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

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Updated March 19, 2007

How Can I Break the Association Between Smoking and Drinking Alcohol?
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 craving 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 however, 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 inbetween. 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 smoking while you're out drinking, making it all the more difficult for you. Quitting is possible though, and with a plan of action, I think you can recondition yourself away from the habit of smoking while enjoying a drink or two when out with friends.

Education

Cessation will be much easier for you if you do a little prep work first to build a foundation for your quit program. Start by doing some reading. Take a good long look at the destruction cigarette smoke causes. As smokers, we tend to shy away from scrutinizing this kind of information too closely. We all know cigarettes are harmful, but keep the specifics at arm's length so that we can smoke in relative peace. Do the work now to remove those blinders and look at the self-destructive effects of this addiction straight on.

Your List of Reasons

Next, put together a list of reasons for quitting. Make it personal and list out everything from the smallest reason to the largest. Carry it with you, adding to it when you think of more reasons. Review it often. Those things we take the time to commit to paper become more real for us, so this exercise is a good one for building the determination you'll need to quit smoking for good. It's also a useful tool to have in your pocket when you're feeling weak and wanting a smoke.

Support

Stop in at our support forum here at About.com Smoking Cessation. This very active group of people working to quit tobacco will inspire you to do the same. Support is a huge help when trying to overcome addiction, and this community is second to none in that regard. You can visit as a guest and read anonymously, or register (free) to join the discussions and post messages of your own.

Go Alcohol-Free at First

Once you have your resolve fortified by education and support, it's time to begin the work of reconditioning yourself away from smoking while out with friends where alcohol is present. I would strongly suggest you start the healing process by not drinking any alcohol while in those situations that trigger smoking initially. Sip on something non-alcoholic like cranberry and seltzer water for the night. 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 a smart first step for you to take 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!

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 out at a club without it bothering you.

Never doubt that quitting 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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