Giving up alcohol can be a massive challenge – but also brings many benefits. So, what can you do to help a friend or loved one on the journey?
When my husband decided to stop drinking alcohol, I wanted to do all I could to help him. But worries about what to say – or what not to say – and the supportive actions I should take, made it a challenge to know how I could best be there for him.
There are many reasons why someone may cut back, or stop drinking alcohol altogether. For some, challenges like Dry January and Sober October give us the chance to rethink our relationship with alcohol, while others may be experiencing alcohol addiction.
Whatever the reason, when someone we care about tells us they are going to stop drinking, it’s important that we respond in a supportive way.
“Making changes in relation to problematic alcohol drinking, for some, can be extremely challenging and difficult,” says Andrew Harvey, a psychotherapeutic counsellor and addictions specialist. “Support from people around the person making changes can be extremely helpful, but has the potential to be difficult to do.
“Problematic drinking can be devastating for people affected by it, the drinker and those around them,” Andrew adds. “There is help, there is support, not only for the drinker but also for affected others. Depending upon the severity of the issue, recovery with additional support might be the best option.”
Harmful drinking can often impact the people around them, says Andrew. “This can range from negatively affecting people’s mental health, emotional wellbeing, and can be devastating to relationships. Equally, recovery and positive change in people’s relationship with alcohol can enable stability, hope, and a strengthening of relationships for those around them.”
Support from the start
When our loved one tells us they are going to stop drinking, we need to show them empathy and compassion. “Patience is also often important, as change doesn’t always happen in a straight line or at a pace we would like,” says Andrew. “Sometimes people’s motivations and desire for change wavers. Often asking someone how they would like to be supported in making the change is helpful to them, and then following through on that, when we can.”
Try to have an open conversation with them, letting them lead, to help you understand how you can best be there for them. While you can gently ask about their reasons for deciding to stop drinking, avoid being pushy with this, as some people may not want to go into a lot of detail about why they have made this decision. Respect that they are making this change.
And, for many, it’s a hugely positive change to make. “The benefits to people making changes to their relationship with alcohol are often in proportion to the damage that the drinking is doing,” says Andrew. “It can range from marginal health gains to saving their lives.”
It can be dangerous for some people to stop or reduce their alcohol consumption too quickly, so they should speak to their GP before they go ahead, to make sure they can get the right treatment a