This blog post is brought to you by the Maine Prevention Network, an initiative of the Maine CDC.
Family gatherings, reunions with friends and the onset of daylight savings elicit a range of
emotions, and old habits can come out to play. Smoking and drinking is a means of connection
for some, but the hangovers and regrettable decisions often say otherwise in hindsight. Why do
drinking or smoking habits persist despite all our best efforts to quit using them? As the holiday
season draws closer and days get shorter, we reflect here on how our substance use affects our
lives, why, and what we can do about it.
When you inhale cigarette smoke, you are inhaling cancer-causing chemicals. The smoke also damages lung tissue and the cardiovascular system. Alcohol is similar. It causes a suite of
illnesses and disrupts the body’s cells ability to grow and repair themselves. Both tobacco and alcohol use can lead to illness, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, organ failure and chronic respiratory illnesses. Our friends and family members who are exposed to secondhand smoke are also at risk of developing these same conditions.
Co-Use of Alcohol & Tobacco
The real kicker is that alcohol and nicotine can influence each other. When we have a habit of
using both at the same time, our brains associate one with the other. Smelling smoke can trigger
a craving for a beer, or, having a mixed drink can make you feel the itch to step outside for a
smoke. This can be such a challenge during quit attempts! Every tobacco product smoked or
chewed can trigger a desire to drink alcohol. Quit attempts can take many tries, and avoiding
both products at the same time can lead to better success.
Nicotine also increases tolerance to alcohol, and vice versa. For example, someone could drink a
few alcoholic beverages to numb feelings or avoid stress after a hard work week. Using a
tobacco product alongside this will escalate the amount of drinks needed to stay in this mindset.
We usually refer to this as building a tolerance, however the negative effects of binging both
tobacco and alcohol compounds damage in our organs.
Strategies for cutting back during the holidays
With the wide availability of alcohol and tobacco products plus their constant inclusion in social
settings, using less can be challenging. A great first step is just thinking about what experiences
your annual gatherings bring and how you fit into them. As the holidays approach, consider these
questions ahead of time.
Will alcohol be served at any of the holiday gatherings?
Will anyone be smoking?
What are my feelings around this gathering? Stress and disappointment or excitement and connection?
Will these feelings give me the urge to use tobacco and/or alcohol more or less?
Should I leave the gathering early to avoid excessive drinking and/or smoking?
What’s my plan to use less tobacco and/or alcohol?
Who of my friends and family members can I count on for support to use less?
Quitting or cutting back on tobacco and/or alcohol takes time and practice. It is a personal
journey, and can take many tries!
A great resource for supporting adults through any tobacco quit attempt is the Maine QuitLink at 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Quit coaches are available for FREE 1-on-1 support to help you plan and reach your quit goals.
Want to double your odds of quitting for good? The QuitLink provides FREE Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) for each quit attempt. This includes nicotine patches, gum or lozenges.
For support with quitting alcohol, calling 2-1-1 is a great start to find resources in your area.
Celebrating progress in our journeys to better health is worth sharing, so consider this resource
for yourself or someone else this holiday season. The days may be dark, but our communities can
shine a light.