Tips for Going Out When You’re Trying Not to Smoke

People drinking beer at a bar
gradyreese/E+/Getty Images

Going out can be challenging if you are trying not to smoke. Whether you are trying to quit, trying to smoke less, or have already stopped smoking, going out to socialize can often trigger an urge to smoke. In order to stick to your smoking cessation goals, it is important to find ways to cope with these urges, even if you are in social situations or settings that increase your cravings.

It can be particularly hard when you are going out with friends who still smoke. Doing things that you used to enjoy when you smoked, such as going out for drinks, can also make you crave a cigarette. Giving up smoking is hard from a physical withdrawal standpoint, but kicking the social habit makes the process that much more difficult.

Fortunately, you don’t need to give up your social relationships in order to quit smoking. By having a “quitting toolbox” to turn to when you feel the urge, you’ll be able to maintain an active social life without giving up on your goals.

Know Your Triggers

Understanding the things that trigger your urge to smoke can be helpful when you are planning to go out. Triggers can be:

  • Emotional, such as smoking when you are bored, stressed, or lonely)
  • Withdrawal-related (smoking to get rid of unpleasant symptoms of nicotine withdrawal
  • Pattern-related (smoking when you are engaged in another activity out of habit
  • Socially-related (smoking at a bar or party or seeing someone else smoke)

In many cases, multiple factors can play a role in triggering a cigarette craving. Knowing that you are likely to feel an urge, however, means you can plan for it.

Don't Put a Halt on Your Social Life

Keep socializing. Doing things with friends and staying socially active is actually a good way to keep your mind off the urge to smoke. If you start restricting your social life because you are afraid you'll feel an urge to smoke, it might make those social situations more intimidating in the future.

Try Something New

It’s important to understand when the urge to smoke might strike so that you can be prepared. Think about some of the places, situations, and times when you typically smoke. When you are first trying to give up smoking or have recently quit, it can be helpful to alter your usual routine.

The American Cancer Society recommends that you spend as much time during those first few days after you quit smoking in public places where smoking is not allowed. Breaking up your normal routine by spending more time in movie theaters, libraries, museums, malls, and non-smoking restaurants can help distract you from the urge to smoke during the days when your cravings are their worst.

Don't Rely on Willpower Alone

Willpower plays a role in fighting off cravings, but you can make things easier on yourself by reducing your exposure to the things that trigger your cravings. This doesn’t mean you have to stop going out. It just means that you might need to change things up a bit. Trying new things, pursuing new hobbies, and making new habits may help you stick with your plan to quit.

Prepare for Tricky Situations

If you know you’ll be spending time with people who are smoking or in a situation where you’ll likely feel an urge to smoke, make a plan for how you will deal with it. You might need to take a moment to walk around outside until the urge subsides, or bring some minty gum or candy to chew when you feel like having a cigarette. By knowing what you can do to distract yourself, those urges will be less likely to take you by surprise.

If a lot of your friends are smokers, consider inviting some non-smoking friends along. You might also want to excuse yourself for a brief moment if people around you are lighting up. Take a moment to regroup and temporarily avoid the temptation so that you can stay on the path to success.

Watch Your Alcohol Intake

Alcohol can often act as a trigger that brings on an urge to smoke. Even if you've been doing well at kicking the smoking habit, social drinking can bring on a sudden urge to have a cigarette. This can be particularly true if you are normally a social smoker, or you tend to smoke mostly in social situations.

Excessive alcohol can lower your inhibitions and self-control, making it more likely that you’ll give in to the urge to smoke. If you do go to a social setting where you will be consuming alcohol, try to stick to just a drink or two.

Some things you might also try:

  • It may be helpful to switch to nonalcoholic drinks
  • Avoid drinking when you are home alone
  • Try going out to new places and avoid the places where you are used to drinking alcohol and smoking

Social smoking poses the same health risks as regular smoking, including cancer and heart disease. Research suggests that social smoking may also progress to regular use.

Don’t Take On Too Much

Changes in your normal routines and habits can help you avoid smoking, but too many sudden and dramatic changes can make it harder to stick to your goals. Changing your routines and avoiding your triggers is important (especially when you first quit), but that doesn’t mean you should turn your whole life upside down. All of the things you used to do as a smoker you can still enjoy as a non-smoker.

Once the worst of your withdrawal symptoms begin to fade, you can begin returning to some of your regular routines as you learn to better manage a smoke-free lifestyle.

Enlist Help

Let your friends and family know about your smoking cessation goals. Ask them to avoid lighting up around you. In some cases, this might involve your friends going outside to smoke. It is important to remember that while you can ask other people to avoid smoking around you, it doesn't mean that they will honor your request. In some instances, you might simply have to remove yourself from the situation instead.

Keeping visual reminders out of sight, including packs of cigarettes, ashtrays, or e-cigarettes, can also be helpful.

You can also ask for support from your non-smoking friends. When an urge to smoke strikes, let one of your friends know. They can offer support, encouragement, and even distractions that can help you fight off your cravings.

Team up with friends who are also trying to quit smoking. Not only can you support each other's efforts, but you can also plan smoke-free social activities that you can all enjoy.

Host a Non-Smoking Event

If spending time in the places where you used to smoke is still a struggle, consider hosting your own social event. This can be a great way to control the situation and avoid many of the triggers that often lead to cravings.

Have a Plan

When you go out and the urge to smoke does strike, try some of the following steps to deal with the craving:

  • Wait. When you feel like breaking your smoke-free commitment, tell yourself that you have to wait at least 10 minutes before you act on the craving. In many cases, the worst of the urge may have passed by the time those 10 minutes are up.
  • Make rules. Set rules that you have to follow before you allow yourself to smoke a cigarette. In addition to waiting 10 minutes, you might set a rule that you have to walk a mile, eat a celery stick, or chew a piece of gum before you can smoke. Once you have done this, the urge to smoke will have likely lessened enough that you can resist it.
  • Distract yourself. Taking your mind off of your craving can help you get a handle on your feelings before you give in. Walk around for a few minutes, chat with a friend, play on your phone, or look for things in your environment that can take your mind off of things for a while.
  • Remember your reasons for quitting. Whenever your resolve begins to slip, list your reasons for quitting. You might even find it helpful to keep a list of these reasons on a slip of paper inside your wallet or saved as a note on your phone. Your reasons are unique to you, but some of the benefits to consider include having more energy, better health, and fewer cravings. Seeing these reasons in front of you can help you stay motivated, even in the face of temptations.
  • Call or text a friend. Have at least one friend who knows about your smoke-free choice and who can offer support when you need it most. If you are really struggling with an urge when you are out, talking to a friend can help get you through difficult moments.

If you are struggling to stick with it, talk to your doctor about your options. Using a nicotine replacement therapy might be helpful.

A Word From Verywell

Going out when you are trying not to smoke can present some challenges, but it doesn’t mean that you need to give up your social life when you going smoke-free. Remember to practice good self-care including getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and using relaxation strategies that will help you feel better when you are trying to quit.

3 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.
  1. American Cancer Society. Quitting smoking: help for cravings and tough situations.

  2. National Cancer Institute. How to handle withdrawal symptoms and triggers when you decide to quit smoking.

  3. Villanti AC, Johnson AL, Rath JM, et al. Identifying "social smoking" U.S. young adults using an empirically-driven approach. Addict Behav. 2017;70:83–89. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.02.004

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."