Have you noticed how much alcohol is on television? Not just the ads but in the actual shows. From the alcohol fuels brawls of dating and cooking shows to the perfectly placed beers on the sports-related shows and don't get me started on the shows of watching people watch other shows. And that's just in the safety of your own home. Step out of your home and there are bottles shops at most hotels and shopping centres and that nice little discount coupon you get at the bottom of some of your shopping dockets. For someone who is considering changing their relationship toward alcohol, these can be very triggering experiences. And in the current climate, a lot of people are experiencing iso-drinking which is consuming more alcohol than they would normally due to the effects of isolation.
Let's talk facts now. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) say that 'an Australian standard drink contains 10g of alcohol (12.5ml of pure alcohol). You can count the number of standard drinks you are consuming to keep track of how much you are drinking'. Different sources also advise limits like 1-2 standard drinks per day with no more than 4 per day and no more than 10 per week with 1-2 alcohol-free days in the mix. However to count these standard drinks you need to know the percentage of alcohol overall in the liquid you are consuming and the millilitres that have been poured into the glass. This can be hard even if you are just having a drink at home. This is where speaking to someone who can help you identify the variables to understand a standard drink can be useful. I'd also like to point out here that if a person is alcohol dependent or has been drinking large quantities of alcohol for an extended period, it is important to seek medical advice before making any changes, as sudden cessation of alcohol can lead to serious health conditions or death.
Stages of change - Before setting any goals for change or signing up for a dry week to month it can be useful to assess where you are in your change journey first. As an alcohol and drug counsellor, I have used the stages of change model to help people really work out their level of understanding regarding where they are at and to also help them get back on the horse when they fall off which, surprise, can happen so it is important to be ready for it. So let's have a look at these stages
Pre-contemplation is where the problem behaviour is not seen as a problem. This may be because the person is in denial, they don't see the costs outweighing the benefits, they just feel like they are being nagged or they have made a previous unsuccessful attempt and have decided to give up on the change. This is still a workable space and sometimes requires some extra information, education, costs versus benefits analysis and most importantly awareness of the issue. It's also important to remember that it doesn't have to always be all or nothing and like any relationship, negotiations can be made.
Contemplation - "I could make the change and if I did it could look like this….but I'm still hesitant to make it because of….". How often do we say this to ourselves? Sometimes we don't even know the reasons why but they are often based around fear, ambivalence, or just put it in the too-hard basket. This is where speaking with someone can help to nut out what it is that's stopping you and what resources and knowledge you need to make the change. Also identifying the barriers to change so you can name what is preventing you from taking the next step. And finally, the likelihood of relapse because, as mentioned above, triggers are all around us so it's important to make some plans to prevent and/or manage lapses and relapses.
Preparation - You did it, you decided to make the change…..now what? This is where goal setting, refusal techniques and coping strategies can be explored. Remember, you can't build a house without a strong foundation (and non-flammable cladding). Sometimes planning can include minor adjustments to your current behaviour and sometimes it can mean a lifestyle change but no matter how big or small the change, you need a strong and clear change plan. Don't only think about the change you want to make but also the reason you want to make it as the reason can be that tipping factor as to whether change happens or not. Also, plan out the steps to making this change and make them SMART; meaning specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Remember you can't become a marathon runner overnight. You don't have to do this alone either so include people and resources such as support groups, counsellors or family and friends in your plan that you can call upon to help you achieve your goal. Once you have set your goals and made them strong it's also important to think about when things go wrong and how you will manage those times. The more tools you have in your tool belt, the better equipped you will be to manage the change and all the obstacles you will encounter.
Action- Lights, camera, action, this is where the magic happens in the movies but it's not always magical in real life. It's important to remember your goals, your steps, your support network and all the other measure you put in place in this stage. You may find yourself avoiding triggers, reaching out for help, taking steps to avoid temptation and working through cravings. Yes, cravings. This is where the 4 Ds can help with managing cravings. The 4 Ds are delay, distract, de-stress and de-catastrophize. Cravings will come in a wave so often by delaying for around 20 minutes, the craving will subside on its own. And don't forget to also drink water and keep up your fluids as this will help you feel full and your body will be more comfortable. Herbal tea can also be good but just be mindful of soft drinks and caffeine as they may be a trigger.
Maintenance- While cars need regular services, your change plan may also need some tune-ups as you continue to face challenges. Even people in a maintenance stage of change may need to seek support to help fine-tune their plan to continue success. It's also important to keep plans in the back of your mind to manage lapse and relapse as these can still happen. While you know you can make the change you don't want to end up starting again from page one or giving up entirely. You got this!
Lapse and relapse - I like to use both words lapse and relapse as there is a difference between the two. A lapse is more of that 'whoops' moment where you have a slip-up but you return to your changed behaviour and make some adjustments to your plan to prevent a recurrence. A relapse is returning to step one, whatever that was for you, and having to start again rather than pick up where you left off. Both of them are spaces for learning and growth. Just like a child that gets its finger caught in a kitchen draw, while it may do it once and learn from that experience and never do it again, it may also do it several times not understanding why it keeps happening, until the lightbulb moment where it learns how to hold the handle so its fingers don't get in the way. We need to remember we are humans and we learn from experience. Just remember to be kind and honest with yourself and the people supporting you.
Don't forget to ask for help if and when you need it. Skylight can offer counselling services to those who are wanting to make changes in their life who can be at any stage of change. It doesn't have to be related to alcohol either so if you need someone to walk alongside you for a part of your journey, contact Skylight and see how we can help.