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The Three-Link Chain of Addiction: Physical, Mental and Social
By the Quitter's Circle Staff
August 15, 2017

The Three-Link Chain of Addiction: Physical, Mental and Social

Many smokers understand that their addiction to cigarettes is often what makes it difficult to quit. What they might not realize is addiction to cigarettes is complicated. It includes physical, social, and mental aspects - the so-called “three-link chain” of addiction.

Smokers may have a better chance of quitting and staying smokefree if they address all three parts of the chain. Read on to understand what each link in the chain means and how that information may help you tackle the addiction.  

Physical addiction: You may already know that cigarettes contain an addictive chemical called nicotine. In the brain, nicotine causes the release of a chemical called dopamine, making you feel good. But these feelings go away once the nicotine disappears. That leaves your body wanting more, which makes you want another cigarette. Overcoming the physical part of the chain can be difficult, but it is possible. Talking to your doctor about when and how often you smoke can help them determine a treatment plan that can help you manage your quit.

Mental (Behavioral) addiction: Is the act of smoking cigarettes a part of your daily routine? Many smokers light up at specific times of day—such as when drinking coffee or driving—or when they’re feeling a certain way, like stressed or tired. Cigarettes may become a crutch, almost like a steady companion. Quitting smoking often means relearning or adjusting these behaviors, which may be a difficult hurdle to overcome. To start, write down the times and locations in which you smoke most often. Then, plan alternative routes and activities to help you combat those routine urges.  

Social addiction: Many smokers develop social groups around smoking—people will head out for a smoke break with friends or coworkers. Smoking can also be used as a social icebreaker by asking someone: “Got a light?” Going smokefree may mean altering your social groups and reevaluating where you spend your recreational time. But don’t worry – there are so many smokefree activities to try, and ways to make new friends. Instead of taking a smoke break, walk around your workplace with a non-smoking buddy. An added bonus: a new routine and some added exercise to boot!

Overcoming your addiction to cigarettes is possible. Don’t let this chain weigh you down! Make a quit plan that addresses all three aspects of your smoking addiction. Then, you may be well on your way to a smokefree life.


See additional quit smoking resources from our partner American Lung Association.