I used to have a habit of overdrinking when I was bored. It often involved being at a bar with a friend.

Drinking in bars has never been my thing. I would go because a friend wanted to. It seemed like the accepted way to have big night and I didn’t want to miss out.

I didn’t want to be boring.

I told myself I was being considerate because they wanted to. I tried to keep an open mind.

I remember the time I was on the Florida panhandle with a friend who was having a groovy time talking to the bartender. It was outside, near a pier along the coast and smelled like stale beer. The seats and bar were sticky.

I got to a point where I literally thought, oh F it. I do not care. Surrender and get the drinks coming.

I asked for a cigarette from a woman sitting alone at the bar. (I’d quit smoking 20 years earlier.)

She told me her mother was in her car in the parking lot because her mother didn’t approve of drinking.

Then I noticed this woman cracked her neck as a nervous habit.

I mean full on, cock head to the side, turn head to the right as far as possible, reach over to jaw with open left hand, snap it left forcefully, rock head back and forth and take another drink. Repeat.

About every 60 seconds. I am not making this up. Bless. Her. Heart.

This was not the first nor last time I overdrank when I was bored to tears. Nor was it the only time I had conversations while drinking that were equally as boring as I felt before I started them.

Looking back, it’s easy to see the solution to overdrinking from boredom and bad conversation was LEAVE THE BAR.

Of course in the moment when you’ve already had a drink or two, drowning boredom with more drinking seems perfectly logical.

Alcohol produces a myopic effect where we focus on what’s immediately in front of us and tune out background information.

Drinking makes bad situations seem better than they are.

As a result, we make poor choices involving more drinking, doing things that aren’t really enjoyable, and making choices we wouldn’t make sober. 

Think beer goggles.

I advise my overdrinking clients to avoid regret by creating a strategy to stick to how many drinks you want to have, i.e. when you want to stop.

Here are the steps:

1. Before going into any drinking situation, decide how many drinks you will have and why.

Choose whatever amount you feel is optimal for you that will not involve consequences you don’t want later.

Let’s say you’re going out with a friend to dinner. You want to have no more than two drinks because you want to feel rested the next day.

2. Anticipate all the things that could happen which would make it challenging to stick to the number of drinks you decide to have.

Examples:

·        Your friend may offer you a drink at her place when you arrive while she finishes getting ready.

·        You may be asked to wait at the bar until your table is ready and feel you should order something.

·        Your friend may order another round for both of you.

·        The server may encourage you to try all three signature cocktails or ask if you want another drink when he takes your empty glass.

·        Your friend may suggest a night cap or coffee with liquor, or going to a different location after dinner.

3. Brainstorm ideas of how to deal with each challenge.

You could:

·        Pick up a latte just prior to arriving and have it in hand to drink at her place.

·        Ask for water or soda.

·        Order a mocktail at the bar.

·        Drink a glass of wine super slowly so it lasts throughout eating your meal.

·        Decide what kind of drink you will have before you get there.

·        Alternate sips of alcoholic drinks with sips of water.

·        Let your friend know you have to be at work early/want to run errands in the morning and plan to be home by 10.

·        Offer to go to a nearby place known for great desserts instead of to a nightclub.

·        Suggest the two of you invite another friend to join you if she wants to make it a late night.

·        Get a ride home using Lyft or Uber if she wants to stay out and keep drinking when you are ready to go home.

When sober, you can probably think of a dozen options that would help you stay with the number of drinks you feel is optimal. That’s the idea.

4. Select the strategies you’ll use to stick to how many drinks you decided to have.

Your plan could be:

Have club soda with lime while waiting at the bar. Tell friend you’re cutting back and will have a drink at the table if she asks why you aren’t drinking. Order one cocktail when seated at table. Drink a full glass of water. Order a glass of wine when entrées arrive. Have another glass of water. Ask for decaf when your plate is cleared from the table.

When I think of all the times I overdrank because I didn’t want to be where I was, I see a pattern that became my habit.

Now I make decisions and strategies ahead of time to avoid situations I don’t like, and have a plan to get out of them when no longer I’m enjoying myself. Now that’s my habit.

What’s your strategy?

—Julie Ernst, CCJD

PP.S. Visit www.julieernst.com to take my free course: Stop Overdrinking in 3 Steps.