A common strategy I see women use when trying to drink less is counting their alcohol-free days. In my Facebook group, I see women celebrating that they’ve hit a number of days without drinking, or feeling bad that they’ve had a drink and broken their streak.
But is counting AF days the best way to stop overdrinking and finally start living a drink less lifestyle?
In this episode, I share why so many women want to count their AF days, who this strategy works really well for, and what you can do to drink less today without counting AF days. I show you how to get to the root cause of your overdrinking so that you can live a happier, more fulfilling life, regardless of how many AF days you’ve had.
You are listening to the Drink Less Lifestyle Podcast with Dr. Sherry Price, episode number 48.
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, welcome back into the podcast. Today I want to talk to you about counting alcohol free days. And here’s why. It pains me when I see posts inside my private Facebook page, by the way it’s called Stop The Overdrinking Habit, if you want to come join us, because I see these posts that women post that counting alcohol free days is not working for them. I see these posts inside the Facebook page and the women make it 10 days or they’re saying they made it 14 days. And then they overdrank, they binged the night before and they say they don’t know why.
Let me tell you why counting alcohol free days does not work for most people, because it doesn’t get to the root cause of why you’re drinking. If you are drinking because you’re unhappy in your marriage and guess what? Stopping drinking doesn’t fix the main problem that’s causing you to drink. And now you’ve taken away that one thing that helps you cope. So, guess what you’re going to feel? Miserable, makes total sense.
Or if you’re drinking because you don’t like your life or some part of your life and then you stop drinking, it will only make that part of your life that you’re unhappy with, more apparent. And you’ll feel miserable because you will have given up drinking, which is the coping mechanism. And you’ll still want to escape and numb when your life isn’t what you want it to be. So, when you stop, naturally it’ll feel worse.
And that’s why I see so many posts saying, “This is so hard. Why does it have to be this hard?” Yes, because you’ve just taken away the one pleasure or the one coping mechanism that helps you feel and deal with the life that you really don’t want to be dealing with. This is why counting alcohol free days doesn’t work, because it doesn’t solve or fix the problem that’s driving you to drink. When you don’t fix the real issue, counting alcohol free days is going to feel like a slog. It’s not going to be fun.
And here is what it will cause you to do. It’ll cause you to muster up all this willpower to just not drink, meanwhile you’re not experiencing any joy or happiness in your life because that pain of the thing that you’re trying to numb is still there. So now it just feels like your life is worse without any alcohol. Have you been there? I know I have. And then we use all this willpower to resist the urge. I’m not going to drink tonight. I just want to make it to day four or day five.
And willpower is forcing yourself to do something that you really don’t want to do. I call it fighting with yourself when you have to rely on willpower. And that gets exhausting mentally, emotionally. And it takes its toll on us physically. So, what happens, you cave, you overdrink, you binge. No surprise there my friends, no surprise at all. I see this pattern all the time in that free private Facebook page, I see the posts all the time. And my heart breaks because you’re doing it wrong. I’ve had a prior podcast about this and I just feel like it’s not resonating.
So, I want to say it again, and when I hear women say, “I don’t know why I can be good for a few days and then oops, I just love it.” Or, “I don’t know why I can’t seem to get a handle on this.” Or it really pains me when I hear, “I’m ruining my life and I don’t know how to stop and I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself.” Ladies, it’s not a mystery. You’re a 100% right, alcohol is ruining your life. It’s making you feel lousy about yourself. And it’s not fixing the issues that need to be fixed. And it’s a terrible coping mechanism.
Your sleep suffers, you gain weight, you’re moody, you’re on this emotional rollercoaster ride and you stay on the ride because you don’t know how to get off. You’re a 100% right that you don’t know how to stop if you’re just relying on alcohol free days. It doesn’t work. So why do we do it? Because we see other people do it. And there is a rare percentage of them that gets success. And we want that success for our lives. So, I’ll tell you why that strategy works for that rare percentage of people. And I’ll also tell you why if you’re trying the strategy and it’s not working why that is.
So, listen up because what I’m going to say next is so profound. And I’ve been saying it on almost every podcast. When you are just relying on the strategy of counting alcohol free days, it means that you believe that alcohol is the problem. How many times have I said over and over, alcohol is not the problem? Now, if alcohol was the problem, we would just need to avoid it and we would just need to abstain from it. And do you know what the success rate is of a pure abstinence program, do you know what their success rate is? Less than 10%.
Yes, AA, most rehabs that rely on just pure abstinence, that don’t teach you how to fix the underlying problem, their success rates are dismal because they tell you that alcohol is the problem. And I tell you in this podcast over, and over, and over, it is not the problem. Your brain sees alcohol as the solution. Why do you drink? Because it helps you feel better. Why do you drink? Because it helps you cope. Our brain doesn’t see it as the problem. It sees it as the solution because when you feel better your brain says, “Wow, this must be helping me.” Your brain is not stupid.
And a lot of these strategies about abstinence were developed in the 1930s and 40s when we didn’t have the science. We didn’t know how alcohol affected the brain as much as we know now. And we thought alcohol truly was the problem but now we know differently. And what’s even better is now we know success rates of amazing programs that teach you skills and tools to get over this. So, it’s no longer a problem.
For so many women that I talk with they tell me drinking is really their only relief in life, sometimes exercise. It’s the only part of their day where they feel good about themselves because everything else feels stressful. Everything else feels chaotic. Everything feels like it’s not going to be okay. But when they drink they feel secure. They feel the relief. They feel that alcohol is their friend. It’s their security blanket, it’s their woobie. And as I talked about in an earlier podcast, it becomes the adult pacifier. It helps us self-soothe.
So, if you don’t love your life, if you find your life a wreck, or stressful, or a lot going on and you take away the one guilty pleasure you have, how will you feel? Of course, you’ll feel terrible. And that is not sustainable. Nobody wants to feel terrible for a long time. So, it’s no wonder why the long term success of abstinence only programs is so dismal. This is the one area of your life you kind of find joyful. Let me take that away from you. No, it’s about improving what’s causing your life to feel like it’s not good. What’s the problem in it?
I’ve seen it so many times. I’ve had past clients who have been through these programs and then they drink, now they feel more broken when they have this relapse and they feel even more weak, more afraid and more discouraged because they caved and they spiraled. And now they feel like they’re a bad person and they feel judged by society. They are so ashamed of themselves and of this habit. And this is damaging. Who wants to sit in a circle in a room and talk about how miserable their life is or how powerless they’ve become? I’m sorry but it’s not appealing, it’s totally demoralizing.
And it’s damaging because it’s not helping people get to the root cause of the problem and create the life that they want. They’re just told to avoid something. So, let’s just blame alcohol because it’s bad for us, because we’re bad for keeping on wanting it. And let’s just sit in this yucky place and hope that we’ll be strong enough for that battle tonight. I just need to resist that enemy. I just need to use more willpower. I know I could be stronger than that bottle. I’m sorry but this is not giving people the life they want.
Nobody wants this internal battle and this internal struggle on a nightly basis. For me I have one life and I want to live it fully with purpose and be fulfilled in doing what I do. And I’ll tell you, that’s what most people want. And when you give people what they want and they give them a fulfilling life they won’t want to drink. Look, if you’re drinking because of a poor marriage, that’s what we fix inside of Drink Less Lifestyle. We work on the problem to fix that marriage.
If you’re drinking because of work and home commitments are too much, that’s what we work on to fix inside Drink Less Lifestyle. We work on the problem causing the drinking. This is how you fix your life. We don’t just sit around and talk about drinking and then how miserable we feel. We actually fix problems.
Now, I work with a lot of women who feel very successful, who say they’re doing all the things, but yet they still feel unsatisfied inside. They don’t feel quite fulfilled. They don’t know why they aren’t happy. They are confused because they want to be happy, they just don’t know how to get there. And so, the drink becomes their happy place. And this is the work that we go to do inside Drink Less Lifestyle. It’s where we look at your life and change what is not working. And I know exactly why women are confused, because I had been there myself.
And I see it all the time in women, we’re so worried about pleasing others, and doing the right thing at the job, and pleasing our families, and giving to everybody else that we become so disconnected from our own wants and our own desires. And the only desire that we feel inside over time becomes this desire for the drink. And that’s what we change. It’s the most important work you can do for yourself. And when you get to the root cause of what’s driving the drinking and you fix it, your relationship with alcohol of course will automatically change because you’ve fixed the problem.
You’re no longer just relying on alcohol for pleasure and joy, you’ve created pleasure and joy in your life. And this is why solely counting alcohol free days doesn’t work. And here’s what’s damaging to the human soul. When you think you’re bad because you caved in and you overdrank or binged, you take that as a sign of weakness. You tell yourself you’re a bad person. You tell yourself, gosh, I’ve got to start over again and I’ve got to start back on day one. Here I go again back to day one and I’ll see the posts, wish me luck.
It’s not luck that’s going to change your relationship with alcohol. It’s not luck that’s going to change your life. It’s not luck that’s going to fix your problems. Life is not about luck. Life is about skills. That’s life, it’s a game of skill. Do you have skills? Great, we will hire you for those skills. You want a job and you have the skill set, great, come on in, we’ll give you a job and we’ll give you a paycheck. No, you don’t have the skills we’re looking for, no job, no paycheck.
Life is always learning about skills to become successful, that’s how we succeed in life. That’s why we go to school. That’s why we hire tutors, and teachers, and mentors, and coaches. We want the skills that they offer, that they teach. You don’t hire them just for the knowledge, you hire them for the skill, the skill means you’ve learned it, you’ve changed because of the knowledge, and the talent, and the skill that you’ve now acquired. You want to run a marathon? Great, get a running coach. Do they teach you how to run? No, you already know how to do that, one foot in front of the other and go fast.
You already know how to run. So, what does the coach teach you? Teach you all kinds of skills, to improve your form, to improve your running, to help you know how to stay hydrated, to listen to your body, to give it glucose as an energy source if you’re running long distance. And how to avoid cramping and how to avoid crashing, and how to avoid getting injuries that are common for people who run long distance. They also teach you the skill on how to mentally stay engaged so that you cross the finish line.
They give you tools and skills so that you learn when you’re running and a set plan on how much to run and what to look out for so that you make it across the finish line which is your goal. You develop skills. That’s what makes you successful. They don’t say, “Just avoid sitting and continue running and you will finish the race.” You don’t tell somebody who has a drinking problem, “Just stop drinking, just avoid alcohol.” Why? It doesn’t work. So that’s why you need to know the steps to take and the skills to build and identify the areas in your life you need to fix.
And that’s why I created a Drink Less Lifestyle program, it’s fixing your life so that you love it. It’s not just an abstinence program. It’s just not a 30 day challenge where we just avoid alcohol and use willpower. No, we’re looking to change the habit long term and you do that by breaking the current habit and building skills and fixing what’s causing the drinking in the first place. When you fix your life a side benefit is you will just want to drink less.
So, I recently was working with a woman who was carrying around so much pain from her past, so much pain. She had been in a divorce that just ended ugly and that happened many years ago. And she’d gone to therapy for it for a while. And she just couldn’t get this pain, this anger, this bitterness out of her body over this. And this was the biggest reason she was drinking. So, guess what we worked on? When she joined my program we went immediately to relieving that pain and bitterness because that was the driver of the drinking.
And when she used the tools to lessen the pain, and anger, and bitterness, guess what? Her drinking changed. She stopped needing it. She stopped relying on it because she learned tools that actually worked in solving the pain. And she hadn’t felt so light and so at peace in years. Now, here’s the thing, some people say, “I don’t have big problems leading to my drinking.” I’ll tell you, if something is a problem and it’s causing you to drink, it is a big problem.
I’ll hear, “It’s just a stressful time in my marriage.” Or, “My job is requiring me to work all these extra shifts because I’m in healthcare and COVID.” Or, “I’m in real estate and the market is just blowing up right now so I have to work all these extra hours and I’m just using drinking to cope during this time but I know it’ll go away.” And when we look back at the history the drinking has been there, it just got ramped up during this time. It was a coping mechanism before COVID hit. And here’s the thing ladies, if you can’t handle good stress or bad stress in your life, that’s a problem.
Life is always going to give us stressful situations, not just now but even in the future. And don’t you think it’s a problem if you require alcohol to manage your stress? Not every human does need it to manage stress. There are ways to manage stress that doesn’t require alcohol. And here’s the thing, when we overdrink, we may not realize it in the moment but it is costing us stuff. It is costing us our time. It is costing us our money. It can cost you your marriage, it can cost you your relationships, it can cost you your job, it can cost you the relationship with your kids.
And at any point in time, it can really cost you your life. And I’ll tell you what, it’s certainly costing you your happiness because you are not truly content, or at peace, or truly happy with your life if you’re overdrinking. Listen, if you were given just three hours and all the money in the world and said, “Hey, just enjoy these three hours with whatever money it takes, go do the thing you want to do.”
Think about that, what would you choose to do with an unlimited amount of money in three hours? Buy a car. Go on a vacation and at your vacation site for those three hours, what are you doing there, enjoying a sunset, being on a boat, on a gondola, whatever? You’re not choosing to overdrink. You’re not choosing to numb out of the beautifulness of this life. So, when you’re truly happy and content you don’t require alcohol.
And you are not going to want to overdrink. Because if you overdrank you were numb, you wouldn’t be able even to experience it, you would forget it. Who would want that? See, the thing is we have to dive into our lives and find out what is it that I’m unhappy about? And this is where my life coach helped me identify things that I couldn’t see that were broken. And it really wasn’t about the alcohol. And it had been the best gift I’d given myself is to find this out because years later I still don’t have over-desire to drink.
I knew what skills I needed to implement in my life to make my life the life that I want to live. Now, is it amazing every day? No, but it’s pretty darned good. And it’s certainly way better than where I was when I was overdrinking. I am more fulfilled and content now because of these skills.
Okay, so earlier I mentioned why some people do get success with counting alcohol free days and I want to dive into why. And I want to highlight this through a story of a past client of mine. So, a while back I worked with a school teacher and she was a mom to a young daughter, happily married and really didn’t understand why she was overdrinking. As we talked it came clearly apparent that she generally was overdrinking in social situations and around her family. That’s generally when most of her overdrinking happened.
And she kept telling me that it just didn’t make sense to her because she really loved her job as a school teacher, she loved her family and she loved her friends. So, she just didn’t understand. It can’t be because she’s wanting to numb. It can’t be because of the stress because she said it’s not that stressful of a life. I don’t understand why I am overdrinking. But she really wanted to get a handle on this because she wanted to be a better role model for her daughter.
And she felt completely out of integrity when she was talking to the kids that she taught about avoiding drugs, and alcohol, and vaping. And in the back of her head, she’s like, wow, I’m teaching something and I’m out of alignment with that. This just doesn’t feel good to me, I’m out of my integrity. I felt like an imposter is what she’d keep coming back to me. And then she’d tell me about all the reasons she didn’t like overdrinking. And she did it when she got together with her coworkers, and she’d forget conversations, and she wouldn’t sleep right.
And then her weight was creeping up and all of these things were really irritating to her. So, when we worked together we identified exactly what she was unhappy about, things she didn’t even know before we began working together. And I won’t go into all of them but one of the ones that caused her to overdrink with her family was when her dad came around and she just didn’t like the way he treated and talked to her.
And then she noticed that she wanted to be accepted when she hung out with her friends in the cul-de-sac parties, so she would just overdrink because she just lost track of her drink count. Is what she said. But then we went on to identify some of the true reasons she was drinking. Then she learned the skills to handle these situations and change them. Her dad’s behavior changed because she learned how to deal with him. And she no longer overdrank at cul-de-sac parties because she learned how to manage herself within that environment.
Within weeks she was down to just having one drink at these events and feeling amazing, no desire for more. And here’s something that she kept saying over and over was, “Wow, this is so easy. Once I have these skills, this is not as hard as I thought it would be.” So, another week goes by, she gets on a coaching call with me, and she just said, “I want to be alcohol free forever.” That was not her goal when we initially met. And I said, “Great, let’s go alcohol free. For you, what does that look like?”
And she says, “I want to start counting alcohol free days because I want to celebrate this new version of me. I want to celebrate this new identity. This feels amazing, that I don’t need alcohol, I don’t even want it.” So, she felt empowered to count alcohol free days. So let me tell you through this story why counting alcohol free days is so wonderful for her. First, with my help she identified all the reasons she was drinking. We got to the root cause. Second, she learned the skills to fix those areas that I teach inside my program.
She learned these skills so we fixed the root cause of the problem, we identified and then we fixed. And then three, turns out she didn’t have desire for alcohol. So, four was now she has this new identity. She had already become a woman who didn’t want any alcohol. And now she was counting alcohol free days as her way to celebrate that. She was proud of it. She posted about it on social media in her feeds. She was celebrating this new identity she had already felt. The mindset shift had already occurred.
The new identity had already been placed on her and now she was celebrating it because this is who she was. Notice that alcohol free days wasn’t what got her to be alcohol free. It wasn’t counting the days that got her to be alcohol free. She did it after she had already learned how to change her relationship with her life and with alcohol. And being alcohol free was her goal now. It’s who she wanted to be.
So, she defined who she wanted to be, became it and then counting the days, whereas many of us do it backwards. We count the days thinking we can become the woman who is alcohol free. But we know just avoiding alcohol is not what causes us not to be in love with alcohol, it’s fixing the underlying cause of wanting the drink. Because when you just count alcohol free days you are just using willpower and that’s increasing resistance.
And over time what I find is people cave. They overdrink, they binge and they don’t know why because again they’ve not identified the root cause. Now, I love this story so much because it articulated so much of this process and this journey. Notice at first she did not know what relationship we wanted to have with alcohol. She didn’t even know why she was overdrinking. When we met all she knew was that she didn’t like the woman she’d become. She didn’t like the effects of overdrinking. And it was by going through my program that she identified why she was drinking.
She fixed why she was drinking with skills that she was taught. And then she understood what type of drinker she wanted to be. And she became very confident in that’s the woman she wanted to be. And this my friends is the journey. This is the beautiful journey about discovering yourself, leaning into your life so that you can improve it and become the woman you want to become, even if you don’t know who she is yet.
So, this is why counting alcohol free days may not be a good thing for you and certainly not an effective strategy long term. Why? Because the focus is always on the alcohol and about not having it. And we know about abstinent programs and their success rate. We know that campaigns that say ‘just say no to drugs’, have failed significantly and actually caused an uptick in drug use. We know that you require willpower to fight the urge. And this will cause resistance to build within us and the pressure, and the pressure, and the pressure that some time in the future we wind up caving.
Two, is that it doesn’t get at the triggers or the root cause of the drinking. We’re just looking to avoid the alcohol. And when you cut back or stop you feel worse about your life because you don’t know how to manage it and you’re not working on tools to fix it. That one joy that you had or that one coping mechanism that you had is now gone. It’s just not sustainable because you don’t learn, three, new skills and tools to take charge and change the problem.
And with number four, if you’re just counting alcohol free days and you don’t see the numbers increasing every day, you use it as a reason to beat yourself up instead of using it as an opportunity to learn why. Why am I still overdrinking in this scenario? Why did this happen? No, we just go into blame mode. I don’t know why I keep doing this. I don’t know why this keeps happening. You won’t know why if you keep saying you don’t know. You have to identify why. And most likely you need help identifying why because it’s not always apparent to ourselves.
And then fifth, the reason why counting alcohol free days doesn’t work for many people is because that’s not their goal. They don’t want to be alcohol free forever. For me that was never my goal. I never wanted to be alcohol free forever. I just wanted to learn to drink a lot less and with control and with confidence. I wanted to be able to trust myself around alcohol any time I was in any situation where there was alcohol around me. I wanted to walk in a grocery store and not feel like I’m pulled to the wine aisle to buy some more.
I wanted to be a woman who was in charge of my drinking regardless of my surroundings, regardless of what my friends were drinking or if they were drinking or not, regardless of what my husband was doing, regardless of the social calendar, and regardless if it was a weekend or not. None of those I wanted to be factors in deciding my drinking unless I chose them. They were not automatic reasons for having a drink. I wanted choice. I wanted control and I wanted to be confident in my decisions and that’s who I became.
Now, on a final note, I do want to say that counting alcohol free days can be a great short term strategy and here’s why. First, your brain loves a challenge. Most people love to do a 10 day challenge, a month long challenge. Our brain likes novelty, it likes something new. And particularly, some people love to do this along with another challenge like people do diet challenges. They might try a Whole30 diet for 30 days. And in that diet there’s no alcohol that’s allowed. And if you find this motivating, go for it.
Just realize it’s a short term strategy because it doesn’t get to the root cause of what’s driving the drinking. We’re just taking a break from the alcohol. And breaks from alcohol are always good.
Number two, you know the end game. You know that in 30 days this will end, this is your goal. And you know it’s a short term strategy. You know this is not going to change desire long term. This will not break the habit long term. You didn’t do the real work long term. But you know it’s a short term and that’s the end game. That’s what you go in knowing. And for most people they think this should change them, this should change their relationship with alcohol.
And I talk about in previous podcasts, I did years’ worth of dry January’s, dry February’s because let’s face it, that’s the shortest month. Let’s do a 28 day challenge rather than a 30 or 31 day challenge. Sober October’s, I did these for months, years. But it never changed me in my drinking. It never fixed the problem of why I was drinking. And at the end of the 30 days, I was just hopeful that things would change, wish me luck. But I went right back to the pattern.
I went right back to drinking a bottle of chardonnay a night. And you know what? It made me feel terrible because what was I doing wrong? How come this wasn’t working? Well, you know what? I never thought about what happens after 30 days. I never thought about why it is I’m drinking. I never thought about could it be because I’m trying to mask a problem in my life. Could it be that I’m just trying to tolerate something I’m really not comfortable tolerating anymore? Just avoiding the alcohol wasn’t the solution.
And number three, it’s great to do a short term challenge like this or alcohol free days if you are doing it alongside the root cause work. So, there you get the short term benefit, the short term strategy, and the long term strategy and that propels your transformation quicker. Nothing beats learning the tools and the skills to fix what’s not working in your life so that you’re not dependent on alcohol in any way, shape or form, and getting change in the moment. It’s very motivating.
So, evaluate the strategy for you, are you just doing alcohol free days thinking alcohol is the main problem? Are you working on the root cause of the problem, why you’re doing alcohol free days? Or is it even the wrong goal for you as it was for me? I’m not about counting alcohol free days because I don’t want to abstain each and every day. I want to abstain most days. I want it not in my life most days. But I’m all about choice, having control, being confident in my decisions.
I love to make my own choices and not have others influence my choice or have my negative emotions take over. I know how to deal with those now. And if you need help learning these skills I invite you to come work with me inside Drink Less Lifestyle. It’s an amazing program that will radically change your life. We fix what’s not working. And we get you to a place where you are confident and in control. Go to sherryprice.com to learn more. I look forward to helping you love your life again.
Alright my friends, that’s it for this week and I will see you next week.
Thanks for listening to the Drink Less Lifestyle. If you’re ready to change your relationship with alcohol, check out my free guide, How to Effectively Break the Overdrinking Habit at sherryprice.com/startnow. That’s sherryprice.com/startnow. I’ll see you next week.