On a fall night in 1999 I was sitting at the bar at what was then a Ritz Carlton on Central Park South. It was about 9:00 and I ordered my usual Stoli vodka martini, up, very dry with three olives. The bartender, who had become an iconic fixture in the elegant bar that had windows facing the park, set a beautil martini glass down right in front of me and poured my drink from a metal mixing canister he held about two feet above the glass.

Like Pavlof’s dog I began feeling the effects of the alcolohol before the glass was even half-way filled. Then, for some reason that night rather than any other, I said to myself, “That’s a lot of high-octain booze!” Maybe because it was poured right in front of me but somehow I saw past the fancy bar, the personality of the bartender, the beautiful glass, the $15 price tag, my wearing a $1,500 suit while sitting in one of finest hotels in New York, and all I saw was the chemicals in what I was about to drink.

I had this wierd thought that if you took away all those trappings there would be little difference between me and a person living on the street drinking cheap vodka from a paper bag. My perception changed. I saw my current drinking pattern as self-medication. A few months later after a blow-up at a family event I stopped drinking anything but wine and have been in that pattern ever since.

Are you enjoying a little lift and de-stresser every now and then or has your drinking become self-medication and a big escape? It’s hard to tell but somewhere inside you know the answer better than someone else. There are people who have a high tolerance to drinking – that is a small percentage of the population so don’t get too excited. Treating alcolohol abuse is a nearly $100 billion industry in the US so there are a number of us that may want to watch our consumption pattern.

Here is a quick checklist to help you notice if it’s time to dial back or stop drinking.

  1. Friends and family tell you that your personality changes when you drink.
  2. You know you are drinking too much.
  3. You have gotten way into the fuss of crystal glasses, chilled cult gin and a evening ritual of mixing drinks so much that you have lost sight that you are drinking a lot of alcolol.
  4. You have a drink every night.
  5. You think you will never be able to relax if you don’t have a drink.
  6. You use a nice meal or celebration as an excuse to drink cocktails before dinner, wine during dinner, after-dinner drinks after dinner.
  7. Drink a lot when you are with certain people.

When it comes to dieting or drinking less alcohol, “cutting back” doesn’t set you up for success. It is better to place specific boundaries on yourself. Here are some ideas to set yourself up for sustainable change:

  1. Eliminate drinking in all forms for 30 days before introducing a new routine that serves you better.
  2. Drink only on Friday and Saturday nights.
  3. At cocktail receptions (vulnerable meet-and-greet settings for many) limit yourself to one glass of wine.
  4. In settings where a waiter is topping off glasses instruct him or her to wait until yours is empty then refill it–once.
  5. Eliminate straight alcohol drinks like martinis.
  6. Limit yourself to two drinks.
  7. Ask those who care about you to support you, to hold you accountable, to not act like you are still in high school and shame or pressure you.
  8. Don’t binge, drink and drive, drink alone, drink when you are angry or depressed…you know that.
  9. If you break an agreement you have made with yourself come up with a consequence: 60 sec cold shower, extra workout, no drinking for a week.

Life is short enough, don’t leave the present moment so much that you shorten it even more.

You know what is working and not working for you, make the changes that are calling to you. This process may not be comfortable nor will it necessarily get to underlying issues causing you pain, but it could be the first step in a transformational period after which you will may experience much more fulfillment than you do in a few cocktails.