Ex-smoker + wine = oh dear!
January 22, 2012 3:34 PM   Subscribe

I quit smoking, but can't fight the occasional urge to buy a pack after drinking. Help!

After a brief affair with moderate smoking last year, I have finally quit. Yay!!! I feel so much better when I don't smoke and have more energy and am all-around happier. But sometimes, after drinking, I will be struck with an unsurmountable urge to smoke. Or rather, I am almost always struck with the desire to smoke after drinking, but usually I can ignore it, walk on home and go to bed.

It's pretty unpredictable, and doesn't seem to correlate with how much I drink or drunkenness. It happens once every two or three weeks or so. Last night, for example, I had two glasses of wine and literally could not stop myself from walking into 7-11 and buying a pack. When I'm around friends, I don't, because they are very good about steering me elsewhere, but I have to walk home sometime.

Of course I regret it the next morning, and usually end up throwing the pack out—if I have them around, I will be very, very tempted to smoke. But even if I accept the occasional cigarette while drinking as just something that happens, I don't want to be buying packs—I don't like the expense (I don't have a ton of money as it is) and I don't like the temptation the next day.

Obviously alcohol affects impulse control, but are there any tips and tricks to help me resist the urge to buy cigarettes after drinking? I would really like to cut this last vestige of the dirty habit out.

(And no, "not drinking" won't help. I'm not a heavy drinker at all, but I'm a huge oenophile, so that's just not going to happen.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Part of the key to my not smoking (stopped cold turkey after about 25 years) was NOT putting my self in situations that triggered smoking.

Try this... make a rule that, when you give in to the urge, instead of buying one pack, buy a carton.. and throw it away the next day...

It's one thing to throw away the cost of a pack, a whole new ball game with a carton.
posted by HuronBob at 3:56 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Part of quitting smoking is powering through moments like that, it's all part of "they key to quitting smoking is not to smoke." It gets easier.
posted by rhizome at 4:03 PM on January 22, 2012

I think not liking the expense is good! To quit smoking you really need to grow to dislike all of it. I do the same thing as you except I come home and hide the packs in the freezer. Then a month later or whenever buy a new one. It makes you mad at yourself and makes you feel bad...I think that's good. You're almost there! Almost a complete non-smoker! Keep going!
posted by bquarters at 4:05 PM on January 22, 2012

Find something else to occupy your hands or mouth? A pack of gum, mints, candy cane, chewing on a toothpick (flavored or non), snapping a rubber band bracelet, etc?
posted by vegartanipla at 4:05 PM on January 22, 2012

You need to find something to replace the act of smoking. Chewing gum, sucking on candy or a sucker, smoking a cigar that you don't inhale (only marginally better than smoking cigarettes and that's arguable, so ymmv) or getting a certain food or beverage can all work, conceivably, if you can do them often enough after drinking. With enough persistence, you could establish a new habit. Ideally, the effect would ultimately be that you would drink, then have an almost Pavlovian type craving for the replacement activity you have chosen.

It doesn't matter if it's an unhealthy replacement activity. It's important that you pick something pleasurable – no matter what it is, even if it's to eat a half pint of Rocky Road, it's probably not as bad for you as smoking.
posted by labandita at 4:07 PM on January 22, 2012

I'm actually the same way...I've probably smoked 2-3 cigarettes in the past couple of years, but before that I would buy a pack before going out and only smoke cigarettes while drinking. I also sometimes turned into a complete chain smoker while drinking. As you said, it's unpredictable.

I used to wake up in a near panic the mornings after I'd smoked a lot with the fear that I would become a regular smoker, as I'd seen several friends do. That has never happened and I actually think I would throw up if I smoked a cigarette while sober. I take comfort in that because most of my family are smokers and are completely addicted - it doesn't sound like you are the completely addicted type. I remember hearing somewhere that there are some people who simply do not become hooked on tobacco to the point that they are regular smokers - maybe that is how you are too. So you can remember that regardless of what happens you have control of the situation. That actually helps me avoid cigarettes when I'm out.

I also just have to stop myself when I realize I want a cigarette and think about what I'm doing. That usually keeps me from actually going and buying cigarettes or asking someone for one.

Other than that I haven't really found any good answers.
posted by fromageball at 4:07 PM on January 22, 2012

The thing that finally made me quit doing this was fusing in my mind specifically what the crumminess felt like when I woke up after having smoked the night before (sore lungs, scratchy throat, hacking up goo, smelly clothes and hair). Then when I was tempted I made myself think very, very hard about that in comparison to what it's like waking up without having smoked. So it made the aftereffects of smoking unpleasant enough, on a visceral level, that not having a cigarette was associated with feeling good, rather than with denial.
posted by scody at 4:16 PM on January 22, 2012

Don't pass by the 7-11 on you way home.
posted by snowjoe at 4:51 PM on January 22, 2012

Date someone hot who doesn't like the taste or smell of cigarettes.

I did. We're married. Never smoke.

Otherwise ;), jog past the 7-11 and/or all the way home. Depending on your buzz, you might have the energy and lacking inhibition to simply run. Pay attention to your breathing, how good it feels, and that not smoking will help you stay healthy.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, pay attention to the urge as you leave the bar or wherever you are having wine. Know that you will want to buy the cigarettes, and think about how this urge is being driven by biological processes and your emotions, not by you - the true you. Commit to standing in front of or walking towards the 7-11 and not going in, and commit to telling yourself the alternatives. Repeat them. I can go in, spend money, smoke, enjoy it guiltily, and then simply feel guilty. Or, I can not smoke, and feel powerful, capable, and healthy. Repeat the options 3 or 4 times then switch to positive, present tense, declarations. I am not smoking. I am powerful. I am walking home.

Good luck!
posted by IndpMed at 4:56 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Walk. Fast. It will tire you out and make the urge pass.

(I smoked for years, quite entirely for a year or two, then went back to smoking-after-drinking, and eventually.... I dunno, it just lost its appeal entirely. Haven't even had a drag in about 2 years.)
posted by kestrel251 at 5:17 PM on January 22, 2012

Until I had quit for a while and cigarettes started to taste really awful (for me this was about 1 year after quitting a light habit) i always wanted one when drinking. One solution for me was to not let myself have the option to buy cigarettes. In increasing order of annoyance to yourself: Ride a bike instead of walk (so it's a pain to stop at any store). Walk another route with no stores on it. Don't carry enough money to buy a pack. Tell your friends you need help quitting smoking (or make up some fake thing if you're embarrassed) and ask them to walk you home or past the store so you can't stop.
posted by holyrood at 5:20 PM on January 22, 2012

I had to quit drinking to quit smoking. I guess, though, that I could have started drinking again without having a relapse after a certain period of time had passed.
So, could you stop drinking until your nicotine cravings are gone? After that you could start again; you'd just need to break the association of drinking-smoking.

(Caveat: For me, it took at least 2 years (!!!) for the cravings to stop. YMMV, just give it a try for a few weeks maybe?)
posted by The Toad at 6:47 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Along the lines of holyroad's concrete approach: maybe carry the amount of cash you need to buy your two glasses of wine, and no more, and leave your cards at home? And if you have extra money, have the friend who can't walk you home hold it for you?
posted by gingerest at 6:54 PM on January 22, 2012

I know someone who smoked for years and quit several times. She was only able to finally get over the urges and quit for good after hypnosis. She said it is the best money she ever spent. Good luck and stay strong!
posted by Daddy-O at 9:17 PM on January 22, 2012

HuronBob mentions triggers, and that's what's going on here. It's really important to recognize that you spend a long time building neural connections and habits that formed pathways in your brain. When you change a habit, you have to retrain your brain to make different pathways.

When you have attention and willpower, it's possible to do that without too much strain. When you're impaired, your 'lazier' brain will find it easier to revert to old ways.

There are two things going on - the alcohol weakens that resolve and attention, and then the ritual of walking home buzzed after a fun night of drinking reminds you of all the times you did that while ruminating over a few smokes triggers your desire to smoke. Your dormant addiction sort of gets excited that it's found a chink in your armor, and tells your brain that the best solution to all this is a cigarette, which will fix everything just dandy.

It takes time and resolve to break these linkages between triggers, memories, and mental pathways. It is essential that you have a plan. You have to predict when the problem will take place, identify what leads to the problem, and eliminate or replace the triggering events.

So, maybe you don't walk home - take a cab instead (with the cash you're saving on cigarettes). Maybe you buy a yo-yo and you do that while walking home. Maybe you take a different route home - not by the 7-11. Maybe you ask a friend to walk with you. Maybe you leave earlier or drink less for a while (being an oenophile doesn't mean getting drunk).

When I first quit I had to stay out of bars for about 2 months (it was still legal to smoke in bars then!). When I returned I was surprised it wasn't more of a temptation. But I did have to take a hiatus so that I could break the chain of associations and be a little more secure in my nonsmoking habits.

The main thing is, don't allow there to be a window of time where you don't have a plan about not smoking. It may help to write it down: "Next time I go out and return home, I am not going to buy cigarettes and I'm not going to smoke. If I get the urge to do so, I'm going to do A, B, C, and D. I will not follow any plan that includes smoking." That kind of thing really keeps you honest. There's a point in these things where your mind is saying "you know, maybe I'll just go get me some cigarettes," and if you can call on this mantra you've already placed in your head and say "But , I can't follow any plan that includes smoking," you're starting to get way ahead.

So, make an intentional plan for what you'll do when faced with triggers, and/or make a plan to avoid the triggers for a while. You really won't achieve a permanent quit until you are able to do these things.
posted by Miko at 10:08 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's some experimental evidence that the effects of alcohol are determined by individual and social expectations as much as physiological impairment. Subjects given alcohol placebos often "act drunk," especially in social settings.

Alcohol might impair our impulse control, but it doesn't necessarily determine our impulses themselves. Instead, they come in part from our own beliefs about how people act when drinking, reinforced by the expectations of others. "Smoking and drinking go together" is a pretty widespread belief, and "I only smoke when I drink" is a story you'll hear a lot of people tell themselves. But they're both fiction. Alcohol doesn't make anyone smoke—our expectations about alcohol do.

I've never been a smoker, and probably don't understand how deep the urge can feel. But staying aware of expectation effects has helped me understand and scrutinize some of my own socially conditioned impulses about drinking, and it seems like a much healthier view of alcohol than the idea that it's a potent and magical thing.

Next time you're walking home and want a cigarette, remember that you're actually acting in a little play called "Stuff Drunk People Do," which was written and revised by everyone around you. Is this actually an urge to smoke, or an urge to do what everyone expects of you? You don't have to stick to the script.
posted by ecmendenhall at 4:24 AM on January 23, 2012

The other thing about the experience of quitting smoking was that I became conscious of every swindle the addicted mind tries to pull on you to make smoking seem like a fine idea. ecemendenhall's post sounds right to me, because being drunk becomes a convenient excuse to get a fix. "Oh dear, I was drunk and didn't know what I was doing! My quit attempt failed again! Darn drunkenness."

There's part of you that still wants to smoke, and looks for any excuse, any rationale, any way you can 'accidentally' smoke without having to berate yourself. Drunkenness may make a handy excuse, but that's all it is. Your actual thinking mind is still in there and if you don't agree to the addicted part of your mind's assessment that smoking is a fabulous idea, you don't have to follow through doing what it's asking you to do. It's nothing more than a - well, a smokescreen for you brain to get another nicotine fix. Your brain will do just about anything to keep that coming unless you cut it off at the pass.
posted by Miko at 7:16 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had the same problem. My sympathies -- I'm rooting for you.

Try an e-cigarette. I've been 'smoking' one for the better part of a year, and for the past 3 months, I haven't had one (tobacco) cig, even when I'm hanging out with my buddies who smokle/after a big delicious meal/when out drinking. All three of those are triggers for me, but now, instead of spending the night at the bar negotiating with myself and possibly caving to my craving, I just step out with the smoking gang and puff on my relatively-guiltless substitute.

Yes, it's still nicotine so you're not really quitting, but as my doctor said, and I'm quoting, "It's worse for you than nothing, but it's about a hundred times better for you than a cigarette." I'll take it. In six months or two years or whatever, I'll be off the stuff altogether. In the meantime, it's a mighty decent binky. Given that I still get to inhale my stupid precious intoxicant nicotine (albeit at much lower levels than are contained in a real cigarette), it's pretty great that I no longer am short of breath when running for a block, and I no longer get those godawful hangovers that would have been bad enough, but were compounded by the dozen cigarettes I smoked the night before.

Like IndpMed, I date someone who abhors smoking. So the e-cig solution, while temporary, has also reduced stress on the homefront -- the smell of the vapor produced is barely detectible and dissipates in seconds, rather than lingering in your sheets and clothes for weeks.

(Marlboro Blue: I've bought several models from cignot.com. Some have broken, but I'd still say they're a good company to buy from. Alternately, you can get less-good versions in lots of corner stores in NYC -- wouldn't be surprised if 7-11 carries them, too. Whether you get the fancier version or the flimsier bodega ones, it's going to cost less than the price of two or three packs in Manhattan, so there's that plus, too).

Good luck!
posted by andromache at 7:59 AM on January 23, 2012

About a week after I had quit smoking, I had a really distressing incident where some guy took advantage of the fact that we were all wedged into the bus in our winter coats and leaned forward and licked my ear. It was really unpleasant, and as I got off the bus I detoured past the Cigarettes Cheaper place and thought "fuck it, nobody can say I don't deserve a cigarette after that nonsense." But then I had a moment of clarity and realized: deserve has nothing to do with it. I want to not be a smoker any more. People who don't smoke don't smoke, not even when something really upsetting happens. They cope in other ways.

so, that's the best I can offer. Maybe before you smoke, you could roll all your paper money up in a roll and wrap it in a note that says "YOU DON'T SMOKE" and then put a rubber band around it a million times, so that you have to spend some time actually literally wrestling with the decision to buy a pack? You just need enough time to remember that you don't need to buy cigarettes, because you don't smoke any more.
posted by KathrynT at 8:09 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Like The Toad, I had to stop drinking for a while to make sure I didn't smoke. I also found it took a couple years to break the association. I can drink now without the slightest craving, so it's not like you won't be able to drink ever again.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:02 AM on January 23, 2012

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