General tips if you’re concerned about someone:
1. Listen to them
Provide support by checking in, seeing how they are doing and listening to what they have to say. If they are not ready to talk about their relationship with alcohol, listen without making the push to discuss alcohol.
2. Socialise with them
Not drinking at an event when everyone else is drinking, can feel isolating. Either join them in not drinking, or take them to other events and activities that don’t involve drinking e.g. going for a walk.
3. Support them
Many people don’t respond well to being pushed to change their behaviour. When the person is ready to start their journey, let them know you’re there to provide love and support and give them your attention when they need to talk.
‘I am worried about someone I love and their relationship with alcohol.’'
What do you do when you are impacted by the drinking of someone you love and want them to address their alcohol use? 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.
Before you approach a person to try to make them change, you may want to ask yourself these three 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 probably won’t 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’ – when you try to make it clear or help them to see that there are more reasons to change, rather than not.
You may find that it is only when there are more reasons to change, that we actually take action.
How do you know if a person is ready to change?
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 – Not recognising there is a problem
During this stage, your loved one may certainly be experiencing the downside to drinking, but is defensive about this being a problem, minimising any negative impacts through excuses and rationalisations, and may be reluctant to even acknowledge it.
As they are likely to be resistant to receiving any help, you can start by gently raising their awareness. 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?’ If they were to be aware of any conflict, be sure to reflect that back. 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.’ However they are unlikely to have any awareness of any such conflict, given their reluctance to acknowledge a problem of any kind.
Contemplation – Starting to think there may be a problem
Here your loved one may find themselves on the fence. They know they have a problem but aren’t sure if it’s worth the effort to go about addressing it. They might even know what to do to get help, but don’t quite feel like they are ready.
You can start by reflecting 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 – Seeing equal reasons to change and stay the same
During this stage your loved one has considered the reasons to change and the reasons to stay the same, the only problem being the number of points on each side is equal.
You can support them by asking 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?’ Just reflecting this ambivalence will help them to feel validated in their struggle.
Talk to them about possibilities of support like the Daybreak mobile program. You can also point them towards some of the blog posts about behaviour change or health goals on the Hello Sunday Morning website.
Preparation – Decided to change and are now getting ready
In this stage your friend or family member has decided a change is needed and may have preliminary plans in place. They might even be sharing their plans with you.
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.
We know that good planning is the key to success with behaviour change, so ask about the details in a genuinely curious manner, and 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.
Action – Actively addressing the problem
Your loved one is actively engaged in a behaviour change support program of some type. They are currently executing the changes they planned and working towards their goals.
Offer support and reflect 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 further support or use the coping strategies they are learning about.
Maintenance – Changes made and working on maintaining them
The final stage – here your loved one is reaping the benefits of their changed behaviour, appreciating their achievements, and continuing to work towards maintaining their new habits.
You should continue to reflect on the positive changes you have noticed in order to keep their motivation high. Remember to encourage continued goal-setting and reinforce their positive gains. You might also like to offer to monitor for signs of slipping or relapse in a supportive manner. A good way to do this might be to ask them how you could let them know if you had any concerns of their old behaviours returning – let them tell you the best way to alert them to this.
How do we talk to a loved one about their drinking?
We might know whether or not the affected person is ready to change, or at least where they are at in the change process, but we might still not know how to start a conversation about drinking with a loved one.
What if they get angry or defensive? What if it makes their drinking worse? These feelings stop us from really having that conversation we want to have.
Here are a couple of tips that may work for the specific instance outlined below.
I want to ….
Talk to a parent about their drinking.
Talking to a parent about their drinking is often hard due to their dynamic with you, especially if you’re not of an adult age yet. Have a read of how mothers (and to a lesser extent, fathers) might want to be talked to about their drinking.
Talk to my kids about drinking before they’re of age.
Although your kids may not be of age yet, there are a couple of ways to talk to them about alcohol and prepare them for adult life. Check out how to go about this: