Why alcohol can make quitting smoking harder 

For many people, alcohol and smoking go hand-in-hand.1Whether you’re at a backyard barbeque or at the local bar with friends, quitting can be especially difficult if you’re used to having a glass of wine or a pint in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Indeed, a 2013 study of young adult smokers found 80% of smokers who had tried to quit reported that drinking alcohol made quitting harder.2

It's helpful to understand why drinking alcohol can make quitting tougher and then learn how to plan ahead to avoid alcohol triggers, especially in the early days of quitting.

Why alcohol can make quitting smoking tougher

A few too many drinks can impact on your capacity to control your behaviour and make you lose sight of your reasons for quitting.1 In fact, research shows that if you’ve drunk enough to feel tipsy or push you over the legal limit to drive a car, you’re in danger of having a cigarette1 – especially in the first few weeks of your quit attempt.3

Further research suggests that there’s more to the pairing of cigarettes and alcohol than keeping your hands occupied in social situations. One American study in rats, found that nicotine blunts the release of reward and pleasure-seeking hormone dopamine, which normally occurs when we consume alcohol.4 This may cause you to drink more to achieve the same effect.4

How to avoid alcohol triggers

Try these practical tips to help you ease up on alcohol:

  • Swap catch-ups at the pub and social events where you know alcohol will be served for meeting friends for a non-alcoholic drink at a cafe, a movie, or even to kick a footy in the park.
  • Experiment with non-alcoholic drinks and mocktails at social events where alcohol is on offer. Sparkling soda water served in a wine glass with a slice of lime is a great way to join in the celebrations sans alcohol.
  • Offer to be the designated driver for a night out on the town. Your friends will gladly accept!
  • Buddy up with a friend at a party and commit to staying alcohol-free.
  • See your doctor for more support in quitting smoking. Did you know that you're up to 4x more likely to succeed in quitting with the help of a healthcare professional compared to quitting unaided?5
©Pfizer 2019. Pfizer Australia Pty Limited. Pfizer Medical Information: 1800 675 229. Sydney, Australia. PP-CHM-AUS-0974, 09/2019
  1. Queensland health. “An essential guide to quitting smoking” Available at https://www.health.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/440043/qbycbrochures.pdf, Accessed  17 September 2019.
  2. Quit. The risks of being a “Social smoker” Available at https://www.quit.org.au/articles/the-risks-of-being-a-social-smoker/,Accessed  6 August 2019.
  3. Jiang, N. and Ling, P.M. (2013). Impact of alcohol use and bar attendance on smoking and quit attempts among young adult bar patrons. American Journal of Public Health, 103(5), e 53-61.
  4. Doyon, W.M., Dong, Y., Ostroumov, A., Thomas, A.M., Zhang, T.A. and Dani, J.A. (2013). Nicotine decreases ethanol-induced dopamine signalling and increases self-administration via stress hormones. Neuron, 79(3), 530-540.
  5. West, R. (2012). Stop smoking services; increased chances of quitting. NCSCT Briefing #8. London: National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training.