Addiction

Is it safe for my teen to be smoking hookahs?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You recently wrote about e-cigarettes not being safe for teens. What about hookahs? I don't completely understand what they are. Are they OK for my teen? I think he might be smoking them.

DEAR READER: A hookah is a water pipe that people use to smoke a specially made tobacco. Often the tobacco used in hookahs is flavored, which makes smoking it more attractive to some people.

Are there medications that could help me quit smoking?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've tried to quit smoking on my own, but it never lasts. Could medications help? How do they work?

DEAR READER: Medicines can help, and they have improved "quit rates." Although smoking is a particularly hard habit to break, you can do it. The proof: There are more ex-smokers in the United States today than there are smokers.

Could a monthly injection help my son overcome his opioid addiction?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My son is addicted to painkillers. He has been in and out of treatment programs, but nothing has worked. I recently heard about a monthly injection that can help people overcome addiction. Can you tell me more about this?

DEAR READER: The problem of addiction to opioid prescription painkillers (and illegal narcotics) is growing worse. I'm sorry it has affected your son. You are correct: There is a relatively new treatment, called Vivitrol, which has helped some people.

Is addiction a disease or is it caused by a lack of willpower?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My brother has struggled with addiction for years. I've told my husband that addiction is a disease, but he claims my brother is weak and lacks willpower. Is he right?

DEAR READER: There is a lot of stigma and shame associated with addiction. But the truth is, people with substance-use disorders aren't simply weak or immoral. It surely is true that people who try out illegal addictive drugs for recreational purposes are breaking the law. In my opinion, they also are doing something profoundly stupid. But they're often teens, who tend to do a lot of stupid, impulsive things. Moreover, many people who become addicted to legal drugs were started on those drugs by their doctors.

Should I be concerned about my drinking?

DEAR DOCTOR K: During my daughter's wedding, and all the events surrounding it, I started drinking more than usual. But that was six months ago, and I haven't cut back to where I was before. When do I get concerned that I might have a drinking problem?

DEAR READER: It's not easy to answer your question. What constitutes "healthy" versus "harmful" drinking can vary quite a bit from person to person. So where is the line between social drinking and problem drinking? Does drinking every day or drinking a certain amount indicate a problem?

Is it possible to ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My husband has a problem with alcohol. He has finally decided to quit and has set a date for his final drink. How will his body react once he stops? Is there anything we can do to help ease his withdrawal symptoms?

DEAR READER: Alcohol withdrawal refers to the changes the body goes through when a person who has been drinking heavily for a long time suddenly stops.

What’s behind the recent epidemic of opioid addiction?

DEAR DOCTOR K: The news media say that we suddenly have an epidemic of addiction to prescription opioid painkillers. These pills have been around for a long time. What's changed?

DEAR READER: Developing treatments that reduce or eliminate pain has been one of the great accomplishments of medical science. Until the past couple of centuries, our ancestors had no way to relieve the pain from a major injury, or from a disease like cancer.

Could low-nicotine cigarettes help me quit smoking altogether?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've decided to quit smoking. Do you think low-nicotine cigarettes could be a good stepping-stone to kicking the habit completely?

DEAR READER: I'm always glad when readers ask about how to quit smoking. It causes so many health problems and so much misery. And while it's not easy, people can quit smoking. Yet millions of adults and teenagers continue to smoke. The main reason is nicotine.

Why can’t women drink as much as men?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Can you explain why "moderate" drinking is defined differently for men and women? Is it because men tend to be heavier? Or is there more to it?

DEAR READER: Women are advised to drink less alcohol than men because they are much more vulnerable to alcohol's harmful effects.

How can I prevent addiction to my prescription painkillers?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor has prescribed prescription painkillers -- opioids -- for my severe back pain. They relieve my pain, but how can I reduce my risk of becoming hooked?

DEAR READER: Simply being aware of the risk of addiction is a good first step in ensuring that you do not become addicted to prescription painkillers. I'll explain a little bit about painkillers. Then I'll describe some steps you can take to prevent addiction.