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If you’ve noticed that someone close to you is drinking too much, there are ways to approach them about it.

Get the timing right

Start the kōrero somewhere private if you can. Do not bring this up when they are hungover, drinking, distracted, or are in a stressful situation.

Think about if the person is in a place in their life where they can be ready for change. There are factors such as their financial situation, stress at work or home, or relationship trouble that can make this more complicated.

Most importantly, make sure you’re prepared to approach the situation. 

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"Start talking, because that’s when the healing starts happening. It is when you start talking to somebody. It might be the hardest thing that you do."
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Listen to Mihi's kōrero

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Explain your concern

Be clear about why you’re bringing this up. You can think about:

  • what you have noticed that made you check on them
  • specific examples of how their drinking had impacts on you and others
  • how this overall affects their whānau and how they are feeling
  • how this may affect your relationship with the person, or how others might view them.

Be kind. Do not call them an alcoholic or a drunk. 

Make sure they know you’re not just bringing things up as a personal attack. They may already be feeling guilty or ashamed. It can be hard to hear that those we care for are worried about us. This is especially if a younger person in the whānau is approaching someone older about their concerns.

Listen actively

Give them a chance to talk about their side of things. Pay attention to them and do not be judgmental. 

Respect the person’s mana motuhake. This is their self-determination and they will likely want to express their ability to choose for themselves what they want to do, or what they think is best for their whānau. Accepting that there is an issue is a step towards trust. 

You can also:

  • Remain calm and silent. Give them time to think, pause or finish talking before you respond. Do not force them to rush their thoughts. 
  • Reflect on what they have told you. Clarify by repeating what they have said and asking if you’ve got it right.
  • Ask them about what they are feeling or thinking, rather than questions with a ‘yes/no’ answer.

Practice your active listening skills

Stay on point

Keep things clear. Make sure:

  • your examples or perspectives from others support your message
  • you’re telling the truth 
  • to not base anything on rumours
  • you do not help them make excuses for their drinking.

Avoid getting in a heated argument. Things can get emotional or the person can get defensive. It can be hard to accept that there is a problem. There may also be awkward feelings depending on your relationship, such as if they are your parent.

 

Sometimes a person may get angry, refuse to talk, or laugh it off. If they keep resisting, back off for a while. Give them time to reflect.

If you’re worried for this person’s safety or the people they live with, contact a professional for advice on how to reach out. 

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"I’m going to be honest. Most people say, ‘no, I don’t have problems, still don’t’. Denial is a very strange thing, it’s a very powerful thing, and it’s not the river in Egypt. And it can be holding someone to ransom, that denial. And it’s so strong, and sometimes it takes a tragedy [...] We have choices, and for me it’s like power up, grab it, you own it, you’ve got the power to change."
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Know your role

What the person does from here is up to them. You cannot push them into being ready to make changes unless you are their parent or caregiver. 

They can also choose if they want you to be part of their journey to change, and when they would prefer you to be around. 

Give them a chance to tell you what they need from you, but be clear about what you can and cannot do. You can offer advice on your experiences, but do not play the part of an expert. 

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"When you’re in that headspace where you want to be better, but you feel weak, and you don’t have the right support around you, you end up going, ‘well, if they think I’m doing it anyway, I might as well go do it’."
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Listen to Marissa's kōrero

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Keep yourself safe

You already know this person well, so be realistic about what to expect. Some people may constantly disagree with what is considered reasonable. If you think your conversations might become physically or verbally violent, bring along somebody you can trust. 

Remember that none of this is your fault, and you are not the only one responsible for this person’s care.  

Being a part of someone’s support system can take patience. Some people go through several stages before accepting change. The dynamics of your relationship may become different. You’ll be taking on a lot, so look out for your own wellbeing.

You can also contact a health provider. They are also available to help people who are supporting others and will keep your conversations private.