How to Stop Smoking When You Drink Alcohol

Smoking while drinking beer

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It can be difficult to break the habit of smoking a cigarette when you drink alcohol. Not only can alcohol break your resolve and make it easy to give in to the urge to smoke, but for many, there is a strong association between drinking and smoking making it a trigger.

There are helpful tips to keep in mind—like avoiding triggers, cutting back on your alcohol intake, and planning ahead—that can help you feel more prepared to avoid smoking if you have a drink.

Components of Nicotine Addiction

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

  • Physical addiction: While it can be challenging, you can overcome physical addiction when you quit smoking and cope with the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, including cigarette cravings.
  • Psychological dependence: Over time, people who smoke build a mental association between smoking and daily life, from having a smoke with their morning coffee to lighting up when stressed.

For many people, it is the psychological dependence of smoking that ties them most strongly to nicotine addiction.

Those who only link smoking with drinking may have an advantage in that they are able to concentrate their efforts to quit smoking in this one area alone rather than having to face triggers in every area of their life. But quitting is still often a challenge.

Why Alcohol Triggers Cigarette Cravings

Alcohol reduces your inhibitions. For someone who is trying to quit smoking, reduced inhibitions increase the risk of a smoking relapse. Once you've had a couple of drinks, it may not feel important to stay true to your smoking cessation.

Additionally, you are likely to be around other people who are smoking. Maybe your friends smoke or you encounter other people outside of the bar smoking. How do you fight the urge to join them? What do you say if they offer you a cigarette?

Quitting can be done successfully. With a plan and some practice, you can recondition your response to cigarettes.

Avoid Triggers

It's perfectly OK to avoid a situation if you feel it'll trigger a cigarette craving. During nicotine withdrawal, cravings can be intense. You don't have to feel bad about putting yourself first.

You can start by asking any family or friends who smoke to avoid smoking around you. Let them know you're serious about quitting and you would appreciate their support.

If they don't respect your wishes, you can set some healthy boundaries and spend less time around them. It's OK to avoid bars after you quit smoking, too. If you're afraid you're going to relapse, you can eliminate the risk by staying away from a place that will trigger you.

Go Alcohol-Free at First

While your goal may be to be able to enjoy a drink without smoking, going alcohol-free when you first quit smoking has its advantages.

Since alcohol lowers your inhibitions, you may want to practice being at a bar and not drinking or not smoking. This practice can help you learn how to overcome a cigarette craving if you do start to drink again.

Many bars have a list of alcohol-free drinks or "mocktails," so you can still feel included in the night's festivities.

If you start drinking alcohol again, avoid binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends that daily drink consumption does not exceed four drinks for men and three drinks for women.

Find New Activities

You may feel like you're not able to have fun in the same way you used to when you were smoking and that's OK. Try finding new smoke-free activities and like-minded people who don't smoke so that you're not tempted to smoke.

You can even keep a journal of the ways you're benefitting from spending time in new places and with new people. For instance, your health improves when you quit smoking. You're also not inhaling secondhand smoke as you do when you stand near people who are smoking.

Making new associations when you quit smoking is important. When you have fun without smoking, you learn that you don't need a cigarette to have a good time.

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 (avoiding the outdoor smoking area, if there is one). Reach out to a supportive friend or support quitline. If that doesn't do the trick, you may want to consider calling it a night and going home earlier than usual.

Go to a Smoke-Free Bar

Most public meeting places are smoke-free, but of course, you may encounter a bar that allows people to smoke inside. If this is the case, suggest to your friends that you go somewhere else instead.

Or, maybe you suggest that you try somewhere else altogether. You are guaranteed that no one will be smoking inside a movie theater or a museum, for instance. You can find ways to spend quality time with friends without cigarettes and alcohol.

Find a Replacement

You might find yourself missing the feeling of having a cigarette in your hand, especially if you're around other people who are smoking. There are different ways people swap out a cigarette for a healthier option.

Try holding on to a pencil, paper clip, or marble—anything small that you can fidget with to occupy your hand. If you miss having something in your mouth, you can try:

  • Sugarless gum or a sugarless lollipop
  • A straw
  • A toothpick
  • A crunchy snack like a carrot or celery stick

Practice Makes Perfect

You are teaching yourself new healthy habits each time you successfully navigate the situations that trigger the urge to smoke. Practice will cement them in place.

Be patient and give yourself time to replace old associations with new ones that don't include smoking.

Smoking even a few cigarettes is dangerous to your health. If you find that you're struggling to quit smoking, be sure to reach out to a healthcare professional who can help you find methods of quitting such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), counseling, a support group, or a medication like Zyban (bupropion) or Chantix (varenicline).

Research has found that alcohol and nicotine use are closely related. People who have a dependence on one substance commonly have a dependence on the other. If you are struggling with how much you drink, talk to your doctor.

There are resources available to assess your drinking level and take action steps to reduce your drinking.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, it takes a lot of people more than one attempt to quit smoking before they're able to quit for good. If you smoke a cigarette when you're out drinking, don't let it stop you from continuing on your journey to stay smoke-free. With these tips in mind, you'll be more prepared for next time to let the craving pass without smoking a cigarette.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Quitting smoking with complementary health approaches: What you need to know.

  3. Adams S. Psychopharmacology of tobacco and alcohol comorbidity: A review of current evidence. Curr Addict Rep. 2017;4(1):25-34. doi:10.1007/s40429-017-0129-z

  4. National Institutes of Health. Know your triggers.

  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking levels defined.

  6. American Cancer Society. Help for cravings and tough situations while you're quitting tobacco.

  7. Sharma R, Lodhi S, Sahota P, Thakkar MM. Nicotine administration in the wake-promoting basal forebrain attenuates sleep-promoting effects of alcoholJ Neurochem. 2015;135(2):323-331. doi:10.1111/jnc.13219

By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.