If you’re in the habit of smoking only when you drink and hang out with friends, you’re a social smoker and you may think that you aren’t harming your health. This kind of intermittent smoking may not be as risky as daily smoking, but it may be causing more damage than you realize. If alcohol is your trigger for smoking, it may be time to rethink how you drink.
The Intermittent, or Social, Smoker
An intermittent smoker is anyone who smokes but doesn’t do so every day. The social smoker is the most common type of intermittent smoker, and for many this pattern is fueled by alcohol as well as social contact. If this sounds like you, you probably don’t ever smoke alone. You may buy an occasional pack of cigarettes or just bum them from friends who smoke. You smoke when out at bars, parties or clubs with friends and when you’re all drinking. Young people, women and educated people are most likely to be intermittent smokers, and among young people especially, this type of smoking is often associated with binge drinking.
How Social Smoking Is Harming Your Health
If you fit the description of a social, intermittent smoker, you’re far from alone. While heavy and regular smoking has been on the decline for decades, intermittent smoking has been increasing. Most social smokers assume that their habit is not posing any health risk, and if that sounds like you, it’s time to wake up and realize what you’re doing to your body:
- Smoking just one to five days each month can lead to coughing and difficulty breathing.
- For women, light and intermittent smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
- After one or two cigarettes, your blood pressure spikes.
- Just 30 minutes of exposure to cigarette smoke causes heart damage.
- Smoking any amount of cigarettes exposes you to over 4,000 chemicals, including heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic.
- Mortality risk increases for intermittent smokers as compared to nonsmokers.
- Intermittent smokers are at risk of becoming addicted to nicotine.
Alcohol and Social Smoking
It’s not just hanging around with friends that precipitates social smoking. Alcohol is a common trigger. When you drink, do you feel like having a cigarette? Do you associate drinking with smoking? Are you more likely to smoke while drinking than not? If so, alcohol is an important trigger for you and is causing you harm by leading you to smoke. If your drinking in itself isn’t problematic, you can try to simply not smoke when you hang out and drink with friends. It will be hard at first, but replace it with something else, like a healthy snack. Tell your friends that you are trying not to smoke and let them hold you accountable. The more you drink, the more likely you will be to give in and have a cigarette. If you find that this happens, you should cut back on your drinking. Set a limit before you go out. If you usually give in to the craving for a smoke after three drinks, set a limit of two. If this strategy doesn’t work, you may need to stop drinking or only hang out with your friends in places where you can’t smoke. One factor is making social smoking more difficult: more states and municipalities are banning smoking in public places, including bars. But if you’re still finding ways to smoke while drinking and socializing, you need to make a change.