- Alcohol affects the absorption of nutrients such as zinc, b-vitamins for oxygen transport and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), our primary energy source.
- As little as two drinks for men and one for women can impact sleep quality by 24%. More than that, and it steps up to around 40%.
Imagine for a second the impact that will have on someone’s day, week or over a lifetime.
Now, despite these scientific facts getting your clients to manage their alcohol intake is a challenge.
For many, it plays a part in their social lives and, in many cases, social facilitation. Being presented with a reduction or abstinence in alcohol leads to questions such as:
- Can I have fun without drinking?
- How will my friends and peers react?
- Will I feel self-conscious without a little liquid courage?
- Can I say "no" and stick to it, or will I succumb to peer pressure?
Some of your clients will see it as a cultural happening within their work roles and something they simply can’t avoid without some form of low-level conflict.
Remember that many people try to actively avoid conflict, so that requires an element of conflict management. More on this shortly.
The Habit Of Consuming Alcohol
All habits can be broken down into three basic components, alcohol is no different:
The Cue or Trigger: This is the part of the habit loop where you are triggered to take some sort of action through a cue in your internal or external environment.
The Action: Good or bad, this is the part of the habit loop where you actually take action on the habit you want to adopt or drop.
The Reward: This is the part of the habit loop where your brain receives a reward for taking the desired activity (or not as you will see in just a second).
Most addictive and destructive habits, like alcohol consumption, have a built-in reward system that requires little or no input from you. Consuming alcohol is an easy habit to adopt because it lights up your brain with the neurotransmitter dopamine and other naturally rewarding chemicals.
If you are struggling to make a new habit stick, then you probably aren’t aware or consciously applying the habit loop.
You haven’t identified the good and bad triggers, you have chosen to abstain rather than alter an action, and you fail to consider the reward element the individual seeks. The same is true of food consumption.
- What are some cues that you can set up in your client’s environment to remind them to take action?
- How can your clients reward themselves in a positive way that will encourage them to continue pursuing these habits?
Remember that a pint of beer has roughly the same amount of calories as a chocolate bar. Something very few people acknowledge. Someone sitting at a bar drinking five pints of beer won’t be judged the same way their friend sat next to them chomping down five chocolate bars will.
Much like many things to do with our nutritional intake, it’s important that awareness is addressed. Things we just do as part of our daily or weekly routines are often almost sub-consciously done so we don’t consciously note or log them. They’re just there.
Also, much like nutrition, generally, people lack knowledge or awareness of what they drink, the alcohol or caloric content, so, therefore, it’s never acknowledged or adjusted for within their lives.
It’s important to not only establish the health benefits but also the reasons why someone drinks and in what context, again simple awareness and acknowledgement that it perhaps doesn’t align with their goals and a solid idea of why and when it exists to give a platform in which change can be facilitated.
Managing Peer Reactions
Just knowing a few possible reactions will help ensure that your clients aren’t taken by surprise and that they’re able to prepare and cope when trying to reduce their intake.
Someone doing someone new or different, particularly with alcohol, often makes people feel awkward and vulnerable. The reality of having someone in their party more aware by choosing to drink less or not at all has multiple layers to it.
- You’re doing something that others ‘want’ to do but struggle to implement.
- It shows self-control in an environment that often encourages people to move towards a level of less self-control. Again it creates vulnerability for those people.
This can lead to nagging, teasing, cajoling, and in some situations, even confrontation, as your peers and friends will want you to return to what they know of you. In some cases, they may even start to lose a connection they felt they had through aligned habits.
It’s also important you also prepare your clients for the long-term changes they might experience from their decision to quit or reduce their alcohol consumption.
Much like improving eating behaviours, these situations are unavoidable for anyone looking at making lifelong and positive changes. Changes in your friendship and peer dynamics are part of change.
Being phased out of social situations: You may receive fewer social invitations over time once others realise that your decision not to drink isn’t going to change. For the reasons above, they remove that conflict for their benefit, not yours.
Being labelled a specific way: If alcohol plays a major role in your friends’ lives, you might get labelled as the “sober friend” or the “boring one.” Unfortunately, society deems ‘not-drinking’ as more of a dysregulated behaviour than drinking.
Alcohol is a social facilitator for many and management of intake is something that yields more benefits in many cases than absolute abstinence. It’s less complex and fits into the reality of the ways in which many want to balance their lives. Again, akin to what we eat. You need to appreciate the role food or foods play in your overall life at the particular stage you’re in. It’s the same with anything we consume.
Help your clients with awareness and understanding more about why they consume alcohol, whom they consume it with and what they seek from its consumption. This leaves them with intelligent and educated decisions they can, with your assistance, action and yield the benefits from.