At one point I thought it would be a good idea to limit myself to drinking only on special occasions.

In my mind, I was thinking times like toasting the bride and groom at weddings, my 10-year anniversary, New Year’s Eve. That sort of thing.

Then my husband came home with a big deal award from work and I bought Dom Perignon to celebrate.

My girlfriend’s husband threw her a 50th birthday party and all my friends were there.

I flew to meet my husband out at Sturges and we rode to Mount Rushmore with friends. It was hot. On an empty stomach, someone handed me a 20-ounce Mike’s Harder Lemonade, and then another.

Wow. I didn’t know how much harder a HARDER lemonade was.

I actually “fell asleep” on the back of his Harley on the way back to town.

We went to Costa Rica and drank rum from freshly opened coconuts. “Sampled” the local signature cocktail–this oddly delicious Ecuadorian chili tequila with simple syrup, local sour guava and other mysterious ingredients that I still think about.

I also remember coming home from vacations more tired than when I’d left.

Feeling like I wasted two-thirds of the trip because I was hungover. Missing sight-seeing because I was out of it in the afternoon from drinking early in the day.

Other special occasions: Family get togethers. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Easter Sunday. Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Fourth of July. Memorial Day. Labor Day. Birthdays.

Are you getting the picture?

Every. Fricking. Week. There is a special occasion and a reason to drink.

“A special occasion” is not a way to define how often you will drink. Special occasions lurk everywhere.

Now when I work with clients who decide to stop or cut back, I insist they follow these rules in setting their goal:

1. Decide whether to stop drinking altogether or to simply cut back.

If you want to stop drinking altogether, what are we talking about?

Are you going to never ever have another drop of anything with alcohol in it for the rest of your life?

Are you taking a break, and if so, for exactly how long? A week, a month, a year?

Decide and write it down.

2. If you are cutting back, choose a measurable frequency of how often you will drink.

Decide. Don’t spend too much time on it.

There will be times when you want to drink more often than what you decided. Accept it. You can handle it.

Don’t cheat by telling yourself every night is a drinking night so you have permission just in case something comes up. If your real goal is to cut back to once or twice a week, pick that. Take the leap.

Yes, it feels uncomfortable.

There will be some discomfort, but you have discomfort from drinking now, right?

Decide specifically how often you will drink that is less often than you drink now.

Don’t fret. Pick and write it down.

3. Set how many drinks of what kind and the quantity of each that you will drink that is less than what you drink now.

Do I even need to say less than you drink now?

I think so, because when we get to this point in my coaching, a lot of my clients starting moving the amount of their drinking goal upwards from what they originally decided because they anticipate feeling deprived.

That’s okay.

Once you’ve crossed the river of misery in changing your habits, you’ll feel abundance in other areas in your life as a direct result of drinking less.

The river of misery is what I call the transition time it takes to learn to do something different than what you’ve been doing for a long time.

Your brain will want to resist. It will tell you to keep doing what you’ve done in the past. It will try to trick you.

That’s alright. It’s a river, not an ocean.

Once you’ve crossed the river, you’ll likely feel so much better you’ll decide to further cut back because you’ll want to expand the benefits you experience from drinking less.

Go with me on this one.

Write down how many drinks, of what kind, and the quantity (example: two 12-ounce beers,  three 6-ounce glasses of wine, four cocktails with one and a half shots each).

There’s your specific, measurable goal. In writing. You’re welcome.

—Julie Ernst, CCJD

P.S. Visit to take my free course: Stop Overdrinking in 3 Steps.