Harmful Habits 3. 3. 4

Author: Danijela Majcenovič Cipot, Ilona Koval Grubišić

Keywords: harmful habits and disability, drugs, nicotine, alcohol, prevention

Harmful habits of a person are actions that automatically repeat a large number of times and can harm the health of a person or those around him/her. If he/she cannot force themselves to stop doing certain actions that may harm the health in the future, then gradually it becomes a habit, which is quite difficult to get rid of. What are bad habits? The influence of bad habits on the life and health of a person can be different. Some of them (alcoholism, drug addiction) are considered by modern medicine as a disease. Others are classified as unnecessary actions caused by imbalance of the nervous system. Below the main bad habits of modern man are listed:

  • smoking;
  • drug addiction;
  • alcoholism;
  • game dependence;
  • shopaholism;
  • internet and television dependency;
  • binge eating;
  • the habit of picking your skin or gnawing your nails; flicking the joints.

The main causes of bad habits

Most often, the causes of development of bad habits in humans are:

  • social coherence: if in the social group to which a person belongs is considered a norm, this or that behaviour pattern, for example, smoking, then most likely he will also follow it to prove his belonging to this group, hence the fashion for bad habits arises;
  • disorder in life and alienation;
  • pleasure is one of the main reasons why the influence of bad habits is so great, it is constant enjoyment that leads to people becoming alcoholics or drug addicts;
  • idleness, inability to correctly dispose of free time;
  • curiosity;
  • avoiding stress.

Harmful habits and their impact on human health

All bad habits can have a direct or indirect effect on human health. The most severe consequences are the habits of using drugs, nicotine and alcohol, which quickly develop into addiction and can lead to the development of a number of complications, even to death.

As we stated in previous articles, people with disabilities experience poorer health than those in the general population with delays in access to diagnosis, investigations and treatment. Consequently they are particularly vulnerable to the harmful impact of bad habits on their health, and also on their financial and social well-being. Despite this, indulging in bad habits among people with disabilities has received little research attention therefore there is little known facts about this behaviour.

Next, we will examine in more detail some of these harmful habits and their effect on human health.

Tobacco smoking. Risks from smoking include:

  • The risk of developing cancer and respiratory system pathologie;
  • Calcium is washed out from the body, the skin of the face grows old, fingers become yellow, the teeth become damaged, the structure of hair and nails is destroyed;
  • The work of the gastrointestinal tract worsens, the development of peptic ulcer is possible;
  • Vessels become brittle and weak, lose elasticity;
  • Supply of the brain with oxygen deteriorates, hypertension develops.

The percentage of adults who smoke cigarettes is higher among people with disabilities than people without disabilities. For example, in 2014, cigarette smoking was significantly higher among those who reported having any disability (more than 1 in 5 were smokers) compared to those who reported having no disability (about 1 in 6 were smokers) (CDC, 2017).

Smoking is especially common in people with mental health difficulties. Around 33% of people with mental health difficulties, such as schizophrenia, and approximately 70% of patients in psychiatric inpatient units, smoke. People with a mental health difficulty die 10-20 years earlier, on average, than people in the general population, and smoking is the single biggest factor contributing to this difference. Furthermore, smoking exacerbates poverty and social stigma of people with a mental health difficulty (UH, 2016).

Alcoholism is nothing more than a drug dependence of the body, in which a person feels a painful craving for alcohol. With this disease develops not only the mental dependence, but also the physical dependence of a person on alcohol (WHO, 2010, 2014). With alcoholism, severe damage to the internal organs (especially the liver) and degradation of personality occurs. The systematic use of alcohol leads to the following consequences:

  • The immune defence of the body decreases thus the person is often unwell;
  • Gradual destruction of the liver occurs;
  • Increases the glucose level in the blood thus leading to increased risk of Diabetes;
  • Among alcoholics, the mortality rate is higher due to accidents, suicides, poisoning with low-quality alcohol;
  • Loss of memory (ASSIST, 2010).

Drug addiction is perhaps the most powerful and dangerous bad habit that has long been recognised as a disease. Addiction is the dependence of a person on the use of narcotic drugs. The disease has several phases of the course and staged syndromes. The harm that drugs do to the human body is great. The following are the most serious consequences of drug addiction:

  • a significant reduction in life expectancy;
  • an increased risk of contracting dangerous and often incurable diseases (HIV, hepatitis);
  • high mortality among drug addicts from accidents, suicides, overdoses and drug poisoning;
  • rapid ageing of the body;
  • development of mental and somatic abnormalities;
  • the strongest degradation of the individual (ASSIST, 2010).

Substance abuse (drugs, alcohol) is also a problem for people with physical, cognitive, or psychological disabilities. There is very little research data to indicate frequency, however, in 2011 the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office on Disability reported that nearly 75 million people in the United States have some form of disability. In addition, nearly 5 million adults have both a disability and a co-occurring substance use disorder. Based on these figures, about 7 percent of people with disabilities struggles with substance abuse (Alcohol.org, 2018).

Other research showed that people with disabilities use drugs and alcohol at least as often as the general population and perhaps even more often; however, they have less access to treatment, even though treatment outcomes are similar to those in the general population (Alcohol.org, 2018). Alcohol is one of the most common substances of abuse among people with disabilities because of its availability, social acceptance, and central nervous system depressant effects. Use of other types of substances depends on type of disability.

The risk factors associated with the development of a substance use disorder among people with disabilities include:

  • Unemployment and low income
  • Chronic pain and other chronic physical issues
  • Mental illness, which is always a risk factor for developing a substance use disorder
  • Easier access to prescription medications
  • Less access to education
  • Social isolation
  • Physical abuse and sexual abuse
  • Enabling behaviours by caregivers (Alcohol.org, 2018).

How to deal with bad habits of people with disabilities

What are the methods and ways to combat bad habits, and which one is the most effective? There is no unambiguous answer to this question. Everything depends on many factors - the degree of dependence, the willpower of a person and individual characteristics of the organism. But the most important is the person’s desire to start a new life without bad habits, being with or without disability. As we mentioned so many times before, people with disabilities are even more vulnerable when it comes to fighting a bad habit or addiction.

They face:

  1. Attitudinal barriers;
  2. Communication barriers;
  3. Discriminatory practices and procedures;
  4. Architectural barriers.

Therefore it is of the utmost importance that we have competent trained professionals that will understand functional limitations and help overcome these barriers regarding the specific types of disabilities require specific adjustments to the treatment program (deaf, blind, with cognitive deficits, etc.). All treatment should be inclusive, not only for people from diverse racial and ethnic groups, but also for people with disabilities. Inclusive programs need to be accessible to those who want to participate and in some cases adapted to address the needs and expectations of the target population and adjusted to suit the needs of the individual included in the treatment.

Prevention of bad habits

Unfortunately, till now the prevention of bad habits amongst people with disabilities has not been given adequate attention. Due to the architectural barriers they face, prevention campaigns don’t reach them or they are excluded because they are dependent on the help of another person or cannot get to the program. In some cases they don’t understand the topics or they don’t have adequate support or understanding environment to exercise changes in life. They face financial deficit and therefore cannot afford to live healthier. But most of all they already face stress by struggling with disability and therefore have additional psychological problems, which make harder for them to face and fight bad habits.


Alcohol.org, 2018. Treating an Alcoholic Who Is Differently Abled. Retrieved from: https://www.alcohol.org/disabled/, accessed 2019 02 16, 23:37.

ASSIST: The Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test. Manual for use in primary care. Geneva, 2010. Retrieved from: (http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/assist/en/, accessed 31 March 2017.

CDC, 2017. How to Help People with Disabilities Quit Smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/features/disability-quit-smoking/index.html, accessed 2019 02 16, 23:05.

UH, 2016. Smoking and People with an Intellectual Disability. University of Hertfordshire. Retrieved from: http://www.intellectualdisability.info/physical-health/articles/smoking-and-people-with-an-intellectual-disability, accessed 2019 02 16, 23:16.

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