Spouses & Companions

Spouses & Companions

You know it’s hurting both of you, both you and your spouse or friend, but he (she) is still drinking and/or abusing drugs. Why won’t he stop? Alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and any drug addiction is a complex problem woven with multiple strands on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Yet, the solution is simple, and for most, that solution is remaining completely abstinent from the substance of use and abuse. While the solution is simple, it’s not easy for the person who has the addiction.

Motivational Stages of Change Model Applied to Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism, and Addiction

We can use a model to help conceptualize the process of recognizing there is a drinking problem and taking action to do something about it. This model is called the “Stages of Change” model, which describes common stages or phases individuals go through in changing behavior: Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance and Termination.

1) Precontemplation

The person doesn’t see that they have a problem, and therefore, are not yet thinking about changing their behavior. The person is in ‘denial’ about the problem, and isn’t aware that change is needed.

How to Help:

It’s helpful to approach the person to do a self-test, in a neutral and non-confrontational manner. This should occur when you are both in a relaxed and non-argumentative time. Let the person know about your concern—because you care—and that you wonder if he should be concerned as well. Or, you can talk with his doctor about administering a test.

After having the results for the test:

* A discussion can then follow—in a non-judgmental way—about the effect of his behavior on you, family, friends, and/or coworkers. For example, “When you were drinking this morning and couldn’t see Jimmy off to school, both Jimmy and I felt sad about this.”
* Speak about the behavior, and don’t label the person with names (e.g., you are ‘a this’ or ‘a that’) and don’t accuse.
* Stay positive and supportive.
* Remember, he needs help. Be as empathetic as possible.
At this stage, the person needs help in seeing that they have a drinking problem. Help them to see the positive effects of change.

Also, an intervention is helpful at this stage. While a ‘confrontational’ style of intervention is commonly used, research has shown that an alternative style of using positive reinforcement is perhaps a better type of intervention.  Alcohol Rehab provides intervention services worldwide.

2) Contemplation

A person sees there is a problem, and considers doing something about it. Still, at this stage, the person hasn’t yet made a commitment to change.

How to Help:

Professional providers and family members should support the person by helping them to deepen their understanding of the pros of leading a sober life, the consequences of their drinking, and that help is available. An intervention can be beneficial at this stage.

3) Preparation

The person has made a decision to change, to stop drinking, and prepares and plans to do so (e.g., makes an appointment to see a counselor). However, it can be a fragile stage, i.e., plans made to get help may no be followed through with, e.g., the person makes an appointment with a counselor but doesn’t go. Also, there’s always the risk of falling back to an earlier stage in the model.

How to Help:

Because there is the real possibility of not following through with intent and plans, the person here needs a lot of encouragement and support regarding following through with their intentions. The key here is hope, support, and positive encouragement, not confrontational or aggressive approaches.

4) Action

The person makes substantial changes, not just plans, in their life. Plans from the Preparation stage are put into action, e.g., going to rehab.

How to Help:

As in the earlier stages, keep a positive approach to support. Encourage and support treatment and counseling. In getting quality professional help, the person—if he works the treatment program—will gain the foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities he needs for recovery. Please see our web page discussing Treatment for Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism, and Alcohol Addiction.

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5) Maintenance and Termination

The person has changed their behavior and is living clean and sober, and works to maintain it, i.e., to not relapse. Until the person has had some years under their belt living sober, the risk of relapse can remain high. Termination occurs when the risk of relapse has diminished substantially—to a high degree—due to the well learned skills and abilities for remaining sober, and due to the positive experience of living clean and sober for years. However, even after years of sobriety, the risk for relapse can always be there.

How to Help:

Support from family and friends is always helpful, so keep it up. If relapse occurs at any time after being sober for any length of time, taking the necessary steps to get back to sobriety, e.g., going back to rehab, should happen as quickly as possible. Relapse is not failure; for some, it’s part of the journey of recovery and living sober.

Source for some content of this article: Recovery Options: The Complete Guide (2000) by Joseph Volpicelli and Maia Szalavitz

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