A-Z Health Answers

Addiction: How to Identify and Overcome It

Is There an Addict in Your Family?

It can be very hard to overcome an addiction; but it can be even harder to spot an addict, and for the sufferer to admit to the problem. 101 Tips for Overcoming Addiction has plenty of hints to help you to identify and overcome addiction. Much of the book speaks directly to addicts, but there is plenty here for family members and friends too. Here's a great example:

Signs of Addiction

With some types of addiction, it's usually obvious when a person is addicted – even to the addict. Drug addiction is an obvious example. In other situations, it may be less obvious – eating disorders are often hard to spot, and gambling addiction may not be obvious until the addict starts spending massive amounts of time on it – playing online poker, for instance. And some kinds, notably addiction to cigarette smoking, are so common as to be barely notice. But whatever the poison, there are signals that can show you what's going on long before the addiction becomes obvious:
  • losing interest in activities that were once important
  • keeping secrets from friends and family, and hiding supplies
  • wanting to spend more time alone
  • missing school or work for no obvious reason
  • being short of money all the time despite earning a decent wage
So if you think you or someone you care about may be addicted, or even be heading that way, 101 Tips for Overcoming Addiction would be a good place to start.

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Weight Loss and Dieting

Are you Overweight or Obese?

Obesity is hardly a new problem. When I was a child, my father was a Minister in the rural south of England. One of the farmers in the village was quite overweight, and Dad often teased him about the size of his paunch. The farmer usually just smiled, but one day he replied, “Well you see, Rector, it do keep your knees dry when it rains.”

Nowadays, people take their weight problem a good deal more seriously. And with good reason, because, unlike my Dad's friend, very few people get enough exercise to offset all that weight. So how do you lose those unwanted pounds?

If you want to lose weight and never gain it back, it's usually best to take a steady approach, and aim to lose two or three pounds a week at the most. You'll find plenty of tips in our articles about how to do that safely and permanently.

Weight Loss Fast

But sometimes that's not practical. Maybe you want to get into a new swimsuit for your vacation, or be 10 pounds lighter before an important wedding – yours or your daughter's! Then you need the help of someone who's “been there, done that”. Chris Gibson's amazing book, “Rapid Weight Loss by the Numbers”, shows how he lost 28 pounds and three clothes sizes in three weeks, and how you can do it too.

And if you're interested in other ways to lose weight, there are plenty of web sites, books and courses to help you do just that. To help you lose weight, try Diet Deadline, Weight Loss Deadline, and for ways to get more exercise, there's Treadmills for Exercise and Fitness.

My favourite book is “The Paleo Diet” by Loren Cordain, who explains just how little our genes have changed since the days when we were all hunter-gatherers. Of course, there's no way we can go back entirely to eating and exercising exactly as we did in the days when the guys were out with the bows and arrows most days and the girls wandered miles in search of nuts and berries. But there IS plenty we can do to adapt our diets and lifestyles to be a better fit with those old-fashioned genes, and feel tons better in the process…


Hypothermia means "low heat" – deep body temperature has fallen below 95°F (35°C). The effects range from unpleasant to fatal – it's estimated that around 30,000 people die of cold-related causes in the UK every winter (including flu and other bugs).
You are most at risk if you can't move around much. Babies, and the elderly (because the body's has a harder time keeeping a constant internal temperature as we get older) are obviously at risk. But if you get wet in freezing conditions, get stuck in your car in a snowdrift, or your home heating breaks down, you can be at risk even if you're young and fit.

How do you know if there's a problem?

  • In the early stages, you may just feel slightly groggy (even if you haven't had a drink) and be shivery
  • If things get worse, violent shivers, slow pulse and being unable to think straight come next.
  • Someone who is in serious trouble stops shivering, loses consciousness and seems to have little or no pulse. If they're not helped fast, they die.

What can you do if it happens?

The crucial steps are:
  • get into shelter if you're outside – but if you're in a car, make sure you have some ventilation while the engine's running, or you could suffocate.
  • change out of ALL wet clothing (including your underwear if necessary).
  • have something to eat and a warm drink. The bad news is: that old standby, the brandy carried by St Bernard dogs in mountain rescues, is NOT a good idea.

Helping other people

A really effective way, if you are warm yourself, is to hug the cold person. The buzz word for this is “Kangaroo care” – how kangaroos carry their babies, right?
The other top solutions are to apply those crucial steps, and if necessary get the person to a professional as soon as possible. You need to be VERY careful about rubbing the cold bits – if the person has frostbite, you could do a lot of damage.

The bottom line

Prevention is MUCH better than cure. If it's cold, don't go out unless you have to; keep your home warm, especially if there's a baby around – and if cost is a problem, keep ONE room properly warm and move the baby's crib or the old person's bed into it for the time being. If you do have to go out, there are plenty of ways you can make sure you don't get into trouble – more on this another day. And if you like to be entertained while you learn, there's a brilliant description of the best way to cope with cold after a vehicle accident in Dick Francis's novel Longshot.

Water, water everywhere?

Water – how much do you value it? Like a good many things, water is valued most by those who pay most for it (in money, time or effort), notably those in the developing world who have to walk miles each day to get any at all. In the west, most people drink little or no water, and often do drink lots of dehydrating liquids such as coffee or alcoholic drinks. The health pundits – called ‘the Health Police’ in our house – tell you to drink more water without being very clear on why. And if you've ever tried to lose weight, you'll almost certainly have been urged to drink lots of water - as my mother said cynically, ‘to fill you up’.

But is there more to it than that? Dr Batmanghelidj thinks there is. I came across his book, Your Body's Many Cries for Water: A Revolutionary Natural Way to Prevent Illness and Restore Good Health by accident when I was trying to find out just WHY water is supposed to be good for you, and I was riveted from the first page. It's easy to be sceptical of anyone so enthusiastic, but if Dr Batmanghelidjhe is right, then far too many people are taking medication for problems such as high blood pressure and raised cholesterol, when all they really need to do is to drink a lot more water.

I don't suffer from either of those conditions myself, thankfully, but since I started taking the book's advice and drinking at least two litres (around 4 US pints) of plain water each day, I've noticed a huge difference in my energy levels. It's often hard to keep to this regime when I'm away from home, and I really notice the difference – even when I'm on holiday, I get fatigued much more easily when I drink less water.

To start with, I found it really hard, but now I have two rules:
  • Keep a bottle of water beside me all the time I'm sitting down – working, reading, watching TV
  • Drink one glass of water for every cup of coffee (you could do the same with tea if that's your drink)and every glass of wine.
Try it - it's free(!) and it really works.


Arthritis has to be one of the commonest afflictions of the over-50s, though it can strike much younger. Many people get some pain relief from a combination of Glucosamine and Chondroitin, and this combo can also help to stop the problem getting worse.
But what if this is not enough to lessen the pain to the point where you can get on with life? We and several of our friends are too young for surgery, or have arthritis in joints (knuckles, for example) that can't be replaced. Once upon a time, the obvious solution would have been an anti-inflammatory drug, but lately these have had a pretty bad press; some have been banned in most western countries, and even the humble derivatives of ibuprofen have been tentatively connected with unwanted side-effects.
Sometimes you can get round this by reducing the dose - I have had some success replacing ibuprofen tablets with a gel that I can rub in, and applied topically like that you need much less ibuprofen for the same results as tablets.
But this doesn't solve the problem for people with arthritis or other inflammations at a deeper level, such as hips or knees. Lately we've been hearing a lot about natural remedies that could make artificial medication unnecessary. The most attractive idea - though it sounds pretty weird - is to take a product containing a special kind of honey mixed with the venom from the bees. Sounds pretty unlikely, and apparently it was discovered by accident - someone forgot to extract the venom from the honey before selling it to customers! But if it works, who cares? I'll keep you posted on how we get on.