For many smokers, drinking and lighting up a cigarette go hand-in-hand, which is why Dry January could be the golden opportunity to quit. We asked Andrew Misell, Director for Wales, Alcohol Change UK, about the relationship between drinking and smoking and why the two habits often feed off each other.
What is the relationship between smoking and drinking alcohol. Do smoking and drinking tend to go hand-in-hand?
Smoking was at one time very much rooted in pub culture, and people would expect to be able to smoke whilst out drinking. All that’s changed over the last ten or so years, but alcohol and tobacco still go hand-in-hand for a lot of us. People who drink heavily are more likely to smoke, and smokers tend to drink alcohol more often and more heavily than non-smokers.
How can drinking make it more difficult for smokers to give up?
There is some evidence that people who drink alcohol find it more difficult to quit smoking than those who don’t drink. One reason for this is probably that alcohol makes us less cautious and less inclined to stick to commitments or worry about consequences. We may also be in the habit of drinking and smoking at the same time, and so having an alcoholic drink may feel like a ‘trigger’ to have a cigarette.
Does the social side of drinking affect smokers’ ability to give up cigarettes?
If you’re part of a social group that tends to drink and smoke together, that can make it harder to avoid smoking. It’s a tricky one, because no one wants to ditch their mates in order to improve their health. In the end, it’s a matter of self-confidence – making clear to your friends that you’re cutting back or giving up, that it’s no judgement on their smoking or drinking habits, but that they need to support you in your choices.
Why is Dry January a good opportunity for smokers to consider giving up their habit?
The main aim of Dry January is to encourage those of us who drink to take a pause for thought – to reset the clock on our drinking. Some smokers might think that dealing with one thing at a time is plenty to be getting on with. Trying to stop smoking and drinking in the same month might seem like a bit too much all at once. On the other hand, Dry January could provide you with a chance to think about whether your smoking and drinking habits are feeding off each other and about whether drinking is undermining your will to quit smoking.
Could you summarise the combined health benefits of giving up smoking and drinking?
Both smoking and drinking increase the chances of developing various forms of cancer, and taken together they make the risk of illness even higher. One obvious example is liver cancer, which is a particularly high risk for anyone who drinks and smokes. Cutting back on drinking and giving up smoking will reduce your cancer risk and improve your general cardiovascular health – reducing your risk of a heart attack or a stroke.
If you are a smoker who would like to quit, there is support available from NHS Wales’ Help Me Quit service. Contact Help Me Quit on 0800 085 2219.
Our new Facebook page Quit Smoking (Wales) provides access to an online community of smokers and ex-smokers in Wales and an opportunity for people to share their experiences of quitting smoking.
If you would like to become a member of the group visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/733935793649137/.