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Once you’ve made the decision to stop smoking, you can’t help but notice all the scenarios that could trigger a craving. The pub you always go to, the ‘traditional’ pint and a smoke, your ‘smoking buddy’ outside, even the ‘usual times’ you nip out for a cigarette during a social gathering. Keeping up your social life while quitting might seem impossible, especially if you are a particularly social smoker!
But there’s no reason to shy away. Just because you’re an ex-smoker doesn’t mean you have to be an ex-social butterfly!
It is beneficial to know that there is a link between nicotine and alcohol. At the extreme, government data has found that up to 90 per cent of people who are addicted to alcohol will also smoke. Furthermore, smokers have been found to be more likely to drink and have a 2.7 times greater risk of becoming dependent on alcohol than non-smokers do.
Nicotine and alcohol have both been observed to act on similar mechanisms in the brain. When it comes to nicotine, the chemical compound will enter the bloodstream as soon as you smoke a cigarette and rapidly get transported to your brain. Once there, the nicotine will stimulate the brain by creating receptors which release chemicals that give a feeling of pleasure. These receptors will increase in number as smoking becomes prolonged and your brain will become reliant on nicotine in order to release these feel-good chemicals.
But it only takes 72 hours for nicotine levels in the bloodstream to dip when you quit smoking. The receptors won’t disappear that quickly though, so your brain’s chemistry will react to cause powerful cravings and strong emotional reactions. Persistence is key, as nicotine receptors will go away with time and your brain chemistry should be back to normal within three months of a quit. During this difficult phase of adjustment, many quitters find nicotine patches can help ease those intense cravings.
For alcohol, much like nicotine, researchers have suggested that the substance stimulates a feeling of pleasure in the brain. There are suggestions that nicotine and alcohol will moderate each other’s effects on the brain due to the fact that nicotine stimulates while alcohol sedates.
Now that you’ve started your no-smoking journey, how do you balance it with your social life? Here’s how to stick to your goals and still have a good time:
Don’t let yourself get bogged down with doubts. Everything you did as a smoker, you can do as a former smoker. Holding off too long from social drinking after quitting can create a sense of intimidation. Plus, socialising with friends is an important part of your life. The sooner you teach yourself how to enjoy a drink or two without a cigarette, the sooner you’ll feel like your life is back to normal.
Of course, your usual choice of pub might trigger a smoking craving. Before leaving the house or in the car, be mentally prepared by saying aloud, “I’m a former smoker.” Or try, “I don’t smoke. I’m healthier and happier without cigarettes.” The main point is to remind yourself that you’re a former smoker and that you don’t need to light up anymore.
It might be a good idea to invite friends to your home instead of going out for a drink on during the early days. You can celebrate your smoke-free success with them. You’ll be able to control what is served which can help stop those triggers and completely avoid cigarettes in your smoke-free home.
Good support will be invaluable as you quit. Who you choose to hang out with can help support your ex-smoking status. Slip-ups can occur when quitters are in the company of other smokers who may not be aware of how to support their quit attempt.
Enlist a family member or friend as your ‘quit buddy’ to take along to an event! A quit buddy is someone who supports your quit. Should you encounter old smoking friends who ask you to join them, make sure they are aware of your situation so they can be respectful. Not only that, you’ll also have your quit buddy to hang out with.