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What can I do to help them?

Part of being able to help someone with a drug or alcohol problem is understanding how ready they are to make a change.

This page will give you information about where they are in the change process and what you can do to support them. However, it’s important to remember that you cannot force someone to make change, only encourage them to do so and support them when they’re ready.

The Stages of Change:

Prochaska, J. O., DiClemente, C. C. (2005)

Pre-Contemplation: No awareness of a problem, and no intention of changing behaviour

This can be a very difficult time, as the substance user does not see any problem with their use. They may become angry and defensive at the suggestion there is a problem.

You may be able to increase their awareness of the impact of their behaviour on others, but little else. Focus on reducing the harm to yourself and others through clear boundaries.

Contemplation: Aware there is a problem, but not yet ready to make change

The user hasn’t yet taken action, but you can help by encouraging them to think about treatment options and giving positive reinforcement when the user expresses a desire to change.

Preparation:  Made a decision to change and exploring options

Encouragement is the key here. The user can see the benefits of making change, and your support and encouragement can keep them motivated. Acknowledge they may feel anxious or fearful about what lies ahead

Action: Taking practical steps to make desired change

Continue to encourage the individual and acknowledge any positive changes you notice.

Maintenance: Goals have been achieved, now trying to sustain them!

The individual has put a lot of work into making changes to their behaviour and substance use, but there are many triggers they still need to learn to cope with. The user might also have expected all their problems to go away when they stopped using substances. You can encourage them to be honest with you and talk about the things they are finding difficult. This can sometimes be the hardest part.

Relapse: A return to substance misuse

Unfortunately lapses and relapses are not uncommon, so the most important thing is for the user to re-engage with treatment and learn from the experience. The chances for success if they do this are good.

You can encourage them to get back in contact with support services and to talk about where things went wrong and how they can stay on track next time.

stages of change diagram

Finally, one of the most important things you can do to help is to look after yourself. You don’t have to do this alone, there are lots of other families, friends and carers who’ve been through this and know how you feel, so get in touch to get some support.

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