Addiction Policy Forum Blog

10 min read

Look on the bright side—new research shows that it helps you live longer

By Mark Gold, MD on September 26, 2019


Everyone knows someone who always seems positive, even in challenging situations. To them, the glass is always half full. For example, Microsoft founder Bill Gates is one fabulously successful optimist:1

“In my own life I’ve been extremely lucky. But even subtracting out my personal experience, I think the big picture is that it’s better to be born today than ever, and it will be better to be born 20 years from now than today….So, yes, I am optimistic. It does bother me that most people aren’t.”2

When viewing an image of a glass containing an equal amount of liquid and empty space, 58 percent of Americans felt that the glass was half-full, according to a survey conducted by One Poll on behalf of Borden milk.3 People who view a glass as half-full think more optimistically, decisively, and with more creativity.

It’s common for many individuals to seek out self-help or turn to “positive thinking” after a crisis or particularly stressful point in their lives, and common for others to mock such efforts as misguided or naive. Individuals with depression have problems finding positive aspects of life and may even believe that the proverbial "dark cloud" hovers over their heads. Behavior and motivation-oriented substance use disorder treatment programs often encourage patients to cultivate positive beliefs and to try to focus on positive developments, and some patients approach these practices with skepticism. These programs may advise: fake it till you make it, or shoot for the stars and settle for a moon landing. 

Research, however, consistently demonstrates the benefits of optimism across a number of key health functions. Studies show that optimism can decrease mortality,4 reduce the risk of stroke,5 reduce the risk of heart disease,6 present fewer progressions of carotid disease,7 and improve pulmonary function,8 among other health benefits. So why might an optimistic disposition and positive attitudes lead to better health outcomes, and just how beneficial are these approaches to life?

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5 min read

Smoking will kill you, but first, it will accelerate the aging process

By Mark Gold, MD on September 5, 2019

Scientists and the general public have been aware of the harmful effects of tobacco for years now, recognizing its links to cardiovascular problems, cancer, and an array of other serious health problems. The Centers for Disease Control states that cigarette smoking accounts for over 480,000 deaths every year in the United States, and seven million deaths worldwide annually, which makes smoking the leading cause of preventable death in the world.1 Of those 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, the CDC includes more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. Secondhand smoke can cause or worsen a wide range of damaging health effects in children and adults, including lung cancer, respiratory infections and asthma. Scientists have concluded that the only real difference between first and secondhand smoke is consent. Children and others exposed to secondhand smoke suffer the same consequences but did not intend to smoke at all.2 In toto, cigarette smoking results in one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day. On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. 

Unfortunately for individuals who are smoking or exposed to cigarettes, new research indicates that tobacco use contributes to yet another health problem: biological aging. Previously, studies on the effects of tobacco use on aging have been fairly limited in their conclusions, but in recent years researchers have focused more on the question, applying new scientific tools in their work. One recent study, by Mamoshina et. al., used artificial intelligence to analyze blood and cell counts of smokers and non-smokers and to measure how much tobacco use aged smokers.

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