How Do I Stop Smoking When Drinking Alcohol?

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A reader asks:

How do I stop smoking when drinking alcohol?

I have a terrible time 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 eventually 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, but alcohol breaks my resolve every time.



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 the associations we build up between smoking and daily life 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 smoking that ties us most heavily to nicotine addiction.

The fact that you link smoking only with drinking does give you an advantage. You can concentrate your efforts to quit on this one area alone rather than having to face triggers every time you turn around.

Alcohol Diminishes Inhibitions ... and Resolve

One of the big problems with alcohol is that it reduces a person's inhibitions. For someone who is trying to quit smoking, reduced inhibitions increase the risk of a smoking relapse. It just doesn't seem so important to stay true to your quit program once you've had a couple of drinks.

Additionally, you will probably be with friends who are smoking, or you'll see other smokers at the bar, making it all the more difficult for you.

Quitting can be done successfully though.  With a plan and some practice, you can recondition yourself away from feeling like you need to smoke while enjoying a drink or two when out with friends.

Go Alcohol-Free at First

I know what you're thinking.  The point is to be able to drink and not smoke!

That's true, but to begin with, going alcohol-free will give you the advantage of dealing with the triggers that come in that setting without the disadvantage of alcohol loosening up your resolve.  

Try going alcohol-free for the night. Sip on cranberry juice and seltzer water or something similar. No one has to know if you'd rather keep it a secret.  Privately tell the bartender or your server that when you order a mixed drink, you want it served minus the alcohol. 

Socialize with friends as you normally would and work through the triggers that the situation brings up for you.  You will probably need to do this more than once before it starts to feel comfortable.

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

Plan Ahead

Have an escape plan in mind for those moments when you feel like you're about to smoke a cigarette. Get up and head to the bathroom or step outside for some fresh air.  If that doesn't do the trick, you may want to consider calling it a night and go home earlier than usual.

How About a Smoke-Free Bar?

The fact is, most public meeting places are going smoke-free these days.  If your favorite pub hasn't yet done so, suggest to your friends that you try out a new place for a change.

Practice Makes Perfect

Each time you successfully navigate the situations that trigger the urge to smoke for you, 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.

You are smart to do the work now to quit because smoking even a few here and there is dangerous to your health. And, more likely than not, you would find yourself lighting up in situations other than the bar eventually.  

Nicotine addiction has a way of moving in and taking up more and more of our time and resources. Better to kick it to the curb now.

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