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How Can I Break the Association Between Smoking and Drinking?


Updated July 21, 2014

How Can I Break the Association Between Smoking and Drinking?
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Question: How Can I Break the Association Between Smoking and Drinking Alcohol?

I have a terrible addiction with smoking when I drink alcohol, which I do usually one day during the week and on weekends. I don’t smoke any other time, but when I’m having cocktails I just huff the heaters down like there is no tomorrow.

I have tried many times to quit. I’ll do fine for a week or two and then I’ll be with friends having cocktails and just get these crazy cravings and I cave into them. People tell me that it should be easy to quit because I only smoke when I drink. You'd think it would be easy because I smoke so infrequently, but alcohol breaks my resolve every time. Help!

Answer: Nicotine addiction has two components - physical addiction and psychological dependence.

Physical addiction, while intense, can be broken in a matter of days by clearing nicotine out of the body.

Psychological dependence involves associations we build up around smoking over the years, from having a smoke with our morning coffee to lighting up when stressed, joyful and everything in between.

For most people, it is the mental side of our smoking habit that ties us most heavily to nicotine addiction.

The fact that you associate smoking only with drinking gives you an advantage. You can concentrate your efforts to quit on this one area, without the added stress of unraveling your smoking habit from every facet of your life, as most smokers have to.

As you pointed out yourself however, alcohol does reduce a person's inhibitions, and that increases the risk of a smoking relapse if you go out drinking. Further, you are probably exposed to others who are smoking while you're out drinking, making it all the more difficult for you. Quitting is possible though, and with a plan of action, you can recondition yourself away from the habit of smoking while enjoying a drink or two when out with friends.

Go Alcohol-Free at First

Begin the work of reconditioning yourself away from smoking while drinking with friends by going alcohol-free for the night.  Sip on cranberry juice and seltzer water or something similar.

Socialize with friends and work through the triggers that the situation brings up for you without the added pressure of alcohol in your system.

It may not be much fun, but it is the first step in breaking the associations you have with your smoking habit.

Plan Ahead

Have an escape plan in mind. Can you excuse yourself and step outside for some fresh air if you need to? If that doesn't do the trick, you may want to consider calling it a night and go home earlier than usual.

Preparation for the what-ifs is an important part of a solid quit plan, so take some time to consider what you'll do if the temptation to smoke becomes unbearable. It will empower you and help you stay in the drivers seat with your quit program.

Practice Makes Perfect

Each time you successfully navigate those situations that trigger the urge for you smoke free, you are teaching yourself new, healthy habits. Practice will cement them in place.

Be patient and give yourself time to replace old associations with new ones that don't include smoking. The day will come when you'll be able to socialize with others who are smoking while having a drink or two without it bothering you.

Smoking cessation is worth the work it takes to achieve. Smoking, even a few here and there is dangerous. Cigarettes are toxic killers and the sooner you clear them out of your life, the better.

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