Addiction

Dopamine fasting: Misunderstanding science spawns a maladaptive fad

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in the body’s system for reward and pleasure. A recent trend has people avoiding stimulating activities in the belief that doing so allows the body to reset from being overstimulated, but the original idea has been misunderstood and wrongly applied.

Puffing away sadness

The nicotine in cigarettes stimulates the nervous system, resulting in a mood boost. But does this mean that smokers will reach for a cigarette when they are feeling sad? Researchers found that sad feelings may cause some people to smoke.

What’s in a number? Looking at life expectancy in the US

Scott Weiner, MD

Contributor

Between 1959 and 2014, average life expectancy in the United States rose astoundingly by nearly a decade. Then it began declining. A recent report examining this situation raises tough questions about that unexpected change.

Vaping: It’s hard to quit, but help is available

As companies developed e-cigarette products, little or no consideration was given to their safety, and research on how to help people who want to quit has lagged. But if you are motivated to quit vaping, there are options and you should talk to a doctor.

Can vaping damage your lungs? What we do (and don’t) know

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Reports of severe lung illness experienced by hundreds of people who were using e-cigarettes again raise questions about the safety of vaping. While evidence suggests vaping can help some people stop smoking, potential health risks likely outweigh any benefit.

Opioids for acute pain: How much is too much?

Scott Weiner, MD

Contributor

One of the roots of the opioid crisis in the US is how frequently the medications are prescribed. There are times when a prescription opioid is called for, but in many cases an over-the-counter pain medication is very effective.

Is an opioid really the best medication for my pain?

David Boyce, MD

Contributor

With all the concern around opioid medications and the risk of addiction, it’s understandable that a person might be hesitant if prescribed an opioid. Many factors need to be weighed in making this decision, including the type of pain, the cause, and how long it has persisted.

Is tramadol a risky pain medication?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Tramadol is a unique prescription pain medicine similar to opioids. Research finds people taking it had a higher risk of dying than those taking other pain medicines. But a confounding factor may make tramadol seem more risky than it really is.

Undoing the harm: Tapering down from high-dose opioids

Scott Weiner, MD

Contributor

The CDC’s 2016 Guideline on Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain was created to help providers and patients manage medication treatment at safe levels and avoid dependence. Any plan to taper medication dosage should be personalized to the patient’s needs.

Going public with sobriety

Substance use disorders like alcoholism and drug addiction are stigmatized in our society, so why would someone—not just anyone, but a doctor— go public with his struggle?