Is Someone You Love Harming Their Health?

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on December 18, 2018

You love your sister and father. But sometimes they make you want to scream.

They smoke up a storm. Or they drink too much. Or they believe potato chips and corn chips really are vegetables.

You’re afraid they’re going to significantly shorten their life.

But is it up to you to say something? And if so, how to do it tactfully? And effectively?

Cutting a Life Short

“We all seem to know someone who’s a great person but who just doesn’t take care of him or herself,” said Angela Nardecchia, Ph.D., a Carilion Clinic psychologist.

“Many people don’t want to consider that their actions have negative consequences, for themselves or for those around them,” she said. “They just hope things work out.”

“The problem is that unhealthy behavior can take years off their life if they don’t start making some changes, which means making different choices,” she added. “Healthier, daily choices can help people live their best life. How energetic can you feel if you never exercise, for instance, or if your diet is full of high-fat, high-carbohydrate snack foods?”

Whether it’s a family member or a friend, what can you do?

“Choose a time when you’re both relaxed and have at least a half-hour to an hour to talk about how much you care and how you would like to have this person in your life for as long as possible," Dr. Nardecchia advised. "Summarize your concerns and how you are available for support.”

“Your friend or family member will probably get upset or defensive," she said. "You will need to stay calm and take the time to discuss the unhealthy or negative behavior, explore some positive behavior options and resources, and reassure them that you care about them and want to help.”

And of course you don’t want to judge or preach to them. None of us, after all, is perfect.

Smoking

If smoking is the problem, let them know how it can ravage the body. According to the American Lung Association, smoking can cause:

  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Vision problems
  • Asthma
  • Reproductive problems
  • Premature, low birth-weight babies
  • More than 10 other types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer and cancer of the liver, stomach, cervix and colon

And don’t forget that vaping also exposes users to nicotine and possibly other toxins, according to researchers. The short- and long-term consequences of vaping are said to be unclear.

Drinking to Excess

If you’re worried about someone drinking too much, let them know how it can harm them. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says alcohol can:

  • Damage the heart
  • Affect your brain
  • Disrupt mood and behavior
  • Lead to heart arrhythmias and other heart problems
  • Damage the liver
  • Lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous swelling of blood vessels in the pancreas
  • Elevate blood pressure
  • Set the stage for a stroke
  • Weaken the immune system

“Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk,” the Institute said.

It also warns of a link between drinking alcohol and these cancers:

  • Head and neck
  • Esophageal
  • Breast
  • Colorectal
  • Liver

Taking Drugs

If the person you care about is using drugs, there are many ways they can be harmed.

They are at greater risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C if they share needles with others. “Addiction and HIV/AIDs are intertwined epidemics,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The NID also warns of these dangers of drug addiction:

  • Heart infections due to exposure to bacteria during injections
  • Skin infections (cellulitis) for the same reason
  • A variety of sexually transmitted diseases (if you have unsafe sex when your judgment is impaired)
  • Greater risk of motor vehicle accidents
  • Risk of triggering or aggravating known mental health conditions
  • A pregnant woman’s drug use may cause withdrawal in her baby

Then of course there is every family’s nightmare: the danger of a drug overdose and death.  

Obesity

For most body types, having a body mass index (your height compared to your weight) over 30 is considered bad for your health and is medically called obesity. While it may seem minor when compared to drug or alcohol abuse, what you choose to eat compared to how active you are can have its own health risks. 

The National Institutes of Health says being obese can increase your risk for such problems as:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Certain cancers
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Problems in pregnancy, such as high blood sugar

Lack of exercise

We are meant to move. If we’re too sedentary, it can definitely affect our health.

Notably, regular exercise can reduce our risk of:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes

Happily, it also can:

  • Strengthen the heart
  • Manage blood sugar levels
  • Regulate blood pressure
  • Help prevent cancer
  • Strengthen bones
  • Control weight
  • Improve your mood
  • Keep your brain sharp

Even if you exercise regularly, though, you still need to watch your weight.

Be There for Them

When you wrap up your talk with your loved one, do offer to help in any way you can. If he or she needs to exercise, offer to go on walks with them. Or to the gym.

Help a smoker take his mind off smoking by doing a fun activity together—maybe seeing a movie.

If weight is the problem, offer to help your friend or family member shop for and cook healthier food.

You get the idea.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt to let them know which of their qualities and habits you do admire.

If they believe you do genuinely value them, it can go a long way in easing the sting of being told they should change.

Most of all—let them know you’re always there to help or talk.
 
Exercise is good for your brain, too.