February 22, 2021

Reducing or quitting: Ask a counsellor

Thinking about reducing or quitting? Pivot Point sat down with two of ACON’s substance support counsellors, Ann Marie and Siobhan, to find out a bit more about getting support in relation to drug and alcohol use. We also talked to Ann Marie and Siobhan about ACON’s substance support service.


When should someone seek help in relation to their drug or alcohol use? How do you know if you need support?

There are some signs that something about your substance use might be worth examining.  Is it interfering in the quality of your relationships and your ability to show up for your friends and loved ones?  Are you spending more than you can afford on drugs or alcohol?  Are you missing work, or not performing well at work? Are you feeling depressed and/or anxious a lot; regretful and ashamed of how you behave when you drink or use? It might be that you feel drugs/alcohol is just getting in the way of where you want to be?

Our Self-Assessment Tool can help you work through some of these questions.


How do I know if cutting down or abstaining is right for me?

Everyone is different. Everyone has a different relationship with drugs and alcohol. Talk to your GP, a counsellor, a trusted friend or family member or do some reading, TV or movie watching about other people’s experiences with substance use.  What resonates with you about those other experiences you can access and from the feedback you receive from others?

Try a period of temporary abstinence and see how that feels. Use a drink counter app or a goal setting app to track how much alcohol or other substances you are consuming and track your mood (there’s an app for that as well!) during those periods of temporary abstinence or moderation. Does your life work better with drugs and alcohol or with less or no drugs or alcohol?  Or maybe there are times and situations when, and people with whom it’s important to avoid drugs and or alcohol?


What support is available if you want to cut down but not necessarily completely abstain?

Great news! There is a lot of support available if you want to figure out the best way of managing your drug and alcohol use, however, there are fewer LGBTQ specific services than mainstream services.  You might want something that is community centred (ACON’s Substance Support Service!) or that may not be so important to you.

The Alcohol and Drug Information Service is a great starting point for information gathering about other services. You can call ADIS any time of the day or week for support, information, counselling and referral to services in NSW.

Professional counselling is an option, however, there are also plenty of online resources and support groups like SMART Recovery (drugs and alcohol), and Hello, Sunday Morning (alcohol use).

There are lots of alternative options for support, including: pharmacotherapies that help reduce cravings and the urge to drink in excess; a variety of apps that help you track alcohol or drug consumption; self-help books, podcasts and online community meetings. These are worth investigating to see what might suit you.

You might have to dig a little deeper to find content/resources that resonate with you – whether it be queer or other minority experiences with substances – but it’s often worth it when you do find it.  Community is key!  One of our fav finds is the US based blog The Temper. Over there, you can read about LGBTQ+ abstinent folks to follow on Instagram, and the importance of drug and alcohol free spaces for queer introverts. Joining community groups that aren’t centred around drugs and alcohol – like a sports team or a choir – can also help to shift your relationship with substances.

If community knowledge and connection is important to you, ask any service or clinician whether they have completed LGBTQ inclusive service delivery or what makes them LGBTQ affirming and welcoming.


What support is available if you want to stop using altogether?

Again, a lot of support is around and it is about finding the right fit for you If you have a good relationship with your GP, talk to them about the issues that concern you and see what they suggest.  Accessing counselling through ACON or via a mental health plan and GP referral is an option. If you are a fairly heavy drinker wanting to detox and then abstain from alcohol use, medical support is a really good idea during withdrawal and pharmacotherapy might be appropriate for you.

Residential rehab is a pathway for some people. Again, this is something worth discussing with your GP, a counsellor, or you can call ADIS, the 24/7 telephone support line for information about detox, rehab and outpatient counselling options. Again, ask any service provider if their staff are trained to be LGBTQ inclusive.

If you are interested in LGBTQ peer support, you can seek that out specifically. Get in touch with Rainbow Recovery to find out about joining an abstinence focused support system, or search for other online peer support forums like Gay & Sober.

SMART Recovery is another option for accessing group support.  Books like The Naked Mind (there’s also an associated podcast) explore the issue of substance dependence in a non-judgmental way.

The podcast, Sex, Love and Addiction: Healing Conversations for Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Men features conversations with global experts, many with lived experience in addiction, HIV/AIDS, stigma, gay marriage, relationships, and other pressing life issues directed toward gay, bisexual, and transgender men.


Changing your relationship with alcohol and or drugs – whether it be abstinence or moderation you are aiming for – is a process that takes time, and a certain amount of trial and error, to come up with a plan and a new way of doing things that works for you. If it doesn’t work the first time, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it just means the plan and the resources and tools you are using to support you might need some fine tuning.  This is where lived and professional experience of other people can be useful, whether that’s joining support groups, accessing counselling, medical support, or the support of friends and or family.

It’s hard to change entrenched behaviours without having people around you to be your cheerleaders, a shoulder to lean on, a friendly and encouraging listener and good company when you are finding it tough going.



How do I know what support is right for me?

Sometimes you just need to try out everything that’s on offer and available to you in your circumstances a few times and see what feels like a good fit for you.  Everyone has different needs at different stages in their life. What works for someone else is not necessarily going to work for you, and vice versa. Explore the options and remain curious. Ask questions. State your needs and wants.  Ask for suggestions from anyone you know who has used counselling and other psychological support for themselves.  Talk to your GP, a good friend, a family member who you trust to help you work through the options.


I have a friend who I think needs support. How do I encourage them to seek help?

This can be tricky if your friend doesn’t think they need the support you think they need. In as non-judgmental a way as possible, offer them your opinion and perhaps some concrete observations of behaviour you’ve seen that makes you think they are experiencing difficulties. Ask them what support they would like to receive from you. Suggest some phone numbers or websites to them so they can explore their options. Offer to go with them to an appointment or to a meeting if they are anxious about going alone.

Make sure you have appropriate boundaries in place so that you don’t change your relationship from that of a friend to that of a caregiver. You can be empathic, compassionate and caring as long as you also look after yourself and your own needs in the relationship.

Read more about supporting friends and loved ones.

Find out more about reducing or quitting your drug or alcohol intake.

If you would like support in relation to your substance use, ACON’s substance support service can help. Find out more about the service here. For intake, call (02) 9206 2000, or submit an enquiry.