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What are healthier alternatives to smoking/drinking/any other substance abuse

October 14, 2021
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

Most of us know of at least one friend or a relative who smokes cigarettes or drinks alcohol or both. Some of us even know of people who may or may not be from within our friend or family circle, who abuse other forms of illegal substances like cannabis. In fact, over 160 million Indians consume alcohol, approximately 120 million Indians smoke cigarettes or bidis and around 5 million Indians abuse illicit cannabis products such as ganja and charas.

This is a new reality, Indians are getting increasingly addicted to cigarettes, alcohol and other illegal substances. The rapidly changing pace of life, the stressful environment at work, societal image, peer pressure and the wide acceptance of consumption of these substances are some of the reasons for the rise in the consumption of cigarettes, alcohol and other illicit substances.

So, how can we bring this number down? How can we stop ourselves or others from abusing these substances that are damaging to our health? The answer lies in finding the trigger that prompts us to abuse these substances.

 Identifying Triggers that lead to consumption of cigarettes, alcohol and other illicit substances

 Cigarettes, Alcohol and illicit substances may differ in form and usage; however, the after-effect of its consumption is always the same, a feeling of high caused by the rush of dopamine in the brain. Here are some of the most common triggers that are often shared by the consumers of either or all of these substances:

·   A stressful day at work/ long tiresome meetings

·   Working on big projects either alone or with colleagues who smoke/drink  

·   An argument with a friend/colleague/partner/spouse

·   After hours work for get-together or parties

·   Being alone at home, especially at nights

·   Boredom and inactivity

When it comes to smoking cigarettes there are a few extra triggers that are not often shared by consumers of alcohol and illicit substance abusers. They are, smoking cigarettes first thing in the morning to pass motion, having coffee or tea or finishing a meal, coffee breaks at the office, waiting for someone to arrive or when travelling to and from a place. 

How to deal with the triggers

Once a person has identified their triggers for smoking/drinking or abusing illicit drugs, then they can take the next step which is, dealing with the triggers. Often there are two types of triggers that a person has to deal with; External trigger and Internal trigger.

External triggers like going to parties, work get-together, office breaks are more predictable and hence avoidable. Tell your friends and family that you have quit and no longer wish to partake in smoking and drinking. Choose not to go to the smoke room or step outside to smoke cigarettes. Go for non-alcoholic drinks and mocktails when out drinking with friends. There is a neat trick to avoid alcohol when out with friends who are insistent on you drinking; just speak to the bartender and request to be served a non-alcoholic version of whatever your friends are having (visually it’s hard to differentiate between apple juice and whiskey or vodka and water). If your close friends or relatives are smoking a joint, then either leave the room or the party altogether. Remember, your well-being is your first priority.

Internal triggers are more complex and difficult to deal with. Often people with a lot of internal triggers are also dealing with mental health issues. People with depression are twice as likely to consume cigarettes, alcohol and illicit substances. Dopamine (a chemical released in the brain) is involved in triggering positive feelings. This chemical secretion is often found in less quantity in people with depression. Although, not knowingly, they may then use cigarettes, alcohol and other illicit substances as a way of temporarily increasing their dopamine level. However, most addictive substances like cigarettes, alcohol and drugs cause the brain to shut off its own dopamine-producing mechanism, which in turn causes people to continue consuming these substances.

Giving up drinking, smoking and drugs is always difficult, but it’s particularly challenging for people with depression and other mental ailments. The withdrawal symptoms are more severe and it’s best for the person to have a great support system like family, friends or a good therapist. You can find out more and get in touch with therapists or rehab centres in India on Rehabpath.

Healthier Alternatives to Smoking, Drinking and other Substance Abuse

Addiction to cigarettes, alcohol and other illicit drugs don’t just harm a person’s health but also reduce the quality of their life. Careers can get derailed; relationships can get strained and people with addiction may find themselves alone and more dependent on these substances than before. Hence, it is wise to quit before one finds themselves addicted to these substances. If you or anyone you know is trying to quit then any of these healthier alternatives may be useful.

Get a new hobby: Often people reach out for cigarettes, alcohol or drugs out of boredom, loneliness or painful/stressful experiences.  A new hobby can help you to control that impulse. For e.g., Read an inspiring poem, every time you feel like giving in to your vice.

Get moving: Exercise is a much healthier way to get high than smoking/drinking or drugs. Energetic physical activities stimulate the brain to release chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin all of which play a great role in regulating mood and making one feel good.

Get a good substitute: The first few weeks are the toughest. If you are a smoker, then ensure that you always have chewing gum with you. If you like to drink then have some non-alcoholic beverage stocked at your place. The substitute that you choose for yourself should be healthy.

Get busy: If hobbies or exercise are not your things, then there are other ways to distract yourself. The key is to always keep yourself busy. Volunteer your services to a charitable cause or go for a hike or even learn a new language or course.

How to Stay Consistent on the Path of Good Health

Don’t let an occasional slip-up get you spiralling out of control. Just get back on track and pick up from where you left. Remember the reasons why you have quit and also access your feelings. If you feel that you lit that cigarette or had that glass of whiskey or abused some drug because you were feeling lost and lonely, then immediately seek guidance. Speak to a friend or a family member or your therapist and resolve the underlying issue so that you may not stray again. If your slip-up was because you were at a party and got carried away, then just be more careful the next time around you are at such a party.  

Follow a healthy lifestyle of exercise, a good diet and proper sleep. It will keep you focused and full of energy. If you ever feel that your chosen alternative is not working for you then seek other alternatives or seek help. Remember, there is always support. All you need to do is to seek it.