Most people have their first encounter with cigarette smoking after a friend or classmate in their younger years had invited them.
For smokers that start a bit later in life, it’s often because many of their close associates are doing it – you’re not ‘part of the tribe’ if you aren’t smoking socially.
Some ‘luckier’ smokers only associate lighting a cigarette whenever they’re out drinking with friends. While they’re not smoking daily (only during the consumption of alcohol during parties) it makes little difference to how cigarettes negatively impact their health.
Peer pressure and a sense of belonging are all factors in the psychology behind social smoking. While we might see them first as the cause or ‘push’ that urged a smoker to start, they also hold the key to helping motivated smokers quit for good.
Chat to an Aussie GP today
Friendly phone consultations
TGA-authorised Aussie doctors
Nicotine vaping scripts available
In this post, we’ll explore the psychology behind social smoking and how it could be helpful in motivating smokers to quit.
What Is Social Smoking?
It’s part of human nature to crave belongingness and have social interaction with each other.
But sometimes, the need to belong or to please others to feel good about one’s self urges some to let others overstep their boundaries and influence their behaviour.
To look cool, teens (and even children) have historically tried puffing a cigarette after a desired friend or friend group urges them to.
Most successful quitters are greatly pulled in by nostalgic memories of pairing alcohol with cigarettes while exchanging fun stories with peers during get-togethers and parties.
All of these are a form of social smoking.
Does Social Smoking Affect Your Health? The Effects of Smoking Socially
A smoker can say that they “only smoke when I have friends around” but don’t consume tobacco once they’re gone – they were only smoking to relieve their social anxiety.
After a party, a social smoker who had successfully quit for a year could mention they aren’t smoking at home at all – it was all ‘just during the party.’
Unfortunately, all kinds of smoking, no matter how infrequent or rare, still endangers your health. It’s much more dangerous if you’re drinking too much and socially smoking more often.
The most dangerous consequence of smoking even one stick is the rush you feel and the ‘high’ that accompanies it – a feeling that’s addictive and may urge you to continue smoking even without social triggers, such as alcohol, peer pressure, or work break chat.
Is Social Smoking As Bad As Regular Smoking?
Social smokers often claim ‘It was just this one time I lit a stick.” As mentioned, a single stick is enough to get you hooked on cigarettes – successful quitters can end up relapsing after taking just one puff during a party.
Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical that leads to even the most motivated smokers having cravings that strongly urge them to buy a pack of cigarettes, despite their budget or desire to quit.
The sudden absence of nicotine in your system can cause mood swings, hormonal imbalances, and other changes, making it seem extremely challenging to quit – especially if you’ve been smoking for a long time.
This is why nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as patches, gums, and lozenges are helpful in alleviating the withdrawal symptoms of motivated smokers.
If you don’t want to go through NRT or feel the dangerous consequences of prolonged smoking, it’s best to avoid social smoking and stick with having nothing to do with cigarettes, or using other alternatives if you’re on a quit journey (more on this later).
How To Quit Running In The Same Circles
Nicotine addiction, just like any addiction, can stop not through extremely hard effort, but by being mindful and recognising the pattern arising from repeated consumption.
It is once you realise that you expect something to change but continue to repeat your actions that change actually occurs – after that comes the biggest payoffs for even the smallest of efforts.
To try an exercise, the next time you’re offered a cigarette by a friend or colleague, tell them you’ll take a minute and maybe join them a bit later. Just let the idea of lighting it later stick with you for a few minutes.
This short interval can make you realise that you don’t need to consume tobacco right now. In any case, this small effort has helped you break a pattern that repeats itself – lighting up one whenever you’re offered.
To quit running in the unhealthy cycle of social smoking, you can follow these steps:
- Chip Away at Your Pattern: Offered a cigarette? Consider ‘skipping’ just this one. Craving a smoke while consuming alcohol? Try sitting inside where you can’t smoke, and nobody around you is smoking.
- Are You Really Satisfied: Most social smokers only do so to feel like they belong. Do you have strong commonalities with your friends or colleagues, or is it just because you light one up together during work breaks or parties?
- Surfing Your Urges: ‘Urge surfing’ is a great way to keep temptations at bay. Similar to step number 1, all you need to do is delay acting on your urge to smoke during a social gathering.
- Phone a Friend: Quitting smoking with a friend makes the entire endeavour so much easier. Attend parties or social gatherings with this friend whenever possible and help each other stop smoking for good.
How to Quit Smoking Permanently
If you’re a motivated smoker trying to quit the habit regardless of triggers, you can go through the following steps to get started in no time.
Go Through First-Line Solutions First
Some motivated smokers can handle cold turkey just fine and see success within a few tries, but oftentimes, smokers have strong withdrawals that can draw them back to lighting a stick.
That’s where nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products come in. These are readily available and stocked at your local pharmacy.
NRT products are the most trusted quitting option available for motivated smokers. They might not imitate cigarettes, but they contain a small dose of nicotine that may be enough to alleviate your withdrawals. These come in the form of patches and gums for easy and convenient nicotine delivery.
While NRTs can be effective, they don’t work for everyone. If these haven’t done the trick for you, you may now be eligible for a nicotine prescription to use nicotine vaping products (NVPs).
Chat to a GP
As mentioned, NRT products have worked for many successful ex-smokers. But, you might have ingrained behaviours and triggers that only something that mimics a cigarette can successfully address, such as the hand-to-mouth motion, and needing something to use while having a drink with friends.
That is where NVPs become very handy in helping you fight the urge to consume tobacco.
You need a nicotine prescription before you can purchase NVPs, so you’ll need to consult with a GP to help you on your smoking cessation journey.
And, if your GP deems it necessary, they can write you a nicotine prescription for NVPs.
You can chat to your usual GP more about this.
Visit Your Local Pharmacy
Once you have your nicotine prescription, you can pop down to your local pharmacy. Over 2,200 pharmacies across Australia hold these products in-store, but any pharmacy can order these in for you if they don’t currently stock them.
Both your pharmacist and GP can advise you on how best to use the product, such as the initial setup, and the number of puffs to take when you feel withdrawals.
Quitting social smoking might seem easy with fewer, infrequent triggers, but it’s still greatly challenging due to the influence of friends and colleagues. But, with a little mindfulness and effort, you’re well on your way to stopping smoking for good.
In fact, now that you’re reading this part of the post, you’re already past the starting line.
Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good.