Everyone likes a good night out now and then, and for many people, this involves having a few drinks. In the modern age, the risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption are well known, but many people continue to believe that they rarely, if ever, drink to excess.
The truth is that very few of us really know for sure how much is too much and when a lifestyle that involves a few social drinks crosses the line into something that could lead to long-term health issues.
For those who still enjoy the occasional cigarette, the topic becomes even more complicated. Of course, everyone is well aware that smoking is a bad idea, and with the increasing cost as well as growing restrictions on where smoking is permitted, many have managed to kick the habit. Having said that, there are still around 40 million smokers in the USA.
When a little becomes a lot
Many doctors acknowledge that there is no harm in a glass of wine or even a cold beer with friends after a long day. Red wine can benefit the heart, and the social and psychological aspect of a relaxing drink once in a while is good for the brain also.
However, it often does not take much for the consumption of alcohol to turn into a problem and for after-work drinks to turn into a habit rather than an occasional treat. One drink can easily become two, three or more.
Studies show that some people are more at risk than others in this respect. If you have an addictive nature, then you will likely find it hard to simply stop at one drink or restrict yourself to having a drink once or twice a week.
The consequences of drinking too much
There are both long-term and short-term consequences to allowing your drinking to become an excessive habit. The most immediate is the risk of alcohol poisoning if you really overdo it, along with the possible danger that you can pose to yourself and others in an intoxicated state. Alcohol makes people far less risk averse and affects their decision making, which is why drinking and driving is such a deadly combination.
Over the long term, one of the most significant risks of drinking too much is damaged liver function. The most frightening aspect is that there are often no external clues to the damage that you are doing until it is too late. This is why it makes sense for anyone who likes a few drinks to get checked by a doctor periodically. You can read more about how to get a liver function test to check that all is functioning as it should be. Identifying any problems at an early stage means that it is easier to treat them successfully.
How about the smoking?
There is really no good news here, and despite the fact that you may see many doctors lurking outside hospitals having a cigarette, none of them will tell you that smoking has any benefits.
In the short term, smoking makes you smell and cough as well as leaves you short of breath. It also burns an enormous hole in your wallet.
In the long term, things do not get any better. Smokers can expect a lifespan of up to 20 years shorter than non-smokers, and they have a dramatically increased risk of lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema.
Perhaps the most telling factor is that familiar image of health professionals standing in the hospital parking lot getting their regular nicotine fix. If they can’t stop, then is there any hope for the rest of us?
What to do?
The good news is that there is a huge variety of help available to those who need it. In some respects, it is easier for smokers to quit their habit. Although cigarettes are, according to some, even more addictive than heroin, there is a certain admiration for people who try to give them up. Friends and family often rally around in support as the recovering smoker either cuts back or opts for electronic cigarettes instead.
Compare the nobility of overcoming your cigarette addiction with the thought of saying that you are battling an alcohol addiction, and the issue of public perception comes into sharp focus.
Our complicated relationship with alcohol stems from the social acceptability of drinking, and by far the most difficult stage in resolving a drinking problem is admitting to yourself and others that it exists in the first place. Cross that hurdle, and you are more than halfway there.