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Changing behaviour to develop healthy relationships with alcohol

Sydney, 09 Sep 2015

It was the summer of 2009 when Chris Raine vowed to change the way he thought about alcohol.

The 22-year-old advertising executive woke up with one too many hangovers and resolved to do something about it.

“I wanted to change the way I drink,” he says.

But when Raine began looking for support in changing his relationship with alcohol, there were limited options. At one end of the spectrum were addiction programs, designed to completely remove alcohol; at the other, online campaigns and fact sheets.

Nothing resonated with the young Queenslander. Instead, Raine gave up drinking for a year to research his own relationship with alcohol and blogged about it.

It was the beginning of Hello Sunday Morning, with those learnings at the “core of everything we do as an organisation,” he says.

“Hello Sunday Morning is a movement towards a better drinking culture and a better relationship with alcohol in Australia and around the world,” explains Raine.

Five years on, the organisation has grown significantly. There are now 70,000 members and every month another 3,000 people sign up. Data compiled by Hello Sunday Morning indicates an average 58 per cent reduction in risk of alcohol related harm for participants.

The key difference between Hello Sunday Morning and more traditional treatment methods is the focus on changing behaviour. Underpinning that approach is a reframing of the concept of addiction.

“We want to change the way addiction is looked at,” says Raine, based on research about the brain and how habits are formed.

“Addiction in our minds isn’t a life sentence. It’s a habitual pattern that we can change. And as human beings we are all susceptible to forming bad habits.”

Central to the approach is creating a sense of community with members, coupled with mindfulness. Technology and design are also critical, with the organisation using a friendly interface and number of mobile apps, in order to easily integrate new patterns into members’ lives.

Late last month, Hello Sunday Morning was awarded the Macquarie Group Foundation’s Social Innovation Award, a $300,000 grant over two years. The award recognises organisations that have developed innovative solutions to important social needs.

The Macquarie Group Foundation is now in its 30th year and operates under an engaged philanthropy approach, with the giving of time as well as funding support.

Over the last 30 years Macquarie Group Foundation has contributed more than $A240 million to thousands of community organisations around the world.

Addiction in our minds isn’t a life sentence. It’s a habitual pattern that we can change. And as human beings we are all susceptible to forming bad habits.

Raine says Hello Sunday Morning will use the grant from the Macquarie Group Foundation to integrate its programs into the existing medical and healthcare system in Australia.

The challenge, he says, is to build an integrated, value-add technology system that general practitioners and emergency departments are able to use on a mass scale to help patients who are at high risk.

“Winning the award this year is a huge boon to what we are doing and we’re incredibly grateful for that vote of confidence,” he says.

“Physicians at the moment don’t have the tools other than to refer [people] to a treatment facility if it’s too late. Being embedded in that health system is a core strategic objective.”

Despite the progress over the last five years, there is still a long way to go. Nearly two in five Australians want to reduce their drinking, according to the 2015 Global Drug Survey, the highest rate of any country in the world.

Hello Sunday Morning aims to double its membership by the end of 2016 and reach 200,000 by the end of 2017.

The aim behind those targets, says Raine, is to help more people develop a better relationship with alcohol.

Learn more about the Macquarie Group Foundation or how to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol.