before you try to encourage a person to change, it’s a good idea to try and put yourself in their shoes and ask these two questions:
- Readiness – Do you know if this person is ready to change?
- Reasons to change – What are the reasons this person might have for changing their relationship with alcohol?
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 to help get them on the path to change. One of the ways is to look at the ‘decisional balance,’ understanding their readiness to change through the ‘stages in changes’ and importantly, let them know that you are there and available to support them when they are ready.
Let’s have a look at the decision balance first.
Decision Balance is a way to understand 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 might find that it is only when there are more reasons to change than to stay the same, that drives you to take action.
For instance, a person might not be ready to change his or her relationship with alcohol because it gives them comfort during tough times. Or, alcohol is a means to stay connected with friends.
More reason to change than to stay the same would look like: a person’s health is at stake, relationship with children and spouse might be in jeopardy, or determination to keep a job or marriage might be reasons to encourage someone’s action to change.
Understanding this will help you to gauge where they are at with making a decision to change. But how do you know if a person is ready to change?
Let them know you are there
and available to support
when they are ready
Stages in changes
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:
- Pre-contemplation – a stage where a person does not recognise there is a problem
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
- Contemplation – a stage where a person is starting to think there may be a problem
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.’
- Ambivalence – when a person seeing equal reasons to change and stay the same
Ask them what the pros and cons of changing or staying the same are, and reflect these to them. Talk to them about possibilities of support like the Daybreak app. You can also point them to some of the blog posts and extensive resources on the Hello Sunday Morning website.
- Preparation – when a person has decided to change and are now getting ready to act
You may prompt them with few questions that helps them to reflect, such as:
- Ask about times in the past when they have been able to accomplish 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 challenges that might come up in the next couple of months, like a busy time at work, a wedding, or a holiday.
- Action – this is the stage where a person is actively addressing the problem
Offer support and reflection on the positive changes that you can see. For example, ‘You seem to be much more energetic.’ Or, ‘You seem much more focused at work.’ Let them know if you notice they are not travelling well and encourage them to seek support or use coping strategies.
- Maintenance – in this stage, a person has made the changes and working on maintaining them
Continue to reflect positive changes you have noticed in order to keep motivation high. Encourage goal setting and reinforcement of positive gains and offer to monitor for signs of slipping or relapse in a supportive manner.
To read more about these stages, we wrote an extensive exploration for each of this stages here.
Being there when they are ready
Once you understand the decision balance of your loved ones and stages in changes, you can then let them know or show that you can be there for them when they are ready. This could look like:
- having the conversation when you think they are ready – we wrote tips on how to start a conversation about someone’s drinking here
- offer a non-judgemental support – be attentive and listen without judgement
- if applicable, being honest about your own struggle with alcohol
- lastly, be firm about your own opinion around alcohol but at the same time be non-condemning towards their action.
A person’s relationship with alcohol
does not look like a straight line,
there may be times when they have slip ups
Of course, there is no one solutions that fits for all when it comes to helping someone to drink less. So, treat these as loose guidelines and adjust it according to your own unique relationship with your loved ones.
It is important that the person wanting or needing to change receives continuous support. Our app, Daybreak, has a supportive community who can empathise with people wanting to change their drinking, as well as access to chat with one of the Care Navigators, who can give personalised suggestions if they needed extra support.
Ultimately, a person’s relationship with alcohol does not look like a straight line, there may be times when they might have slip ups. Being aware of this may help you cultivate patience and compassion towards them.
Do you have a supportive person who helps you change your drinking? Please give them a shout out on the comment box below and tell us how they help you!