New Year Resolutions

Making major changes to your lifestyle is no easy undertaking. In order for anyone to succeed they need to combine patience, commitment, and the ability to ask for support. For some people a portion of that support may come from their pharmacist. There are several products currently available to help people break habits that are harmful to their health. Pharmacological aids address our habits by targeting their source, i.e. nicotine addiction with smoking, depression with some cases of overeating. These drugs though will only help someone who is already committed to making difficult changes in their lifestyle. Check out some of my other responses for hints on losing weight and starting an exercise regimen, quitting smoking, and drinking less alcohol. The first step to breaking a bad habit is learning to change your behavior. Only after taking this first step should a woman consider pharmacological aids.

Weight Loss
Over the past few decades, women in the U.S. have been inundated with "miracle" weight loss drugs. Most of these drugs have been accompanied by plenty of hype, and no shortage of misinformation. Each different diet drug targets the alleged source of weight gain. Many over the counter diet drugs work temporarily by either dehydrating us and having most of our weight loss be water loss, or by dissuading us from eating with stimulants.

The most recent and well-known diet drug is Fen-Phen. This drug was at one time touted as the solution to obesity; instead it led to severe pulmonary damage in a yet unknown number of women who took it. The FDA recently approved a new diet drug called Meridia. We are yet unsure of what side effects or potential health hazards it carries, as it has not been given to millions of women for extended periods of time. The FDA also recently warned women against herbal forms of Fen Phen, citing that they are presenting some of the same side effects as Fen Phen. In short, diet drugs are not a great way to lose weight. Although it can be frustrating, a combination of exercise and good nutrition is the best means to losing weight. Any woman who isn't finding success through this combination might consider asking her doctor for help, or seeing a nutrionist.

If quitting cold turkey or slowly decreasing the number of cigarettes smoked a day just doesn't work there are a few other options available. Using nicotine replacement therapy in combination with a person's efforts to quit can help. There are several products currently on the market. One is a patch that transfers small doses of nicotine through the skin. (Nicotrol, Nicoderm, Habitrol, Prostep are all nicotine patches) The strength of the patch is slowly tapered off until it is no longer needed. It is quite simple to use and can help make a person's withdrawal from nicotine both bearable and possible. It is important to note though that smoking while wearing the patch is dangerous and can possibly lead to a nicotine overdose. Programs that are longer (8-12 weeks or more), stepwise and with 24-hours patches are more effective.

The second option is nicotine gum, Nicorette. The gum is most helpful in controlling a person's cravings for nicotine. It is often used in combination with the patch, if a person is still having problems. Like the patch, it works by providing a person with tiny amounts of nicotine.

None of these works alone, however. Traditional behavior modification techniques must be used as well to have a reasonable hope of success. Spending time with friends and family who smoke is the situation that leads to the most failures of stop-smoking programs.

Decreasing Alcohol Intake
It is important for anyone with an addiction to alcohol to seek support from their doctor, friends, family, or a local support group. This is a lifelong effort that is difficult to maintain without any support system in place. There is a drug available that can be prescribed to a person who is struggling with alcoholism, disulfiram. It works by causing nausea in those who take it and also drink alcohol.

It is often given to people who suffer from chronic alcoholism, rather than those who wish to simply decrease their intake of alcohol. A medical evaluation is required before a person is given this drug as taking disulfiram with even small doses of alcohol causes serious reactions, including hypotension, and increased heart rate. This drug can also have some serious side effects, and is for this reason only used by people who face even greater risks from their alcoholism.

Treating an Underlying Mental Condition
Most people's unhealthy habits are the result of learned behavior, rather than an underlying mental disorder. But for those people who present a mental condition as an unbreakable habit, pharmacological treatments are available. Again, a person with a condition such as depression or obsessive compulsive disorder should seek a combination of treatments that includes in person therapy. This is essential to both diagnosis and treatment. If a woman is suffering from a mental illness, making a New Year's resolution to stop expressing this condition will only lead to failure and frustration. "Habits" such as binge eating, or obsessive cleaning need to be addressed more fully, and with the support of a professional. Drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, or other antidepressants can work well in combination with therapy, but they also carry side effects and should not be taken as a quick fix to a bad habit.

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