Sunday, 9 October 2016

Alcohol and Nicotine

Looking back now at my addiction to vino, it strikes me how identical it was to my addiction to nicotine.

And, funnily enough, my old smoker friends, who were also hooked on a packet a day (at least), are the exact same ones struggling with booze now.

What about those really annoying 'social smokers' (Mr SM was one of these) who'd steal one of your last, precious, Marlboro Lights at a party*, then not smoke for days?

(*Known in 1980s England as 'bumming a fag'. That's an expression that doesn't translate well to American).

They're the ones who slowly savour one glass of wine with dinner then stop. Happily. Damn their eyes.

The last smoking years were much like the final years of drinking: I tried again and again to quit, sometimes only lasting a day or two, sometimes weeks or months.

I, once, managed to quit for a whole year, decided I'd cracked it and could live life henceforth happily as a moderate, 'social' smoker. Ho Ho. Two weeks later and I was back on thirty a day.

I wasn't enjoying my habit any longer - it was making me cough, it was making me smell, and my nails, teeth and skin were turning yellow. I hated myself for my lack of willpower.

But the main reason I knew I had to quit smoking was that it had started messing with my head.

I would leave parties early and walk for miles to find a twenty-four hour garage selling cigarettes, rather than stay without my smokes.

I would wrap up a client meeting early on some feeble excuse so that I could squash the edgy feeling. I would avoid any no-smoking restaurants like the plague. I was very cautious about actually making friends with a non-smoker.

Is this ringing any bells? Because that's exactly how I was, by the end, with booze.

And quitting the ciggies was just like quitting booze: a few weeks of uncomfortable, bordering on unbearable, physical withdrawal, followed by months of feeling edgy, obsessed and not knowing what to do with my hands.

I didn't know how to deal with stress, fear, boredom, celebration - anything - without lighting up.

But, instead of replacing my trusty smokes with something healthy like exercise, mindfulness or yoga, I found something altogether easier and more familiar: WINE!

Oh, the irony.

There is, however, one huge difference between my two favourite addictions: other people.

When I quit smoking everyone understood. They all - even the avid smokers like myself - knew that cigarettes were evil, that they were killing us.

No-one thought that I was weird and had a problem - they understood that I'd just been trapped (like millions of others) by a highly addictive drug.

There's loads of help out there for the quitting smoker - the encouragement of friends and family, free support groups, hypnotherapy, patches, gum, inhalers, e-cigs.

Nobody expects you to huddle anonymously in church halls berating yourself and blaming your situation on a disease.

But here's the good news: now I look at smokers and I don't envy them at all. Not even the tiniest bit. I think you poor, poor fellows. If only you knew how much simpler, healthier and more peaceful life is without the tyranny of nicotine...

....and I'm starting to feel the same way about booze, too.

Maybe, one day, society will support and cheer the quitting drinker in the same was as the quitting smoker.

Alcohol and nicotine - they are just the same.

Love SM x


  1. It is true what you say about the different ways society views nicotine addiction and alcohol addiction. Everyone understands why people smoke- cigarettes have been heavily marketed, cigarettes are addictive and cigarette companies have vested interests to keep you hooked.

    People view those with alcohol issues as weak,amoral,selfish.

    Yet at it's core, it is the same, and the wine industry has free reign to advertise and promote alcohol.

    No wonder so many of us keep our addictions secret, keep our attempts to stop secret, hate ourselves when we 'fail'.

  2. I most likely did the exact same thing. I quit smoking after I got married because my husband didn't smoke and hated it. I figured my partying days were over and it was time to move on to my new, more responsible life. It was 1998 and by then if you smoked you had to stand outside NYC buildings to do so. At that time there would be 100 people out there at any given time! But one could not help feel shameful standing there killing yourself. I hated it so I finally found it within me to quit.

    I have a feeling that is when my wine consumption increased. I never really realized it but upon reflection.... It was fine, normal, manageable for years until the last 2 when it wasn't.

    It is the exact same thing. I keep hoping I will feel the way you do about not drinking. I am not there yet but hope to be one day. I just know not drinking now is best for me and I can worry about the rest later.

  3. This is so true. I am only on day 8 of quitting the booze and friday night was so hard (especially when my husband returned from work with a bag full of bottles clinking together.) Last night (saturday) seemed easier somehow ( I took your advice on hot chocolate) yet in place of thinking of Pinot Grigio I started obsessing about was Silk Cut though I haven't smoked for years. If I didn't have a broken foot I would have been calling at the 24 hour garage , like the old days.Luckily I couldn't and didn't because as much as I would have kidded myself that I could just have one , that was never going to happen. My envy of social smokers and those who can drink one glass of wine is something I can't deny but I do recognize, at last, this will never be me.

  4. First, while I still experience days when I'd SO like a drink and wolfie whistles ever sooo seductively (about the ONLY wolf whistle I'm likely to hear these days), there are so many more days when the thought no longer even crosses my mind. Weekends have often posed the most difficulty, though I have them generally well-mastered, but I was tickled to realize towards bedtime last nite - a Saturday that had been a long and tiring day - I'd never had the slightest thought of a drink. So do hang in there, those of you still does, oh, it DOES get better!!

    And, SM, another good post, as always. I'm not sure I'd ever stopped to think about the difference in societal responses to drinking v. smoking. Interesting to imagine if there were supportive, hang in there, you can do it, commercial messages about drinking as there are for smoking. I bet it would help a lot of people struggling w the daily witching hour. Meanwhile.....they have YOU!! (Thankfully)

  5. Fabulous post. I quite smoking the last time in 1998. The first time I quit I was 21 and smoked 65 large king size Belmont Milds a day. I used an expensive 12 step program called Smokenders - this was before patches. When I was 30, all my friends started smoking to lose baby weight, and I caved and started again. They made it look so good. That was in 1993 - and I was on and off until I stopped in 1998. With my drinking, this time [day 36!] I feel the same resolve. I think I don't want to go through those early weeks again. I really want to have that mental prep-work behind me. Daily writing in a notebook is helping a lot. I too find it so unfair that when you stop smoking everyone congratulates you, but when you stop drinking - they look at you with surprise, and ask - Really? Why on Earth? That's what high-functioning is like, I guess. We never rolled around on the floor in vomit at parties, and family and friends didn't see the empty wine bottles.

    Sorry to be so long winded - Lois

  6. Another great post SM! I'm determined to stick with this now- you are such a great support!