Breaking Bad (Habits)

A Proven Method To Gain Control Over Habitual Drinking

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Meeting with Dr. Sherry Price, PharmD, MBA, BCPS, APH discussing her own personal conquest over a habitual drinking habit that noticeably had an affect on her lifestyle, and her choice to gain control of the desire rather than abstain from what otherwise was an enjoyable pleasure. 

San Diegan by birth?
No, I am from Nanticoke, Pennsylvania.

Siblings?
I have an older brother and a younger sister.

First job ever?
A paper route. My dad drove the route with me each morning for years.

Career path in mind as a youngster?
While collecting the money on my paper route, I kept hearing from my elderly customers that they wished there was some medication that would effectively treat their ailments. They would tell me that their knees hurt, their arthritis was acting up, and all the other conditions that caused them pain. I wanted to help them. So I decided to become a pharmacist, which pleased my mom who was a nurse.

Education?
Right after high school I was accepted into a PharmD program at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. It was an accelerated program that required a six-year commitment for graduation. Later on, I went back and receive my MBA from the University of California, Irvine.

Family?
Yes. I met my husband on Match.com, and it turned out to be a great match. We've been married now for 18 years. We teased each other that we were the pioneers as online dating was still new back then. I think we were one of the first to get married from a match. He is an IT professional. Our daughter is 11 years old.

What brought you to California?
Ah, the weather. (Laughter) After I graduated pharmacy school, I did a one-year residency at Duke University and then I did a critical care residency for another year in St. Louis at Barnes Jewish Medical Center. Once my training was over, my goal was to find a position in academia as a pharmacy professor in a warm climate. I only applied to positions in Florida and Southern California. My first hire was a Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, with my practice site at UCI Medical Center, taking students on rotation through the ICU. Teaching is so fun for me. Students are so eager to learn how medications works inside the body and then the get to see it in practice in the ICU.

Did you stay in academia?
Surprisingly, no I didn't. I was sitting at my desk one day and received a call from a recruiter. They told me about a position for a medical science liaison for a pharmaceutical company in which I'd answer clinicians' questions about the company's medications and work with clinical trials for drugs in the pipeline. My interest was piqued. I interviewed and made the switch. It was interesting to learn how drugs go through all the different stages of testing and clinical trials to come to market. Meeting other health care professionals, traveling and keeping up with the latest knowledge was rewarding.

During this period of time, I collaborated with a colleague and we offered classes on how to pass the California State Board of Pharmacy exam. Our course had grown in popularity and we were contacted first by Rite Aid and later by other pharmacy chains to help provide our course to their pharmacy graduates. As a result, we created a company titled, RxPrep, which mushroomed and became quite successful. I could no longer do both roles so I exited the pharmaceutical  industry to focus solely on RxPrep.

Did a new career path appear on the horizon?
Yes. I didn't plan on it happening this was, however, when I exited RxPrep and sold my shares, I cam to realize that I had formed a rather strong drinking habit. Consuming alcohol was a big part of my lifestyle, whether it be drinks in first class on the airplane or occupying my time in a long layover, in celebrations or parties and casual gatherings, or just to wind down at the end of a long day. I thought that this hiatus might be a good time to address the issue.

Would you have described yourself as an alcoholic?
No, not at all. It didn't feel like that. I never craved a drink before noon. I didn't get the shakes if I didn't drink. However, it definitely was a strong bad habit as I'd find myself pouring multiple glasses of wine or cocktails most evenings. I felt that I needed it it, not as a physical dependency, but as an emotional or mental one. It allowed me to escape whatever i was feeling or just allow me to feel better. My life wasn't bad by any means, but it just felt better with more drinks.

Was there an incident that alerted you to break from the habit of over-drinking?
Yes, there was a moment that I felt completely awful about my habit. One Friday night, I had promised my daughter to take her to a trampoline park the next morning. When she appeared at my bedside early morning the next day all dressed in her trampoline socks and ready to go, I had totally forgotten the promise. She could tell that I had forgotten the promise that I had made, and I saw the sorrow in her eyes. The guilt was immense. I knew then that I needed to change the habit, not seeking abstinence, rather seeking control.

What detrimental affect did drinking have on your family?
I wasn't showing up as the woman I wanted to be. My body let me know it was too much by how it felt the next day. I couldn't recall conversations I had or I would say things that I wish I hadn't. Drinking affected my sleep and I felt groggy and sluggish in the morning. My energy was zapped. And I became more unmotivated to do things. Drinking was way more important to me than I wanted it to be. My conscience knew that it was right and it was time for a change.

Did you seek help or manage to adjust the habit on your own?
Initially, I read everything that I could find. I tried Sober October, Dry Januarys, periods of abstinence lasting anywhere from 10 to 30 days with no alcohol, juice cleansers, detox diets, you name it. It was simply a hiatus from drinking and not a lifestyle or habit change. I tried these ways over and over and wondered why I kept falling back to the same drinking pattern. It was frustrating. My brain still wanted the drinks and I would return to my old habits.

How difficult a path was that for you?
I felt a love/hate relationship with it. I loved consuming the beverage, but began to realize more how the groggy mornings would follow, lapses in energy, poor sleep, and I wanted to change that. I still enjoyed the social aspect of drinking in getting together with others and I didn't want to eliminate this part of it. Total abstinence wasn't what I was looking for. So I went online and found a life coach who could help me stop over-drinking and I hired her.

Going through the process was a start and then I needed other tools to get me where I am today. What I found was that I was seeking something from alcohol that I didn't know how to get without it. This builds up our desire for  it more. Like a lot of people, I was using alcohol to escape from some difficult things that I was experiencing in my life. Once I learned how to effectively deal with those pieces, my desire for drinking lessened. It's getting to the root cause of why the over-drinking is happening, and learning tools to regain control and confidence so I can trust myself around alcohol. This was so liberating for me! I wanted to learn how to be around alcohol and others who drink without feeling like I need to have it or such a strong desire for it. Now, I can take it or leave it.

You are not speaking of abstinence, rather adjustment?
Exactly. There are programs out there that require total abstinence, which for many is what they are seeking. However, I prefer to take it or leave it, and this has worked wonders for me.

What led you to make the career change?
I failed so many times over and over and felt stuck. By experiencing this radical shift in my drinking behavior and breaking a decade-long habit, I realized this is something that can benefit many others who are silently suffering. No one was talking about over-drinking as a habit and many people wait until the consequences get much worse. I want to change that. Reducing alcohol intake is not a one-size fits-all model. You can learn to be around it and trust yourself again in those environments. I empower and teach others on how to do this through my podcast, Drink Less Lifestyle, and other programs. It's about becoming someone who can take it or leave it. This happens when you reclaim your confidence and control and stop using alcohol to cope. You become vibrant, full of energy, and have a mind and body that feels amazing again.

How did you formulate a plan to assist others?
I provide free consultations to women seeking help in overcoming their drinking pattern. It allows me the opportunity to assess whether they are a good fit for my program and it they are willing to work with the tools that I provide.

Does your approach differ based on a client profile?
There are certain tools and skills that benefit all clients and the program is tailored to address the client's individual issues. We address the root cause of the drinking while building skills.

How receptive are most clients to change or is there denial?
No doubt one has to want to make a change. Reaching out for my services surely is a sign that they are ready for change and it usually means they've tried on their own and have not succeeded.

What age range are most of your clients?
The majority are women between 40 to 65 years of age, some younger, some older.

Can there ever be a better time to start than the beginning of the New Year?
Certainly it is a time to envision and revitalize.