The 3-link chain of addiction: Physical, mental and social

Smoking is addictive; there’s no denying that. And if you want to stop smoking, you will need to break this addiction. What you might not know, is that addiction isn’t just about the physical cravings, although they are a big part of it. There are actually three key parts of addiction. By understanding and addressing this 3-link chain, you will have a better chance at successfully quitting – and staying that way.1

Physical addiction

When you smoke, the nicotine in your cigarette rushes to your brain and causes dopamine to be released. Dopamine is one of our body’s feel-good chemicals, so when you smoke, you get an all-over enjoyable feeling1,2. It doesn’t last long though, and before you know it, you’re craving more cigarettes.2

Breaking this physical addiction can be hard, and the stronger your addiction, the harder it will be to break.3 But don’t lose heart, it can be done: You’re up to 4x more likely to succeed in quitting with the help of a healthcare professional compared to quitting unaided4. So talk to your doctor, and find a quit method that will work for you and help you break the physical addiction.

Mental (behavioural) addiction

Do you have a cigarette first thing in the morning? With your coffee throughout the day? What about when you are in the car? Or on your walk to the bus stop?

Smoking can be an integral part of your everyday routine.  If you want to quit, you need to change up your routine. Work out when and where you smoke the most and how you can change your routine to break that mental addiction.1 If you smoke first thing in the morning to wake you up, have a shower instead. After you eat lunch? Go for a quick stroll around the block. When you drink alcohol? Try a different drink, and hold the glass in your smoking hand.

Social addiction

Smoking might feel like it is a key part of both your work and social life: The work smoko can be one of the only times you really get to talk to your colleagues during the day, and you have no idea how you would start a conversation in the pub other than ‘got a light?’.1

It’s true; going smoke-free may change your social groups and how you spend your time. But don’t worry, there are plenty of smoke-free things you can do instead. Find a non-smoking colleague and go for a walk around the office or through the local park – use that time to get some exercise and to catch-up on what’s new with them. Or join a sports team and make some new friends while making good use of your newly improved lungs!5

So you see, it’s not just the physical addiction that you need to tackle to go smoke-free.1 By understanding the three different types of addiction and how they might affect you, you'll have the insight you need to successfully quit, and put smoking a long way behind you.

©Pfizer 2019. Pfizer Australia Pty Limited. Pfizer Medical Information: 1800 675 229. Sydney, Australia. PP-CHM-AUS-0988, 10/2019

1. Mayo Clinic. Nicotine dependence – symptoms and causes. Available at Accessed 15 October 2019.

2. Zaniewska M, et al. Pharmacol Rep 2009;61:957–65. 

3. Greenhalgh EM, Stillman S, & Ford C. 7.7 Factors that predict success or failure in quit attempts. In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2016. Available at Accessed 15 October 2019.

4. West R. (2012). Stop smoking services: Increased chances of quitting. NCSCT Briefing #8. London; National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training.

5. Australian Government Department of Health. Why quit smoking? Available at Accessed 13 September 2019.