Abstain from Alcohol, Smoking, and Recreational Drug Use
The Health Benefits of Living Substance-Free
This is probably not the first time you have heard to not drink, smoke, or take drugs. Perhaps you’ve heard it from parents, community leaders, or government-sponsored PSA’s about the war on drugs and to “just say no.” While the science overwhelmingly shows that common recreational substances can be dangerous, people are going to do what they’re going to do.
As such, this article only seeks to share the health benefits of avoiding or quitting alcohol, smoking, and recreational drug use so that you may make more informed decisions on staying healthy. If you need professional help quitting, please seek it.
Finding a Healthy Balance with Alcohol
There aren’t many societal pressures heavier than the pressure to drink. Entire downtowns are organized around the best drinking options, and it’s considered the de facto way both to relax after work and to have fun with friends. However, alcohol simply isn’t a healthy thing to put in your body. Red wine does carry some health benefits, but only in limited situations; the cons tend to outweigh the pros.
For one thing, alcohol holds a lot of empty calories. Besides the hit to your savings when ordering out on the town, if you track your calories for weight loss or general health you’ll quickly find that a few beers is hundreds of calories and one fruity cocktail is equivalent to a small meal.
Cutting out alcohol will also give a huge boost to your energy levels. Alcohol inhibits a number of executive brain functions, even causing memory loss and affecting brain development in underage drinkers or those who frequently blackout. That’s to say nothing of what it does to your reaction time and decision-making capabilities; if you cut out alcohol, you’ll never have to worry about ending up behind the wheel drunk. You’ll also have an easier time falling asleep, and enjoy more restful sleep as well. Plus, when you wake up, you can forget all about those hangovers!
Those who don’t drink or who quit drinking significantly reduce their risk of certain diseases, too. Our livers work hard every day to remove toxins from our bodies. Your liver can metabolize alcohol, but when you drink in excess its supportive enzymes get saturated and start working differently, producing high quantities of free radicals. Free radicals oxidize “bad cholesterol” or LDL, which then deposits on the carotid arteries to form blockages and cirrhosis.
The good news is that in most cases, the liver can repair itself when you stop drinking heavily. The bad news is that alcohol is also a known human carcinogen, meaning it’s been found to cause head and neck, esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal cancers.
For those who are “sober curious,” quitting offers a wealth of benefits. Even just swapping out some drinks for non-alcoholic versions and being more mindful of the people, places, and circumstances that lead to your drinking will help you be a healthier drinker. Plus, virgin drinks and mocktails can be delicious alternatives!
The Health Benefits to Quitting Smoking
If you’re a smoker, one of the best things you can do for your health is quitting. Although this is absolutely easier said than done, the benefits are shockingly great even just a few hours after your last cigarette. Besides reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, poor reproductive health outcomes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, brain aneurysm, and much more including a number of cancers, you can add 10 years back onto your life expectancy.
If you do already have one or more of these conditions, quitting smoking would drastically improve your ability to fight them. Plus, at their high cost, saving the price of a pack a day might help you retire during those 10 years you get back!
While e-cigarettes are a safer way to cut back on nicotine than continuing to smoke traditional carcinogenic cigarettes, they are by no means healthy alternatives. There are an increasing number of studies as our understanding of e-cigs evolves, and they paint a poor picture of the habit. Scientists are finding dangerous levels of heavy metals like nickel and lead in top vape pens. These also commonly use benzene–found in car exhaust–and diacetyl, a flavoring closely linked to lung disease.
In general, smoking means the inhalation of fine particles into your lungs. These particles can be irritants at best, and poisonous chemicals at worst. If second-hand smoke from your cigarette or vape pen isn’t something you would want your loved ones constantly inhaling, it isn’t healthy for you to breathe in either. Thankfully, there are a plethora of judgment-free places you can go for help quitting, such as smokefree.gov.
Stay Safe, Avoid Recreational Drug Use
There is an all-or-nothing sentiment applied to drug use in the US, where education on the effects of drug use is framed around the phrase “not even once.” Besides being unreasonable, this is not an effective way to address the topic. PSA campaigns in Europe have demonstrably proven that educating loved ones on safer drug habits can help ensure that overdoses aren’t fatal, as well as encourage users to seek treatment.
That said, when it comes to your health, any time you don’t use is even better than the time you try to use safely. While each recreational drug has its own effects, most disrupt brain function in areas critical to motivation, memory, learning, judgment, and behavior control. Physical effects can build over time as well, such as an increased heart rate and altered blood sugar levels for recreational marijuana users or high blood pressure and substantially greater risk for a heart attack among recreational cocaine users.
Most recreational drugs also have addictive components that ensure users’ daily life functions are dependent on ever-increasing dosages of the drug. That can deteriorate relationships and job performance as you find yourself dipping into savings to pay for the habit, neglecting your responsibilities to get high, or sneaking around family and friends. By then, quitting is the only way to restore trust and repair relationships–both with loved ones, and your wallet.
In worse cases, overdoses might land you in the hospital or you might receive an infection–like HIV and types of hepatitis–from needles. Since most recreational drugs are illegal, their production is not regulated and you can not be 100% sure of their contents. Impure drugs introduce additional health risks from combination effects, unexpected dosages, and unhealthy filler ingredients–all of which is simply best avoided.
Other long-term effects of casual drug use include mental health problems such as depression or schizophrenia. If you have a history of poor mental health, you are more likely to experience negative effects with recreational drugs. There are plenty of better coping mechanisms out there: there is no shame in talking to your doctor or therapist about your options instead of taking medication into your own hands.
Make Healthy Choices for Your Body
The harsh social reactions often do more to encourage recreational substance abuse than prohibit it, especially as simple human curiosity is behind many peoples’ first use. On the flip side, alcohol and smoking (more recently, vaping) are constantly glamorized, and you may fear ostracization or constant harassment from your social circle for quitting. The simple fact however is that abstinence from alcohol, smoking, and recreational drug use is the best way to avoid a vast range of negative effects to your health–arguably nothing is more important than that.
Knowing the health risks of common recreational substances allows you to make informed decisions for your body and your future. The pressure to use can be great, but the benefits of abstaining are far greater. So as your mom might say, “make healthy choices today!”