And, For Some, Way More Difficult To Quit.
“Better the devils you know than the one you don’t.”
― Janet Mullany
The smoking industry has been made out to be the wicked witch of the west for our society today. Once seen as the coolest thing that one could do in the movies, and subsequently, real-life, now smoking is seen as akin to eating McDonald’s every day.
Everyone knows it may feel good at the moment, but it WILL eventually kill you.
My wife and I joke about how now we often look at people who smoke as the type of people who just don’t give a f*ck about anything in life, which I can respect a bit.
However, when not giving a f*ck results in the possibility of shortening my life span by at least 10 years, then I’m going to have to care just a little bit.
With that being said, how could I then say that alcohol could be worse than smoking?
While it is true that smoking has the ultimate effect of shortenings one’s life, (It’s the leading cause of preventable deaths at 480,000 per year) there are a number of other more long term effects that alcohol causes that could make it much more dangerous in the long run.
LASTING IMPAIRMENT ON LEARNING AND GROWTH
Cigarettes cause a number of health effects that can’t be second-guessed as much worse for you than alcohol in the short term. Smoking is HIGHLY addictive, as nicotine can affect your brain in 15 seconds from the first inhale.
Couple this with the fact that nicotine is the third most addictive drug in the world (behind heroin and cocaine), and there is no room for doubt that the potent effects of alcohol are a force with which to be reckoned.
What possibly makes alcohol much worse, however, is its strong neurological influence on your brain. As shared in, How Alcohol KILLS Your Ability to Learn and How to Fix It, the continuous cycle of short-term memory loss caused by state-dependent learning makes it extremely challenging to pick up some new skill or concept that could change one’s trajectory in work or life.
And this effect doesn’t just end when you stop drinking. It can stay with you for some time, as the lasting effect of alcohol on your memory makes it more challenging to grasp difficult concepts over time due to a shrinking hippocampus.
This effect can hold you back in a number of different ways as it relates to obtaining various skills you may be pursuing for some personal or professional goal. Whether it’s to improve at a hobby or accomplish some goal at work, the ability to learn and continue to grow can be severely impacted due to alcohol.
In contrast, smoking has little to no effect on your brain’s ability to learn and grow but only creates the intense addictive behavior caused by nicotine‘s manipulation of your brain’s dopamine neurotransmitters.
And while there is science suggesting smoking does increase the thinning of your brain’s memory cortex with age, this effect is not realized until much later in life, as opposed to alcohol’s effect on your memory immediately.
LASTING NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF BAD DECISIONS
While no one can deny the harmful effects of smoking on various aspects of our health over time, I would venture that very few people ever uttered the words, “Smoking made me do it.”
Yet, you hear this excuse all the time to explain a number of bad behaviors by individuals on various different occasions.
Although smoking is an addictive behavior that is physically and mentally difficult to quit, alcohol is the cause of a number of behaviors that could potentially be way more detrimental than the immediate effects of smoking on your life.
While drinking, how many people have committed some act that changed their lives forever?
Whether it was getting arrested for a DUI, breaking up with a loved one because of an act of infidelity, or getting into a physical altercation that turns tragic, there are a number of situations, mostly caused by alcohol, that could ruin a person’s life with one decision.
According to studies, alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes. And while you may think this only happens to heavy chronic drinkers, that is not necessarily the case.
This can happen to anyone, as alcohol completely alters your ability to think through long term decisions due to the lowering of your inhibitions based on the increase in your GABA receptors and impairment of our prefrontal cortex when you drink.
This is part of the reason why you might find yourself a bit more aggressive than usual when you’re drinking. This also relates to the flood of dopamine in your brain and how it connects to your feeling of wanting to be right in an argument.
When you “win” an argument while drinking, your brain is flooded with an intense amount of dopamine and increases your desire to win more arguments in this stage in the future.
It only takes one of these episodes in which you say something to the wrong person who also has an impaired prefrontal cortex for you to end up in a situation that could turn out more treacherous than anything you had planned for your Friday night.
Pair these types of scenarios with mistakes made in relationships while drinking or the decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle when you’re inebriated, and you are talking about things that can never be taken back and will stay with you forever.
While smoking is not ideal, you always have the ability to quit and get much of your life back to what it may have been before. However, with alcohol, your life can completely change in the blink of an eye, and there is often nothing you can do that will ever make it the same.
AND YOU CAN STILL DIE EARLY
If the first two reasons weren’t enough, there is still the pesky fact alcohol can have almost as much of a negative effect on your life expectancy as smoking can.
While smoking does win out in the time frame by having an expectant life reduction of at least 10 years, alcohol isn’t too far behind.
The daily recommended amount is anywhere between 7–14 drinks per week (depending on your gender), and it has been estimated that drinking anywhere from 10–15 drinks per week could shorten your life by one to two years, while 18 drinks or more could reduce it by four or five years.
Also, with smoking, your life’s shortening takes place over time with consistent daily smoking. Alcohol, on the other hand, poses a number of drastic life reduction risk that can happen pretty much at any time related to the amount of alcohol you consume at any given moment.
First, alcohol has been connected to a number of diseases that could lead to premature death. Across the board, alcohol has been connected to medical issues such as a stroke, damage to the heart, high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, and cancer of the liver, heart, throat, colon, breast, and esophagus.
Add this to the fact that alcohol abuse could lead to a weakened immune system and an increased chance of suicide based on alcohol’s exacerbation of depression, and you get the basis for a study done in 2014 in Sweden, Finland, and Denmark that showed life expectancy could be reduced to anywhere between 24 to 28 years for those who suffer from alcohol abuse.
WHY IS IT SO HARD TO QUIT
Even knowing all of this, alcohol can still much more difficult to quit than smoking due to the current positive view of alcohol as opposed to the fear that has been instilled in us from smoking.
With only 13.7 percent of the U.S. population identifying themselves as smokers, it appears that many people have come to grips with the dangers of smoking and the risk at which they put themselves by doing so.
However, as it relates to alcohol, this number is way higher, as about 70 percent of the population say they had a drink within the past year and 55.3 percent say they had a drink in the last month.
Much of this is related to how smoking is now seen as the harbinger of death, while alcohol is seen as harmless to society as long as you don’t cross over into the realm of alcoholism.
This view has created a number of people who are well over the 7–14 daily limit who feel they are fine because they don’t truly understand how they are slowly falling into the alcohol trap.
While you have smokers who are constantly trying to quit and looking at various ways to do so, many people don’t even think about quitting alcohol because they either see it as harmless or a necessary part of life.
Since they have been programmed almost since childhood to accept it, they never even CONSIDER if they should be drinking.
This makes it a much more silent killer that so many people don’t even consider quitting until it becomes a major issue that has them probably one or two steps away from alcoholism.
And by this time, it’s not only as bad as smoking because of its health effects, it’s probably as addictive as well.