Osteoporosis, alcohol and smoking

Together with having a balanced diet and regular exercise other lifestyle behaviours, such as drinking alcohol in moderation and not smoking, are vital for good osteoporosis management and for overall good health. Drinking alcohol in quantities that exceed the recommended daily units and smoking tobacco are both considered risk factors for osteoporosis.

Men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis (NHS choices June 2017). Michelle thinks that the weekly units of alcohol for women is still high but many of the people we talked to said that they drink ‘very little’ or ‘in moderation’ and certainly much less than the recommended amount. One reason given was that too much alcohol is likely to be dangerous because a drunken person is more prone to fall and fracture or as Clare put ‘it is asking for trouble’. Many people said that they may drank a glass of wine or two over dinner, or when socialising with friends, but not every day.
Another reason given for drinking small amounts of alcohol or for being teetotal is medication. Several people were taking pain medication which interacted with alcohol and therefore they had been advised to avoid alcohol. Robert for instance is on OxyContin oral. Others were taking medication for other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and depression.
Whilst having to give up drinking alcohol per se was not seen as a problem it could however, have an effect on lifestyle. Robert, who is in his forties, doesn’t drink any alcohol and no longer felt he has the energy to go out to bars or pubs with his friends. David, who is in his thirties, on the other hand, has a busy social life but said that he doesn’t necessarily drink alcohol every time he goes out with friends (see also Osteoporosis, social life, leisure and holidays).
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Some men said that they used to drink more when they were younger. Sydney made the point that in comparison to the youngsters of today his peer group drank in ‘moderation’. Nowadays he goes once a week to meet his ex-work colleagues and have a beer.
Several of the people we talked to said that they may drink more than the recommended units per week. 
Most people we talked to did not smoke. Many have never smoked and others have ‘packed it up’ decades or several years ago for a variety of reasons including doctor’s advice, chest pain, heart attack and cost. Several of those who had smoked in the past had been heavy smokers but stressed that they had not found it difficult to quit the habit even though some smoked forty or sixty cigarettes a day. Sydney used to be a heavy smoker but stopped forty years ago. Dennis used to smoke sixty a day and gave it up from one day to the next. Laurence took medication to help him stop smoking but like Sheila he thinks that willpower is more important. And Iris said that she ‘swapped the cigarettes for a mortgage and bought a house instead’. All of them felt proud to have mastered their addiction.
Beryl continues smoking but would very much like to give it up but every attempt she has tried until now has failed. She tried acupuncture but she managed to stop smoking for two weeks before taking it up again. She knows that her lungs are damaged and she needs to use oxygen everyday to help her cope with her breathing difficulties. She said that her doctors have insisted on her giving it up but to no avail. Pat who continued smoking about five a day said that she has received no advice or information on smoking from health professionals. Valerie has cut down the number of cigarettes she smokes per week but has no intention of giving up her cigarettes.
In fact, several people had given up smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol due to lifestyle changes and/or ill health.

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Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated June 2017.


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