Changing your drinking can sometimes feel like a complicated, lonely process, and putting it off can be tempting. If you’ve been trying to change and keep getting stuck, have you considered 1-1 support to quit or reduce your drinking?
Most public health professionals agree that drinking less alcohol is preferable to drinking more, although drinking has effects beyond those affecting your health. There are many benefits of drinking less or not at all. It can help you stay in control, be more productive, or refocus your attention on things that will bring you more satisfaction. Whatever your reason for changing your alcohol consumption, the result is behaving and feeling better.
And who doesn’t want better wellbeing?
Whatever your motivations for changing your drinking, whether you have tried before or not, you might find the extra push that comes from individual, tailored support helpful. And there’s lots out there. But how do you narrow it down and find what’s right for you?
Types of 1-1 support to quit drinking
The right 1-1 support to quit or reduce your drinking is an individual choice, and finding someone you feel comfortable working with is essential. Ultimately, you’re looking for someone who will support you in achieving your goals without pushing their own agenda, and will continue working with you even if your goals change. And if you don’t know whether you want to cut down or quit, the right person will help you figure this out.
Broadly speaking, we can group 1-1 support to quit or cut down into two categories:
- Peer support, often available for free or at low cost and offered through recovery support groups and charitable organisations
- Private support is more often than not chargeable, with some practitioners offering lower costs options for particular groups of clients. People in the private support category might include hypnotherapists, coaches, sober coaches, counsellors or therapists.
The type of support you choose will largely depend on your personal needs and preferences. You may also be influenced by stories of other people’s successes. But it’s worth holding in mind that nobody can offer you a quick fix, as really there’s no such thing, and what works for some people will not always work for others. So it’s important to remember that if something doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean you have failed. You might need to try different types of support until you find something that works for you.
In this article, we use the term alcohol misuse to cover a range of experiences we might call undesirable drinking. It’s the drinking over and above the ideal that would work for you, whether that’s none at all or some here and there.
Choosing private 1-1 support to quit or cut down
Rather worryingly, anyone – regardless of knowledge or training – can set themselves up to provide 1-1 support to quit drinking.
Treating alcohol misuse is complicated, and there are no standard routes to working professionally. Alcohol misuse training doesn’t come as standard for most people training as therapists, counsellors and coaches, and there is currently no statutory UK regulation for any of these professions. Because severe alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening, incorrect, ill-considered or inadequate advice from untrained practitioners could have fatal consequences.
This is worst-case scenario stuff, of course. And whilst your drinking might not be at levels that present physical difficulties when changing, it is important to know the person you are working with is aware of the dangers and will factor that into the work you do together.
The issue here is that we’re all different. We all have unique bodies, experiences and histories, and what might be fine for one person may not be for another. So it is important any practitioner you choose to work with is aware of the range of issues. Peer support largely has this risk assessment built-in, as it is usually offered by people with lived experience of changing their own drinking working in organisations and agency settings who specialise in this area. But this isn’t necessarily the case for people working privately.
Essential questions to ask about 1-1 support to quit
Stopping drinking is just one aspect of change. The greater part of the work lies in sifting through all the reasons we drink: the whys, the triggers, and the stories we tell ourselves and have come to consistently rely on. When we start digging into these, we often find emotional factors behind our drinking behaviour, which can arguably make changing our drinking that much harder. In fact, research shows emotion is a powerful neurological impulse that will nearly always win over logic when a person is in a non-resourceful or emotionally heightened state. Therefore, it’s vital that people working in this area understand the complexities of emotionally-driven drinking and the extra challenges this can present.
Beyond these key aspects, there are six key questions to consider and ask anyone who offers 1-1 support to quit or cut down drinking:
- Is their work safe and ethical?
- Is their practice supervised?
- What therapeutic techniques do they use?
- How committed are they to you?
- Do they seem authentic?
- Are they a good personal fit?
Six questions for a potential coach, counsellor or therapist
1. Is their work safe and ethical?
At worst, practitioners working outside their competence can be mortally dangerous. But there are other reasons to factor in practitioner competency.
If you start working with someone who later discovers they are out of their depth, for whatever reason, you need to know they will refer you on to someone who has got the training, skills and competence you need, and not doggedly hang on in there, taking your money and hoping for the best. Ethical practitioners will always refer you on to someone better able to help you if the need arises.
Questions to ask include how they work and where? What’s their approach to risk and ethics? Who oversees their work? Are they registered with any professional bodies (and if so, who and how credible are they)? Is there a complaint procedure? Are they working for or affiliated with anyone else? If so who and how does that sit with you? How do they assure confidentiality? And how do they store any notes they keep?
2. Is their practice supervised?
Good practitioners will undergo regular clinical supervision with a more experienced peer.
Supervision is a kind of quality assurance process where practitioners meet 1-1 or in small groups, led by a more qualified or experienced peer, to confidentially discuss their practice and gain fresh insights to inform their work.
The purpose of supervision is for the practitioner to hold themselves accountable for the work they are doing, thus assuring their clients they are practising appropriately. By presenting what they’re doing, how and why, practitioners can gain feedback on their approaches, insights they might have overlooked or missed, and suggestions for different approaches or angles to consider.
Ask anyone you’re considering working with if they’re in supervision and if they can tell you more about how they use it.
What’s their approach to change?
3. What therapeutic techniques do they use?
You don’t need to be well-versed in therapy lingo to choose a good practitioner. It’s not so much about the type or modality of support offered but the practitioner’s commitment to their continuing professional development.
Working with people changing their drinking takes a lot of training and there is always more to learn. So people offering 1-1 support to quit drinking should always be adding to their toolbox of techniques and knowledge. Simply completing a training course and relying on those skills and knowledge alone is not sufficient, not least because what works with one client may well not work with another.
1-1 support to quit or moderate your drinking works best approached as an individually tailored, interactive, developmental process, not as an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solution. Beware anyone who tells you differently.
4. How committed are they to you?
Look for a practitioner who is totally committed to supporting you in making your changes. Of course, you want someone who sees you in a positive light and listens to you with empathy and compassion. But they also need to gently but firmly hold you accountable.
1-1 support to quit or cut down will usually involve you and your practitioner negotiating a shared agreement for your work together, with clear boundaries and honesty about what’s entailed and what’s expected from each of you. You also need to know how they work when things don’t go to plan and how they will support you in getting back on track.
Have they been near where you are?
5. Do they seem authentic?
Authentic support requires practitioners to be genuine and real, also known as being congruent. Congruence is crucially important in building a trusting relationship with your practitioner.
Questions to hold in mind include who are they, and what’s their background? What experience do they personally have in this area? What experience do they have working with people changing their drinking? How do they talk about themselves and their work?
Talking to someone who gets it can help alleviate some of the anxieties we feel when we start to open up about what we’re doing and the effects it has on us.
Working with people who don’t get it can mean we end up tying ourselves in knots over-explaining and worrying about how we come across. We might even feel too ashamed to open up. If someone has been somewhere near where we’ve been, it can be reassuring.
Are they a good fit for 1-1 support to quit or cut down?
6. Are they a good personal fit?
The final question, and maybe the hardest to answer, is whether or not you like the person you’re considering working with.
Many people offering 1-1 support to quit or cut down will offer a short discovery chat so you can get a sense of who they are and how they work. These can be really useful in deciding whether or not you want to work with someone, as ultimately you need to feel comfortable with them.
When you chat with them, as well as getting the information you need and asking any questions, pay attention to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Consider whether they listened carefully to what you said or whether they interrupted and talked over you. Did they brush off or invalidate your concerns? Did you feel seen, heard and respected? Did you feel comfortable talking to them? Did you feel judged or uneasy in any way? Were they completely present throughout your discussion? Did you feel trusting towards them? Were they pushy in any way?
Effective 1-1 support to quit or moderate your drinking relies on the quality and strength of the relationship between you and the practitioner you’re working with. So if something feels off for you, it probably is. Listen to your concerns and trust your instincts.
Peer support to change your drinking
Peer support is about people with similar lived experiences coming together to help and inspire one another. When people talk about having a sponsor, that’s a form of peer support.
Drug and alcohol recovery services such as Change Grow Live offer peer support as part of their services. And there’s a body of evidence to say peer support helps people feel more confident and positive about changes they are making. Generally, people involved in peer support do not get paid for what they do. And they tend to work within recognised organisations and agency settings that set the parameters of how the support operates, with whom, and when.
When choosing peer support, many of the issues around choosing private support will be less important because they are taken care of by the agency offering the peer support. But there are questions to keep in mind:
- Who is involved? Is the service offered by a professional group such as a statutory service, or a voluntary or community group, or peers themselves acting independently?
- Do they support people cutting down as well as stopping altogether? Do they support people with similar goals to yours?
- Who provides the support? Peers alone, peers working with professionals, professionals facilitating peer groups, or lay people (people who offer general support, not specifically about changing your drinking)?
- Who ultimately holds clinical responsibility and oversees things like safe and ethical working?
- What training, if any, have peers received?
- Are peers paid, or are they volunteers?
- Will you need to wait to see someone, and if so how long for?
- Who can you complain to if things go wrong?
- Where is support provided, and how often?
- Is support offered on a time-limited basis (i.e. for a number of weeks or months), or is it open-ended (i.e. for as long as you need it)?
Your role in 1-1 support to quit or reduce drinking
Finding the right support is an individual choice. But effective 1-1 support to quit or cut down drinking comes down to a few main factors. Most of these are on the practitioner side and include training, competency and experience.
The ones on your side include your commitment to the process and your feelings of comfort with and confidence in your chosen support practitioner.
Finding someone suitable can feel daunting. But by keeping the above questions in mind as you’re sifting and shortlisting, we hope you can feel more confident in finding someone who’s safe to work with, well-informed, experienced, and genuinely can help you achieve your goals.
While the answers to many of these questions are in the hands of the person you engage to support you, remember that none of this can happen without your commitment. Your support practitioner can help you climb hurdles and negotiate obstacles, but you need to be an active participant in the process. Nobody can make change for you, and nor can they force you to change.
Long-lasting, sustainable change comes from within.