How to remain smoke-free when you drink alcohol

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For Individuals
8 min read


Bacon & eggs. Peanut butter & jelly. Cheese &…everything. There’s no denying it, some things are just better together. Unfortunately, cigarettes and alcohol make a pretty good match too, and that can make things difficult if you’re trying to quit smoking.

If you’re one of many who light up when you have a drink, you may be questioning whether you’ll be able to stay smoke-free on a night out. Well, although it might be another hurdle to overcome in your quit-smoking journey, there are plenty of strategies available to help you stay on track.

First though, it’s important to understand the relationship between cigarette smoking and alcohol use. So why exactly do they complement one another so well?

Nicotine offsets alcohol-induced drowsiness

In an attempt to determine the reason why so many people only smoke cigarettes when they drink alcohol, researchers discovered that the stimulant effect of nicotine can offset the drowsiness that so often results from a heavy drinking session, thanks to alcohol’s effect as a depressant.

Rather than calling it a night as the booze begins to induce a state of sleepiness, many people crave a boost of nicotine in order to stay alert and continue enjoying their evening.

They drain your bank balance

Smoke a pack a day? The cost adds up, right?

That’s a ton of money that could be put to so many better uses.

After just a few months of quitting you could have enough for a trip abroad. A few more and you might be one step closer to that car you’ve had your eye on.

You’re less likely to make rational decisions while drinking

You’ve been doing really well on your smoking cessation programme. It’s been a tough few weeks but you’ve managed to stay focused and overcome your nicotine cravings. You finally think you’ve cracked it but then on a night out, your mates head to the smoking area and rather than stay alone, you follow them outside.

If you were sober in this scenario, while it could still be really tricky, your self-control would probably kick in and you’d go and get a round of drinks in, or find another way to remove yourself from the situation. But since you’ve already had a few and you’re feeling a bit tipsy, those rational thoughts seem to be fading into the background. That’s because consuming alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can have a significant effect on your cognitive behaviour and mental health.

Although alcohol acts as a depressant, shortly after having a drink, levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine increase in the brain. Elevated norepinephrine is associated with impulsivity and arousal, meaning there’s a higher risk you’re swayed by the offer of a cigarette as you won’t be thinking about the consequences or the risk factors.

In addition, when you drink, activity in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex decreases. That’s the region responsible for rational thinking and decision making. So, if that’s being dampened, it’s easy to see how lighting up might not seem like such a bad idea in that particular moment in time.

Nicotine tricks your brain into thinking smoking is a positive behaviour

Our brains have evolved to reward us for behaviours that promote our health and well-being, and increase the appeal of activities that we associate with these behaviours.

Although smoking is destructive and can have serious negative health effects, nicotine in cigarette smoke has the ability to cut-off and disrupt the normal behaviour learning process, and ‘trick’ the brain into thinking that smoking is a positive action. As a result, if you’re engaging in an activity that reminds you of smoking — such as drinking with friends in a bar — those activities can act as cues that drive an urge to start smoking.

A vicious cycle

Although doing these things because they make you feel happy might not seem like such a bad thing, once you enter this cycle of smoking when you drink alcohol, it can be difficult to then break out of it. A single rash decision can have long-term consequences which can then make your smoking cessation journey a whole lot harder.

In fact, alcohol use is one of the major causes of relapse in those who have previously quit smoking. All the hard work that has been put in during the quitting process can then so easily be put in jeopardy.

And while drinking alcohol may increase the urge to smoke, the bad news is smoking can also increase the urge to drink more too. That’s why many heavy drinkers are at an increased risk of being addicted to nicotine too.

The good news is that if you have an excessive alcohol intake, or regularly engage in binge drinking activities, quitting cigarette smoking can help you to lower your alcohol dependence. As a result, you’ll then also reduce your risk of developing alcohol-related health problems (e.g. alcohol poisoning).

Plan your quitting journey carefully and you will see results!

No one’s saying it’s going to be easy — as with any addiction, there’s going to be a whole lot of adapting to get used to.

But if you combine careful planning with an evidence-based quitting method such as Quit Genius, you will benefit from the results, in as little as a few hours!

By breaking down your quit smoking goals into manageable milestones, you’ll gain control over your addiction, and as a result, will be far more likely to remain smoke-free.

To keep you motivated, you can also keep track of your gains in real time with the Quit Genius app. During each step of the way, you’ll be able to view the progress you’ve made, from health improvements, to money saved and number of life years gained.

So try not to put it off any longer — there’s no better time to end it and all the support you need is right here!

Stay smoke-free with these simple strategies

Just because you’ve decided to quit smoking and enjoy the health benefits of a smoke-free life, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still have fun and maintain an active social life. The key is to plan for any difficult situations in advance so that you’re prepared for when they do arise and won’t be caught off guard.

1. Keep an eye on your alcohol intake

Cutting out alcohol altogether might be a bit too extreme for most people. But if you can avoid excessive drinking on a night out, and therefore prevent yourself from reaching the point at which your self-control begins to dwindle, you’ll likely find it much easier to resist any temptations to smoke.

The higher your alcohol consumption, the higher your risk of relapse, so it’s something worth considering, even if only in the early stages of your journey to becoming a non-smoker.

2. Try to distinguish between physical and psychological cravings

Are you tempted to light up a cigarette because you’re experiencing a nicotine craving, or is it just because you’re in a place or situation that you associate with cigarette smoking? If you think it might be the latter, you could be being influenced by peer pressure, or simply be running in autopilot mode.

If this is the case, you need to try to break the association between socialising and smoking. Making small changes to how you’d usually do things can really help to reframe your thinking. You could try ordering a different drink to your usual, or sitting in a different spot. You might be a bit sceptical about what sort of effect this could really have, but changing your routine is often all it takes to put you back in control of your actions.

You should also try to find ways to remind yourself of your goals, and your reasons for adopting a smoke-free lifestyle. A visual on your phone might help to jolt your memory when you’re out and about, or maybe you could ask a friend to give you a nudge if it seems like you might be swayed by the temptation of a cigarette.

3. Choose your destination wisely

If you’re planning a night out, an evening spent in a pub garden might not be your best bet, as you’re likely to be surrounded by people smoking. That’s the kind of situation that could put you in a predicament, especially once the drinks start flowing and your level of judgement begins to falter.

If you have any control over where you’ll be heading, it could be really useful to avoid places that you know have busy smoking areas or venues where it’s likely you’d end up spending a lot of time outside in a crowd.

4. Plan your responses to tricky situations in advance

It’s not always possible to have control over everything, and you simply have to accept that some scenarios are inevitable. What you can do though is to have a plan in place for when difficult situations do arise.

You could, for example, decide that whenever you need some fresh air, you’ll take a walk around the block rather than stepping out into the smoking area. Or that you’ll alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in order to pace yourself throughout the evening.

It might also be a good idea to ask for support from your friends before you start drinking. You could ask them not to offer you cigarettes while you’re out together, or you might decide to stick with a non-smoking friend while any others do go out for a cigarette.

Take home message

When you quit smoking, social events can often feel like tricky situations to navigate, especially when alcohol is involved. Drinking-related activities can increase the appeal of cigarettes for a number of reasons, making cravings feel stronger and more difficult to ignore.

But rather than sacrifice all the hard work you’ve put into becoming smoke-free for the sake of a short-lived buzz, there are plenty of actions that you can take to make these situations more bearable and to enable you to stay on track.

Quit Genius delivers scientifically proven CBT specifically targeted towards smoking cessation, all wrapped up in a practical and user-friendly app. You’ll have personalised advice available on demand, supporting you throughout the entire process. Start your journey ->

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