Addiction

The latest dangerous “addiction” parents need to worry about: Mobile devices

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

If you’ve looked up from your phone recently — or even if you haven’t! — you may have noticed that many children and teens are glued to their devices. While experts aren’t quite ready to call this an “addiction,” a new survey of parents and teens confirms that many of them suspect they’re too dependent on their devices. We’ve discussed the potential implications of this, plus suggested some “ground rules” for when to ignore those devices.

Could lack of sleep trigger a food “addiction”?

Stuart Quan, MD
Stuart Quan, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people cite a lack of “motivation” or “willpower” as the reason that overweight people can’t control their eating habits. But a wealth of evidence has come to light that obesity is linked to insufficient sleep. Most recently, an experimental study has found that restricted sleep can increase the levels of brain chemicals that make eating pleasurable. Could it be that insufficient sleep makes the brain addicted to the act of eating?

A monthly shot for opioid addiction: An option for some

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Several long-term treatments can help people overcome opioid addiction. One of them, naltrexone, may help people who have trouble sticking with taking a pill every day. Naltrexone can be offered as a monthly injection called Vivitrol, which has been shown to help more people stay on treatment as compared to the pill form. However, it’s not for everyone, and like all treatments for opioid addiction, it must be used very carefully.

We should be ashamed if we don’t pass Tobacco 21 laws

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Ninety percent of smokers had their first cigarette before turning 18. A movement to raise the legal age to buy tobacco in the United States to 21 hopes that making it more difficult for young people to start smoking may lead to a healthier population overall.

Is addiction a “brain disease”?

Michael Bierer, MD
Michael Bierer, MD, Contributor

A look into the “brain science” behind substance use disorders highlights the fact that for many people with addictions, “just say no” just doesn’t work. The biological underpinnings of addiction teach the brain to react unusually strongly if deprived of drugs, which can make recovering from an addiction incredibly difficult. Fortunately, it’s possible to teach the brain to rediscover healthier sources of joy and reward.

Why are doctors writing opioid prescriptions — even after an overdose?

Joji Suzuki, MD

A recent study of nearly 3,000 patients who had an overdose during long-term opioid treatment found that more than 90% of these patients continued to receive opioids — even after their overdose. Poor communication between emergency rooms and prescribing doctors is likely the culprit. What’s more, doctors receive little training in recognizing patients at high risk for overdose, or in treating addiction when they do spot it. An important strategy to address the current opioid crisis is to improve how doctors are educated about opioids.

The “right” goal when managing pain

Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D.
Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D., Contributing Editor

When it comes to pain management, focusing only on reducing the intensity of pain may lead to treatments that do as much harm as good. Ideally, pain-management plans should be tailored to each patient and include a range of therapies that not only reduce pain but also help improve pain-related quality-of-life problems.

The problem with prescription painkillers

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Opioids are effective pain relievers. But sometimes people can develop a tolerance to these drugs, requiring increasingly higher doses of medication to achieve the same pain relief. And physical dependence — withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped — is also common. The increased availability of these drugs has put many people at risk for addiction, overdose, and even death.

Low-nicotine cigarettes may help determined smokers cut back

Mallika Marshall, MD
Mallika Marshall, MD, Contributing Editor

A study examining the effects of low-nicotine cigarettes on smoking behavior yielded surprising results. The study volunteers who smoked the low-nicotine cigarettes actually smoked less and had fewer cigarette cravings than those who smoked cigarettes with a higher level of nicotine. Although more research is needed before we can draw any conclusions, it’s possible that very-low-nicotine cigarettes might be a way to mitigate the health dangers of smoking for people determined not to quit.

Edible marijuana — a half-baked idea?

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Marijuana-laced brownies have long been a way to get high. Now a new generation of “food companies” is taking the concept of edible marijuana in a somewhat scary new direction: marijuana-laced foods that mimic popular candies. These sweets could pose a danger to children, warns a Perspective article in today’s New England Journal of Medicine. From a marketing perspective, it’s a cute concept to sell Buddahfingers that look like Butterfingers, Rasta Reese’s that mimic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or Pot Tarts that resemble Pop-Tarts. But the availability of edible marijuana products has led to an increase in emergency visits to hospitals because of kids accidentally eating edible marijuana products and in marijuana-related calls to poison and drug hotlines.