Free and low-cost resources for help with addiction

July 25, 2011

This past weekend, singer Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27.  While her cause of death is currently unknown, there has been much speculation that her death is in some way tied to her well-documented drug and alcohol addiction problems.  Although it’s always shocking when someone famous dies, instead of focusing on the shock and obsessing over all the details the tabloids are reporting, it’s more helpful to focus on the lessons that we can learn from this.   Addiction is an equal-opportunity disease, and it can affect anyone–rich or poor, young or old, famous or not well-known at all.  Addiction is not a disease that should be taken lightly; those suffering from addiction need help. 

Although making an addict understand that they need help is not always the easiest task, finding resources for them to get help is often quite simple in comparison.  Resources are available for people of all walks of life and are readily available around the country.  Read on to learn about a few of the major free and low-cost programs available to help those who suffer from addiction.

Alcoholics Anonymous: This organization aims to help those suffering from alcohol addiction.  No-cost meetings are held nationwide; the AA website has an interactive map that can help locate the most convenient meetings to attend.  Meetings are open to the public, and regularly attending them allows recovering alcoholics to develop a support system of people who understand what they’re going through.  Recovering alcoholics can also find a sponsor through these meetings; a sponsor is someone who has been in the program for a longer time and acts as a mentor to the recovering addict as they work through their twelve steps. 

Al-Anon/Alateen: The recovering alcoholic is not the only one who suffers as a result of alcoholism.  Often, family, friends, and significant others of recovering alcoholics are also trying to deal with how the alcoholic’s disease affects them.  Al-Anon and Alateen can help.  These groups provide free meetings, phone support, and online support for people who are living with alcoholics and/or are affected by someone’s addiction.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Facilities Administration: Sometimes an addict needs more help than what attending meetings can provide.  In these instances, seeking treatment at substance abuse facilities can be helpful.  The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Facilities Administration offers a comprehensive website that includes a searchable treatment facility locator, a 24-hour help line, and other resources.

If you know someone who is suffering from an alcohol or drug addiction, the sooner they can get the help and support they need, the better.  Let them know that there are programs available to help them at little to no cost, whether they have insurance or not.  Encourage them to take advantage of these programs.  Let them know that they don’t have to deal with their addiction alone.  Not only can they start forming a support system at these meetings and facilities, but often non-addicts are welcome to accompany the recovering alcoholic to meetings to provide further support (when searching the AA website for meetings to attend, those designated as “open” generally allow the recovering alcoholic to bring along a loved one).


Easy, sneaky tricks for portion control

July 21, 2011

Worried about your waistline?  Want to avoid overeating?  Use these simple strategies to help yourself eat reasonable amounts of food at mealtimes and snacktimes.

  • Never eat straight out of the bag or box.  If you plant yourself on the couch, bag of chips in hand, by the time that episode of Grey’s Anatomy is over you might find you’ve devoured half the bag.  Before you start eating, take a recommended serving size of the snack out of the box/bag and put it in a bowl.  Put the snack bag/box back in the cabinet (out of sight, out of mind!) and take your bowl to the couch.  Chances are, you’ll be too engrossed in what you’re watching to sneak back to the kitchen for seconds.
  • Be a little bored.  Studies have shown that repetitive eating can lead to weight loss.  The theory behind this is that even your favorite foods can get boring after a while if that’s what you predominately choose to eat.  Humans are programmed to have a habituation threshold–whatever your culinary vice, be it pizza or buffalo wings or hot dogs, you’ll habituate to it after a while.  And once you habituate to it, it’s very likely you’ll eat less of it than you used to.
  • Go ahead, eat the whole plate of food!  But there’s a caveat: it should be a smaller plate.  If you use a 10″ plate as opposed to a 12″ plate, you’ll automatically serve yourself 20-22% less food.  It won’t look like any less food to you–after all, that plate is nice and full–which will help to trick your brain into being satisfied with the smaller amount of food.  (But don’t use a plate that’s smaller than 10″–then it might really look smaller to you, which could make your brain think it’s not satisfied, prompting you to go back for second helpings.)
  • Get a bigger fork to go with that smaller plate.  New research indicates that using a plus-sized fork could help you eat less.  One recent study involved restaurant patrons–half got standard-sized forks while the other half got forks that were 20% bigger.  The folks who used the bigger forks ate significantly less than those who had forks of regular size.  Researchers found that bigger forks hold more food, which gave the people using those forks a visual cue that indicated they’re filling up.  On the other hand, the smaller forks–which, of course, held less food–seemed to make people think that they weren’t satisfying their hunger as quickly, which could compel people to keep eating.

There are ways to eat less without feeling like you’re limiting yourself–all it takes is knowing a few good ways to trick your brain and keep oversized amounts of edible temptations out of reach and out of mind.  If you have questions or want more information about ways to eat sensibly with reasonable portion sizes, it’s always a good idea to consult with a nutritionist or wellness coach.  Check with your employer first, since many employers offer wellness coaching (Health Advocate’s Wellness Advocate is one such program) as part of employee benefits packages.

Resources for free and low-cost STD testing

July 18, 2011

Last week international researchers identified an antibiotic-resistant strain of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea.  This discovery is both worrisome and predictable, as gonorrhea has consistently shown a capability to develop resistances to antibiotics introduced to control it.  Researchers don’t yet know if this strain has become widespread, but they realize the importance of developing new drugs and treatment programs to combat this type of gonorrhea. 

The CDC believes that as many as 700,000 people living in the United States are believed to get gonorrhea annually.  The disease’s current treatment is either a dose of an antibiotic called cefixime or a dose of azithromycin (for those who have allergies or sensitivities to penicillin, cefixime, or ceftriaxone).  Those who suspect they may have contracted gonorrhea should not try to treat themselves, but should instead get tested by a doctor and, if tests are positive, obtain a prescription from the doctor. 

But what if you can’t afford to get tested for gonorrhea (or other STDs) and/or don’t have insurance?  Check out this list of free and lower-cost resources for STD testing and sexual health.

  • features a list of free STD health clinics; their database of clinics is searchable by state and includes clinic names, addresses,and phone numbers.
  • also features a database of clinics (searchable either by zip code or by city and state) that not only helps you find clinics that test for HIV, but also clinics that test for other diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis.  Many of these clinics offer lower prices for those who are uninsured or who have lower incomes.
  • Planned Parenthood also offers many services for sexual health, included but not limited to STD testing, for those who are uninsured or who have lower incomes.  Click here to find the Planned Parenthood clinic nearest you.
  • If you need to speak to someone about STDs and/or sexual health, there are several hotlines available.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Sexually Transmitted Diseases Hotline is 800.227.8922.
    The National AIDS Hotline is 800.342.AIDS (2437), and the National Herpes Hotline is 919.361.8488.

If you suspect you could have gonorrhea or any other sexually transmitted disease, it’s best to get tested as soon as possible for the sake of your own health as well as the health of any sexual partners you may have.  It’s also a good idea to always practice safe sex, especially if you or your partner’s STD statuses are unknown.

Good news for school-based health centers

July 15, 2011

Yesterday the US Department of Health and Human Services announced that awards of $95 million–provided by the Affordable Care Act–would be given to 278 school-base health systems nationwide.  These awards will help clinics expand to provide students with more health care services.  The awards will also allow school-based health centers to serve 440,000 more patients in addition to the 790,000 patients they’re already serving.  It’s the hope of HHS Secretary Sebelius that these awards will help school-based health centers to establish new sites and/or upgrade their current facilities in order to ensure effective, high-quality care for children.  Click here for a list of July 2011 grantees.

School-based health centers can improve the health and wellness of children through health screenings and disease prevention activities.  They also help enable children with acute illnesses (such as the flu) or chronic illnesses (like diabetes and asthma) to attend school and make it easier for working parents to get their children the health care they need.  These clinics can provide primary medical care as well as mental/behavioral health care, dental and oral health care, nutrition education, and substance abuse counseling, plus case management and health education and promotion.

Often operated as partnerships between the school and a community health organization (such as a local health department or hospital), school-based health centers also focus on prevention, early intervention, and risk reduction.  There are nearly 2,000 operating across the nation, most of which are open every day school is in session.

The Affordable Care Act has earmarked a total of $200 million for school-based health centers from 2010 through 2013; the funding announced yesterday is just the first wave of awards that will be made available to school-based health centers.

Paging Dr. Fido, Nurse Fluffy…

July 14, 2011

OK, so maybe you can’t recruit your pet to be your doctor or nurse (they’d likely only respond quickly to Code Belly Rub or Code Treat), but studies have shown that pet owners are happier and healthier than non-pet owners.

In a study by Allen McConnell of Miami University in Ohio, pet owners were found to have better self-esteem, be more physically fit, and were less lonely and fearful than those who don’t own pets.  217 people were first surveyed for the study so that differences could be determined between the personalities, well-being, and attachment styles of pet owners versus non-pet owners.  Then the study focused on 56 dog owners, which helped researchers find that dog owners who thought their pooch increased their self-esteem and helped them feel like their existences were meaningful had greater well-being than people who didn’t feel that their pet helped to fulfill their social needs.

While animal-assisted therapy has long been a caregiving resource to assist with a variety of people’s health needs–both physical and psychological–McConnell’s study also determined that even healthy people benefit from pet ownership.  McConnell’s researchers found that because pet owners are just as close to their pets as they are to key people in their lives, pets can serve as important sources of emotional and social support.

The results of McConnell’s study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology earlier this month, ultimately show that people–healthy people, not just elderly or ill people who look to a pet to banish loneliness or help them become more physically fit–can derive happiness and meaning from owning pets.  Walking the dog can not only help a pet owner be more physically fit, but can also help to satisfy social needs; even feeding the cat can be fulfilling because this responsibility makes the pet owner feel needed.  Also, keep in mind that dogs and cats aren’t the only critters who can provide companionship and promote well-being.  Especially for those who suffer from allergies, remember that feathered and scaly pets can also provide feelings of satisfaction and meaningfulness.

Interactions with a beloved pet can increase a person’s overall well-being…as if you really needed another good reason to dote on, take care of, and play with your pet!

Simple ideas for managing stress

July 11, 2011

Stress isn’t always just in your head–it can affect many other areas of your body, too.   If stress is making you irritable, tired, or achy, check out some no-hassle tips that can allow you to relax a little, lessen your stress and give you some relief.

Before engaging in exercise or undergoing massage therapy, it’s recommended to consult your doctor to verify that these types of activities are safe for you to do.

Baseball stadium safety tips

July 8, 2011

Going to baseball games is a summertime activity that many Americans look forward to each year.  But while you’re root, root, rooting for the home team (if they don’t win, it’s a shame), be sure to make safety a priority so that your stadium experience is more like a home run than a strikeout.  Whether you’re headed to a major league or a minor league baseball game, keep these tips in mind to increase your chances of staying safe at the stadium.

  •  Stay hydrated.  Baseball games can get really hot, and not just because the competition is so heated.  If you’re attending a game when the weather is hot, it’s vital to keep hydrated with water and other fluids (such as sports drinks that contain electrolytes); this is especially important if you’re sweating and/or your seats are in the sun.  Looking to cut costs and not buy marked-up drinks at the game?  Some (but not all) stadiums even allow you to bring in your own water and other non-alcoholic beverages if they are unopened and not in glass containers.  Before you head to the game, research the stadium’s policies on outside food and drink being brought into the stadium.
  • Use sunscreen.  Whether it’s sunny or cloudy, there’s still the potential for sunburn, and you may not realize you’re getting burned until it’s too late.  Don’t want to lug a full-size bottle of sunscreen around the stadium?  Pick up a travel sized tube of sunscreen in your local pharmacy’s travel aisle, or look for sunscreen towelettes that can fit easily into purses or pockets.
  • Watch for flying objects that enter the stands.  Foul balls and broken bats have the potential to enter the seating areas and concourses of stadiums.  Always be aware of what’s going on in the game so that you can avoid being hit by any bats or balls that fly your way.
  • Exercise caution in going after foul balls or balls tossed into the stands.  When a baseball is hit or thrown into the stands, chaos can ensue.  Take care to avoid getting trampled by everyone else who wants the ball if you’re in the middle of a seated or standing crowd and a ball’s flying in your general direction.  If you’re sitting or standing near a railing, be very careful if you choose to reach over the railing to attempt to catch the ball.  It doesn’t take more than a second for an accident to happen while reaching for a ball; last night in Arlington, Texas, a fan tumbled over a railing, fell 20 feet, and later died while reaching for a ball that Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton tossed into the stands.
  • Peanuts and Cracker Jack aren’t for everyone.  If you or a loved one suffers from peanut allergies, call personnel at your favorite team’s stadium and ask if the stadium features a peanut-free seating section or is hosting a peanut-free baseball game.  Attending one of these games could reduce your risk of suffering a peanut-induced allergic reaction.
  • Avoid freezing and overheating.  Climates vary–often drastically–between seating areas at baseball games.  Some seats that are under cover stay cooler (even cold) because of the shade; some seats that are not under cover get full sun and can heat up quickly.  In some seats you may want to wear a hoodie, while in other seats you’d be more comfortable in a tank top.  Look at the stadium’s seating chart to see where your seats are located so you can get an idea of what kind of clothing to wear.  Still unsure of whether your seats are covered or not, in the sun or shaded?  Dress in layers so that you can be comfortable no matter where you’re sitting.  And check into what the weather predictions are for the day of the game you’re attending; to reduce the risk of hypothermia, bring a raincoat along if there’s a chance it could rain.