Many of us experience negative effects from drinking alcohol, and it can cause us to want to cut back. Often, we may think that we’re in control of our drinking, but the opposite is true, and it’s important to recognize this.
Whether it’s the gaps in your memory where you can’t remember what happened the night before, or that you don’t like the way you behave when you drink too much, there are some giveaway signs that you no longer have control over your drinking. Understanding what they are will enable you to regain complete power over your alcohol consumption.
Join me this week as I share some signs that you might have lost control of your drinking, and the steps you can take to regain control. I’m sharing some of my personal experiences of when I didn’t have control of my drinking, and why getting some help with your overdrinking can radically change your life.
You are listening to the Drink Less Lifestyle Podcast with Dr. Sherry Price, episode number 25.
Welcome to Drink Less Lifestyle, a podcast for successful women who want to change their relationship with alcohol. If you want to drink less, feel healthier and start loving life again you’re in the right place. Please remember that the information in this podcast does not constitute medical advice. Now, here’s your host, Dr. Sherry Price.
Well, hello my friends and happy St. Patrick’s Day. Do you have any plans? I know we pass the one year anniversary of this pandemic, so my guess is you probably don’t have plans this year. But thinking about St. Paddy’s Day I really can’t think of any other holiday that is associated more with drinking. I mean here I live in San Diego and Cinco de Mayo is the big drinking festival. But it’s not quite the same as St. Paddy’s Day.
I mean let’s think about it, St. Paddy’s Day leads to green drinks, green beer, dying the Chicago River green, shamrock shakes and Oreo Shamrock McFlurries at McDonald’s. I mean really we really get into the green theme and the drinking theme for St. Paddy’s Day. And I have to be honest, this is one holiday that I associated with drinking but I think I’ve done that in the past with every holiday. Thanksgiving was a reason to crack open a bottle of wine and so was Christmas and many other holidays.
To me they were mutually inclusive. You couldn’t have a holiday without alcohol being present. And I’ve evolved from that. I don’t feel that I need alcohol on every holiday. Now, I still may choose to drink on some holidays but it’s always my choice. And holidays are not now mutually inclusive with alcohol. So I wanted to spend some time in this episode talking about – I don’t know if you want to call them warning signs and they’re not red flags, but kind of ideas that maybe I’m not as in control of my drinking as I thought.
So I’d like to think of it as alcohol may be more in control if you see these signs or you witness this happening in your life and signs that you are in control, not the alcohol when you see these signs happening in your life. So I want to begin with let’s think about alcohol being in control and what happens or what you experience when you feel that alcohol is in more control than you are.
And so the first area I think is when you drink without any insight or you’re not even paying attention to how the alcohol is affecting you. So this can look like many different examples. One I’m thinking of is well, you drink until you basically blackout or pass out, you just fall asleep. And I have known I have done this on many occasions.
I’ve talked about in previous episodes how when I came home from work it was just my whole pass to start drinking, my body craved it. My 5:30 6 o’clock was my witching hour. I wanted it while I was cooking and I would just continue drinking throughout the night and I would pass out in the same clothes that I went to work in. I didn’t have the evening routine down where you wash your face and all that. No, I just passed out.
So I’ve definitely been there where you just drink and it’s out of control because had I gone back in time I would have wanted to change out of my clothes. I would have wanted the night time ritual of brushing my teeth. But I didn’t, I just passed out. So I think of this as an analogy to food. How we feel that food may be more in control of us than us in control of the food. So if you for instance start eating chips, you open the bag of chips and maybe you’re mindlessly watching a movie and all of a sudden you look down and the chips are gone, you’ve eaten the whole bag.
I’ve seen people do this with Oreos, you open a bag of Oreos, you intend to have one but you have the whole sleeve and sometimes maybe even into the next sleeve. And it’s not that you were hungry, it’s just that you mindlessly ate and it got out of control.
Another example where you are drinking and you’re not even paying attention to how it’s affecting you, this might be when we were out pre Covid, when you’re drinking and you have another glass of wine or another cocktail. And you don’t know how it’s affecting you and then you go to stand up and use the restroom. And then you notice, whoa you’re wobbly, or your gait is off, or oh my goodness, I think I had a little bit more than I should have.
So you get that, oh my, I wasn’t really paying attention until I changed my stance and got up to walk and I notice that I’m not feeling as optimal as I wanted to.
Or another way is I think of it as being out of control as if you really monitor what you eat and you’re not a big snacker. And you drink and then you notice your snacking increases. And this happened with me. I would never eat goldfish or mac and cheese but it looked delicious and tasty after a few glasses of wine. I don’t know if it was the acidity in my stomach or just too much alcohol or too much volume that I felt like I needed something to absorb it. And I would have never snacked that way if I didn’t have a lot of alcohol in my system.
So when it causes you to do things that you’re like I would have not normally put that in my body but now that I’ve had so much, now the alcohol is more in control than you.
Another area I like to talk about with my clients too is, are you really in control because if this is happening maybe you’re not. And I think a lot of us experience this, is that we just don’t remember how we feel as we get to drinks three, and four, and beyond. We’re kind of just numb. We’re just going through the motions. We’re just drinking another, not really tasting it, not really knowing how we feel, not even knowing if we really truly want it.
How also this might look is that the next day you don’t recall certain conversations that you’ve had or parts of the night are foggy, or blurry, or just absent. And I don’t think any of us intentionally want to forget conversations or parts of the evening. So that’s definitely a sign that the alcohol is in more control than you are.
And lastly, this goes along with what I said a little bit previously is that the behaviors that you have when you’ve had too much alcohol that you’re embarrassed by or that you would not have done if you just had a glass of alcohol or no alcohol. So I talked about snacking and how I did the goldfish with my daughter and her leftover dinner. But I’ve seen other areas where maybe I get more of a sailor mouth or I curse a lot more. And I’m not really proud of that the next day. I’m not really excited that I acted that way.
Some people tend to gossip or break confidentiality with their friend, or they just say things that they – maybe they say they have no filter, or they could have said it better. And we know these behaviors just don’t make us feel good because the next day we’re kind of beating ourselves up over saying that or acting that way. So coming back to that concept, you know that the alcohol is more in charge when you don’t have insight into how it’s affecting you.
Alright, so moving on to the second one I think of when I think of the alcohol is in more control of me is if I drink and I don’t even like it. How many of you do this? I hear this all the time, “I’m usually a red wine drinker but I’m going to switch to white wine so I don’t drink so much.” Or, “I’m usually a wine drinker and when I go out I’m just going to have a beer because I know I don’t overdo it when I have beer but I really don’t enjoy the taste of it.”
And I have to tell you, I did this all the time. And my classic example is airplane wine. I’d get free drink you bonds or you get upgraded to first class and my brain instantly told me wow, you got upgraded to first class, you deserve a glass of wine, it’s free. And literally it could be 1 o’clock in the afternoon or 10 o’clock in the morning and I felt that I deserve that glass of wine. Here I am in first class, this is what you do. And the wine was crappy but I still drank it.
And back in the day I was not selective about the type of wine I had. I would drink two buck chuck or whatever they call it now at Trader Joe’s, and Boone Farms and all the kinds of alcohol that now I just won’t touch. I just don’t like it. Why would I drink something I didn’t like? To me it’s like somebody offering me food that I don’t like. Like somebody offers me peach cobbler and I don’t like peaches and I don’t like pies, and I certainly don’t like cobbler. So I would never say yes to a slice of peach cobbler. That would be an instant no.
And why don’t I have that same discernment when it comes to alcohol back in the day? It was like if I went to somebody’s house or a party, it didn’t matter what they were serving, I knew I would just drink the alcohol regardless if I liked it or not. So some of the other examples that fall into this category that I can think of are like when you continue drinking even after you’ve stopped tasting it. You’re not even paying attention to it. You just don’t taste it. It’s kind of like your taste buds have gone numb but you continue to drink.
Or here’s a big one I used to experience. I could not leave any drop of alcohol behind in a glass especially if I paid for it out at a restaurant. It’s like I paid $12 for this drink, I must finish every last drop. Or I know a lot of my clients will tell me, “Once a bottle of wine is open in my house I can’t just leave it there on the counter. Or I can’t just leave it there in the fridge, I must finish it all. Even if I don’t really want it I just must finish it because I don’t want it to go bad or tomorrow it might taste funky or go wonky and I can’t just pour it down the drain.”
And it’s funny because some of my clients will tell me that’s considered alcohol abuse. That’s what I learned as alcohol abuse. And I’m like I don’t really think that’s the true definition of alcohol abuse. And I know we have clever terms for it. I’ve heard sandbagging. If you’re not finishing your beer or your drink and it’s just there, it’s turning into a paperweight. We make all kinds of comments that start to program our brain to think wasting alcohol is bad.
Now, if you’re having a hard time struggling with this concept that wasting alcohol is bad you are not alone. I coach on this a lot with my clients, a lot, especially people who are in wine clubs and get bottles of wine delivered to their home. And they’re really acutely aware of the price and some of them are really fine bottles of wine and they don’t want to waste them. And I totally understand that.
But here’s something I want you to consider. If you go to a restaurant and you order wine or let’s say soda, and there’s water left in the glass or soda left in the glass when you go to walk away from the table, how do you feel about that? Isn’t that really interesting? I can leave water and soda behind back in the day but I couldn’t leave a drop of alcohol. Now I can because I don’t have that same mentality, I don’t have that same mindset that I need to finish every last drop.
And if I wind up throwing some out, wind up pouring some down the drain or just leaving it at the restaurant because you know what? That three-fourths of a glass of wine was enough for me, I feel fine. And I know if I drink more I’m not going to feel good. And I’m fine with leaving it there. But I wasn’t always there. And I just want you to know it just takes training your brain to think about it differently. Because my brain used to think it was so wasteful or so bad just to leave it behind. And now I don’t see it that way.
I see it as if I ordered food and I didn’t like the olives that came on my salad and I forgot to tell them to take off the olives, I just push the olives to the side. I’d have no concerns about wasting food that I don’t like, so why is it different when it comes to alcohol? That’s something you want to investigate for yourself if you’ve experienced this.
Here’s also a tip now, are days when I go out and I order a cocktail or I order a glass of wine that I want to try and I don’t like it. In the past I used to just suck it up and drink it. Now I have confidence around my drinking, around alcohol, around just better self-confidence in general, I’ll ask, “Can I swap this out because I don’t enjoy it?” And here’s the thing, if I get a no I just won’t drink it because if I don’t like it, why put it in my body? To me that’s lend of story.
Okay, so as we move on to number three, I think you clearly know when you’re not in control if you feel it’s a habit, a habit in any sense of the definition. It’s just something you do on a Friday and Saturday or it’s just something you do every day at 5 o’clock. It’s just something you do routinely in certain areas of your life; generally speaking then alcohol is in control. It’s just what you do when you get together with these set of friends. So any time of habitual drinking I think can be a sign or letting us know that the alcohol is more in control than we want.
And so I see this a lot when people drink and they tell me as they come into my program, “I’m drinking and I don’t even want to be drinking. I don’t like the taste of it anymore. I don’t like the ritual. I don’t like the effect it has on my life. I don’t like the effect it has on my sleep. I’m gaining weight. I don’t know if it’s perimenopause, menopause, all of that. But I know alcohol’s not helping. I know it’s not good for my health. But I still keep drinking it and I don’t understand why.” And I’ll tell you the reason is because it’s a habit. The brain really holds onto habits and patterns that we’ve had for a while.
So I like to say it’s like drinking on autopilot, you just keep consuming it even though you really want to break the habit, even though you know it’s not good for you even while you’re drinking it. And a lot of people get to a point where even that first glass is not as delicious as it used to be. Or it doesn’t produce the effect it used to because now our tolerance is up, and just our receptors in our body burn out over time.
Now, some people will want to drink just to get the buzz, just to get that rush, just to get that pleasure feeling, just to be like, yeah, life is a little more exciting right now, especially in these Covid times. It’s a little more exciting and that feels good to me. And then I have other clients that are like, “Yeah, I’m kind of over the buzz, I am just beyond that. And I find that I still can’t cut back or stop.” And all is it means is that your primitive brain and your habit brain are totally in control. And you could flip that switch any time you want.
Alright, moving on to number four, this was a big one for me and it’s not liking the consequences of the drinking. I mentioned this a little bit before. I didn’t like my interrupted sleep. I didn’t like my lack of a nighttime routine. I didn’t like how I was checking out from my family. I just wanted to be left alone. I didn’t like the waking. I didn’t like the decisions I made about the food I put in my mouth. All the things, forgetting conversations, all of the things, I started to just be like wow, it’s not just one or two areas that are being affected, it’s a lot of areas of my life.
But here’s the thing, I never hit rock bottom, I never felt it was that big of a problem so I felt like where can I go for help just to prevent this from getting worse? And that’s what I focus on with my women is really, you know, we’re not end stage, we’re not all the way where alcohol is completely in control of us. We need it right when we wake-up or any of that. But you just realize that this habit and this pattern is not serving you as any bit and you really want it to change.
So going back to how it was just interfering with the type of woman I wanted to be in so many areas of my life. I was having more anger issues with my daughter. I would just blow off the handle a lot and I thought alcohol was helping me suppress that emotion. And it was the example I was setting for her. And it was just wanting to numb out at the end of the day. I didn’t want to do that with my life.
I know life is precious, we don’t know how much time we get on this planet. There’s so much I want to do and accomplish and yet if I drank all of that went away because it sucked my motivation. It sucked my energy. And I was very unproductive. And for me that didn’t feel good. I mentioned about interfering with my sleep, my fitness goals. I would constantly skip out on the gym the next day because I was like, “I’ll just start tomorrow”, because I didn’t feel energetic in the morning like I used to.
And we all know that as we age our body tends to slow down, our metabolism slows down, just that’s the normal process of aging. And so I noticed I wasn’t metabolizing the alcohol as well. I noticed some mornings I felt like I still had some alcohol in my system. I wasn’t clearly thinking. I didn’t have that sharp brain. I felt like I needed more coffee to get kick started and to get my brain into jumping into action. And the lag time just felt too much.
So all these little things just started to add up where I’m like, “Yeah, it’s time to change.” And I really wanted to change where I didn’t fail, because I’d failed so many times. So again it’s always about going after the root of the problem, the over-desire, the habit part of the brain that seems for me was the big thing that was in control was the habit.
And one other thing I just want to mention is that I tried for years, not months, years to break this habit on my own and I could not. I could not. I felt like I didn’t want help in this area. I felt like I’m smart enough, I should be able to figure it out. But I have to tell you, I’m so glad I humbled myself. I’m so glad I just broke down and said, “No, I’m going to get help because I need it, because I want results.” I want results, I want them now and I want somebody to show me the path that I need to do so I could get those results quickly.
And that’s when I hired my life coach and it was the best decision I’ve made, not just for my drinking, but for every other area of my life and for the confidence I got and for just understanding from a science perspective what was going on because that helped me drop the shame. I know I wasn’t the problem. I know I wasn’t at fault. I know I wasn’t the blame of it all, it was the habit in the brain, and the way the drug works on the brain.
Now, here’s the thing, you understand that but then I needed the strategies and the tools to change that, to rewire the brain so the brain doesn’t go back to old habits and old patterns. And that’s what I love. I loved it so much that I jumped in and I became a life coach that can help women do the same. So if you’re struggling out there alone and you feel like you’ve been spending so much time trying to figure this out and you’re not making progress that you’re happy with, or that feels sustainable, or that feels permanent really, reach out.
I say getting that help is phenomenally important. It radically changes your life. Just like we can’t operate on ourselves, we can’t do a root canal on ourselves, we need other people. And life is designed that way. So get the help if you need the help. And the power and the research behind cognitive therapy tools doing this work in this area particularly has been so successful. I mean there’s no reason not to in my opinion.
Okay, so now we’re going to move on and talk about ways where we know we are in control of our drinking. And I want to highlight these because I want you to know that this is so doable. I used to have all those criteria that we just mentioned and I talked about my personal examples. But when you hear these examples about being in control of your drinking, that’s where I’m at today. And I want to let you know you can get there too.
Alright, so the first one is you don’t think about drinking so much. It’s not like clockwork. It used to be like 3 o’clock my brain would be like it’s coming at the end of the day. Am I going to drink today? Yeah, I think I’m going to want to drink tonight. I think I should stop for a bottle of wine on the way home from work or whatever it was. It’s like the automatic thoughts just came into my brain at a certain time of day and it was like clockwork. I just started thinking about alcohol. I didn’t even want to be thinking about alcohol but the thoughts came in.
And then you have that whole internal dialog inside your brain, should I drink, should I not drink? Should I go pick some up at the store, should I not? When you’re in the store, should I buy one or should I buy more because I get the multi bottle discount? And it would be really nice to save 10%, or 30%, or whatever the store is offering. And then if you only get one you’re standing at the cash wrap going, I probably should get another because I’m probably going to want more than one.
And then it’s not safe for me to drive, I’m going to have to send somebody out or I’m going to have to get an app to deliver it to me. And I’m going to have to pay a premium so I probably should have bought another as you’re walking to your car. And then if you buy two and you’re walking to your car going, I probably only should have bought one because that means I’m probably going to open the second bottle. This literally was the dialog in my head day in, day out.
And it’s funny because my brain would treat it like it was a new problem to solve each day. And here it was the same problem, the same dialog going off in my head like clockwork all the time. And then I thought about it when I was pouring it. And then maybe after the second glass I stopped thinking about it until the next day berating myself, oh my gosh, you finished the whole bottle plus some again. When is this going to change? This is why you feel so terrible. This is why you’re not going to the gym. This is why you have brain fog, you need more coffee.
And you have your uppers in the morning and your downers at night. All of the mental chatter was just exhausting. When I removed that, I tell you, I feel like I got so much of my brain power back for other areas of my life. I’m not weighed down by this mental weight on me, every single day it was for me. It’s like when you just ruminate on the same problem over and over with no solution, it just feels exhausting.
It’s like, just think if you had a splinter and you just thought about, how am to going to get this splinter out? I don’t know. It still hurts. Months later, how am I going to get this splinter out? It still hurts. I probably should get this splinter out. And then for me years went by, it’s like oh my gosh, it’s a decade. I still have this splinter, when am I going to get this splinter out? It’s the same problem. And I got no closer to solving it even though some days I took alcohol free days or alcohol free periods of time thinking that’s going to be progress, it’s going to work for me, and it never did.
I felt like I was still talking about the same problem years later, exhausting. And it really just weighs on you from a self-esteem perspective, from, you know, I like to fix things, I like to get things done. I like the things checked off my to do list. And this always seemed to be on the to do list. And it was like I was fighting myself every single day, yuck, I was done, I was so done with that.
Alright, two, if you decide to drink you drink what you intend to drink and you stop. You have your off button back. Can I just tell you ladies how magical that feels? I could not do that for years, decades, I could not. Unless it was a real struggle and I had so many urges, or I had the fear of missing out like all my friends get to keep drinking, why do I have to stop? Or I would have to be reliant on I’m the designated driver, so I only get one drink. Something outside of me had to motivate me to stop. I don’t have that now.
I motivate myself, I say something is going to happen with my alcohol and it happens. No qualms. No depravation. No feeling like I’m missing out. No feeling sorry for myself. No looking at my friends going, they might have it better, they’re having a better time than me. I don’t do any of that. I don’t have any of those thoughts, none of that is racing through my head. And can I tell you how much freedom that brings me, how much joy that brings me? I could sit down at dinner and have a glass of wine and be done, for no desire for the next one.
I mean it feels amazing. And of course society would tell me, “You can’t get there, you can’t do that.” And I’m telling you I’ve seen it in myself and hundreds of women that I’ve helped. You can totally get there. Now, can alcoholics or people with extreme disorder with this alcohol? I don’t think, it might be possible for them, but I don’t know. But that’s such a rare percentage of people who over-drink and that’s data, is proven. So I think you can get there. And I think it’s terribly exciting when you learn to just drink what you say you’re going to drink if you decide to drink.
Now, if you don’t decide to drink and alcohol is you’re done with it completely, great, you can still have that sense of freedom that you don’t need it, you don’t want it. Other people are doing it and you’re not feeling like pining for it.
Because I know a lot of people who gave up alcohol and they still pine for it. They still feel like they’re deprived, they still feel like they’re missing out. That’s because they didn’t have the cognitive tools to help them change their brain the way they think about it, their relationship with it. All is they’re just saying is no to the drink and that doesn’t always feel good. To me I love having control and that means I enjoy having the drink. And I enjoy stopping. And when I stop I feel elegantly satisfied. I’m not chasing a buzz. I’m not chasing the effects.
I want the experience of enjoying a glass of wine or a cocktail but I don’t want any of the negative consequences that come with that. And for me I’ve learned what that balance is for my body. And I urge you to do that same work for you. And here’s the thing, that’s what I feel like, I have peace with alcohol. I know a lot of people feel like they’re in alcohol purgatory. Some days they have good days, and some days they have bad days. I feel I’m not there.
I am totally free of it. It’s like alcohol heaven to me. It’s like, yeah, it doesn’t have any power over me. I have complete power, own control over it. And that to me feels calming, peaceful and my brain doesn’t think about it all the time. So this new way for me feels like total freedom.
Alright, and now time for the last one is that you enjoy life, that means an event, or a party, or your friends without feeling like you need alcohol to be present. Now when I hang out with my friends it’s literally to hang out with my friends. Before when I used to hang out with my friends it was an excuse to drink because I wanted company when I was drinking. I wanted somebody to be silly with me when I was drinking. I wanted somebody to make me feel okay about my drinking.
And here’s the thing, when I get together with my friends I don’t tell them how they should or should not imbibe in alcohol. They get to decide for them but I get to decide for me. My friends’ actions no longer influence my pattern and habits of drinking. I used to be like, “She’s going back to the bar”, or, “She’s having another”, or “Getting another from the cooler”, or whatever. I used to say, “Yeah, get me one too.” I just used to match kind of whoever was getting up and pouring. And if I was getting low, yeah, it was automatic, “Just get me another.”
I don’t do that. I don’t let other people decide for me if I’m going to drink or not. I decide for me. And here’s the thing, I don’t think if I stop the party is any less fun. In fact the party is just as fun and if not more fun because now I know I’m going to remember it. Now I know I’m not going to say things that are going to be embarrassing or that I’m going to regret the next day. And here’s the thing, if I’m hanging out with my friends I want to just be with my friends. If I need alcohol to tolerate my friends, maybe I’m not hanging out with the people I should be hanging out with. You know what I mean?
I know a lot of people are like, “I can’t tolerate that person unless I’m drinking.” Well, maybe we should consider who we’re spending our time with. And here’s the thing, it doesn’t even matter if alcohol is present or not, it’s not even on my list. I know I used to not go to parties, especially toddler birthday parties, you heard me talk about. I would just be like no way, unless I brought my own flask in my purse or something else. I just was so attached to the alcohol. It had to be about the alcohol and now it’s not, it’s about the friends, it’s about doing life together.
It’s so much more enjoyable than being brainwashed by this substance that makes me think my life is better than it is. And it’s not. It was just allowing me to tolerate things in my life that I didn’t really want to be tolerating, but I didn’t know how to fix, or change, or adapt. And for me this is one area that it’s allowed my life to go from good to great. It used to be yeah, it’s a decent life, now it’s a fabulous life. My marriage is better. My relationship with my daughter is better. My health is better. Hell yeah to all of that.
Why wouldn’t we go after that? And the only reason we don’t is because we’re afraid of failing. But what if you weren’t afraid of failing? What if you tried cognitive therapy and it worked, wouldn’t that be amazing? Your life can just be radically changed and radically different. And here’s the thing if you don’t change, just realize that you’re choosing to stay in your own current discomfort with your current relationship with alcohol just because it’s familiar to you, that’s it. Because if you’re an over-drinker like I was and you’re wanting to cut back, the reason you’re not is fear.
And you’re staying in the current discomfort of your own relationship with alcohol. So stop believing the lies in your brain and them telling you that you can’t change because it’s not true. We change all the time. Change is the only constant in life. So as I wrap up this podcast I just want to ask you, who do you want to be in charge, the alcohol or you? Because remember, you get to decide. It is your choice. You always have the power, it’s whether you use it or not.
Alright my friends, that’s what I have for you this week, thank you for listening and I will see you next week.
Thanks for listening to Drink Less Lifestyle. If you’re ready to change your relationship with drinking now check out the free guide, How to Effectively Break the Overdrinking Habit at sherryprice.com/startnow. See you next week.