3 Reasons Why Alcohol and Drugs Make Quitting Harder

Many people who smoke also use drugs, like marijuana and opiates, or drink alcohol, like beer, wine, and liquor. Drinking and using drugs can actually make it harder to quit smoking. There are 3 key reasons why:

  1. Drinking and drug use can be triggers for cigarette smoking
  2. Drinking and drug use change your decision-making power
  3. Drinking and drug use is associated with lower chances of quitting smoking

When you drink, use drugs, and smoke cigarettes, powerful things are happening in your brain. Quitting isn’t just a matter of willpower. Many people have found that it's easier to quit smoking cigarettes when they stop drinking and using drugs at the same time.

When you try to quit smoking cigarettes, it's like going on a hike with a heavy backpack. Bringing alcohol or drugs along adds even more weight. If you leave out the alcohol and drugs, it can make it easier for you to reach your goal.

1. Drinking and drug use can be triggers for smoking

A trigger is something that reminds your brain to smoke. As time goes by, your brain links smoking to the people, places, feelings, and habits connected to it.

Let's say you used to smoke cigarettes while drinking alcohol. Your brain may have connected smoking and drinking. When you drink, your brain expects nicotine, too. So, drinking becomes a trigger that makes you crave smoking. Experiencing triggers makes it harder to stay smoke-free.

2. Drinking and drug use change your decision-making power

Drinking and drug use can lower your inhibition. Inhibition helps you control your decisions. You may have noticed that when you drink or use drugs, you tend to make different choices than you would have made sober. And, you’re more likely to relapse or slip.

3. Drinking and drug use is associated with worse quitting outcomes

Many studies have looked at whether using other drugs affects the success of quitting smoking. Lots of them have concluded that using marijuana, heroin, methadone and suboxone is related to smoking relapse or difficulty quitting. There are many possible reasons for this effect.

  • Nicotine interacts with the chemicals in other drugs to make those drugs feel more rewarding to the brain. This interaction makes it even harder to resist the urge to smoke.
  • Alcohol and tobacco may affect the same part of the brain that is involved in reward, emotion, memory, and cognition. This may be why drinking can cause you to crave a cigarette, and vice versa.
  • Research has shown that when someone develops a tolerance to smoking, it can impact their tolerance to alcohol and vice versa. Tolerance is when a person has to use more of a substance in order to get the same effects.

Next, learn 4 ways to make quitting easier if you also drink or use drugs

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