SELF-MEDICATION AND THE POTENTIAL HARM

8 min


In a country like ours and most other developing countries, self-medication is not a new concept. Firstly, most of us are guilty of self-medication. But self-medication might not be intentional for most of us. Further, there is a lot to self-medication apart from popping those pain pills at night just to stop wincing and fall asleep. On the other hand, there are a lot of instances where self-medication has become fatal or life-threatening. Studies show that more than 60 million people use drugs like opioids worldwide.

Today, we will discuss what self-medication means, the symptoms or potential factors that contribute to this dangerous practice. Further, why people fall prey to self-medication and how to get out of this dangerous habit.

WHAT IS SELF MEDICATION AND WHY IS IT DANGEROUS?

Self-medication is oftentimes viewed as an attitude towards self-diagnosis, expertise or prescription. Further, this could be really dangerous in a lot of ways. Moreover, a piece of half-baked knowledge and the wrong diagnosis with a totally different group of medication could be dangerous and fatal.

MECHANISM OF SELF-MEDICATION:

Firstly, the self-medication hypothesis was given in 1985. This hypothesis states that substance abuse can also be a form of self-medication. For instance, many people suffer from anxiety, stress and even depression sometimes. These people are found to claim using substances as a form of self-medication when actually they should not do so. These people also state that the use of substances helps them for just the time being. Moreover, it temporarily relieves or alleviates the symptoms.

Further, studies have shown that substance abuse can worsen the underlying condition. Moreover, it can contribute to the growth of the illness. Therefore identifying the issue and sorting it out is the best way to alleviate the problem. The underlying mental issue should be identified and not fed with alcohol or other drugs.

REASONS FOR SELF-MEDICATION:

There are many reasons quoted for the practice of self-medication. To clarify, some of the common reasons include,

  • Health care has become costly in most developed countries. The inability to see a physician and pay the fee is seen as a major risk factor for the adaptation of the practice of self-medication
  • Time constraints to visit a physician
  • Exposure to a lot of data. Times have changed a lot. Further, with the current internet era and an increase in the availability of information through campaigns, awareness videos, advertisements, the use of self-medication has increased
  • Listening to peers, family and people around and using a particular med based on their experience. The use of their prescription to treat similar conditions has also been on the rise.
  • Not understanding the fact that each and every one’s body is different.
  • Not viewing the long term goal of treating the condition by going to the root cause and identifying the issues. Further, the majority of the population have this general tendency to treat the minor symptoms for time being and ignore the root cause.
  • Fear or phobia of hospitals, doctors, procedures etc. Moreover, nosocomephobia is very real and can get in the way of properly treating your illness. Anxiety is also seen as a major hinderence to getting the needed medical attention.
  • Understanding the fact that doctors and hospitals are there to help you and give you the needed medical attention can go a long way in overcoming the fear of doctors and hospitals. Moreover, you can see a therapist if your anxiety levels are a major hinderence to see a doctor.

MEDICINES THAT ARE COMMONLY MISUSED:

Certain medicines that require no prescription and are available as Over The Counter (OTC) drugs are the most commonly misused ones. We fail to understand that these drugs can bring side effects too.

To clarify, the type of self-medication can largely depend upon the type of physical or mental ailment the patient is undergoing. For instance, the types include,

Type of self-medication Drugs commonly usedKnown risks of the drug
Self-medication with beveragesCaffeine, energy drinks, tea etc.,Though these might seem like something very normal, people commonly misuse these beverages unknowingly.
Caffeine addiction is real, and its short-term effects create an illusion that caffeine actually brights you up.
The sudden activeness is due to a rise in insulin levels and the release of endorphins. This wears out once the caffeine is pushed out of the system. Further, caffeine heightens anxiety.
Abuse of food Comfort eating, binging
(Especially snacks or fast food)
It’s a very common form of abuse. People with low self-esteem, psychological issues and eating disorders fall under this category.
Self-medicating with boozeWine, Whisky, Beer, Vodka etc.,This type of medication not only causes personal harm to the person but can be risky for people around them. Though some of these drugs are incorporated into syrups to alleviate symptoms of cold etc., these drugs taken in moderation can prove good. Excess intake can produce negative effects. Further, alcohol withdrawal and the recovery process is not a bed of roses.
Victims with PTSD, other mental illnesses constantly fall prey to these practices.

Further, self-medication through uncommon drugs include,

Type of self-medicationDrugs commonly usedKnown risks of the drug
Self-medication with opioids/ opiatesDrugs derived from poppy plants like morphine, codeine etc.,Commonly used for pain management
Depression is a very common side effect of these drugs. Could be life-threatening.
Self-medication with psychostimulantsAmphetaminesUsed to improve mood and certain physical functions of the body. Again psychiatric reasons dominate. It’s a commonly abused recreational drug. The depression that follows once the drugs wear out can be fatal.
Self-medication with substanceMarijuanaCommonly used as an adjuvant with other drugs. Commonly used as a form of substance abuse to manage depression and pain. Studies show that even though these drugs alleviate pain temporarily, it only worsens the underlying condition

RISKS OF SELF-MEDICATION:

There are a lot of risks to self-medicate oneself. Further, some of them include,

RISKSCONSEQUENCES OF SELF-MEDICATING
Wrong medicine and doseSelf-diagnosing an issue might lead to,
Taking the wrong medicine and dose
Risk of overdosing
And, prolong the normal recovery in a person.
AllergyAllergies could result from,
Taking drugs like sulpha or penicillin when one should not (could be fatal)
Type IV or severe allergic reactions

High risk of dependence Certain medicines can be highly addictive,
Medicines tend habit formation
Further, addiction to prescriptive drugs like pain killers, drugs for insomnia and cough syrups are common
Antibiotic resistance Avoid antibiotics in the long term,
Taking too many antibiotics can create resistance in the body and render them ineffective at times of need
Try avoiding them for conditions like the common cold, flu etc.
Undesirable drug interactionsDrug interactions could be dangerous,
Certain groups of medications can never be taken together at any cost
These cause undesirable risks to health
Always consult a doctor before taking two or more meds at any given point in time.

MANAGING SELF MEDICATION:

Managing self-medication can be really exhaustive. But, once you decide to take that first step towards managing self-medication, consider it a victory. Further, there are a few things to remember while managing self-medication.

UNDERSTAND THAT YOU NEED HELP:

Sometimes, this is not easy. No one can entirely survive and thrive on their own. Further, understanding that you have an issue and you need to sort it out is really important. It can be threatening but be assured that you’re safe and heading in the right direction.

OVERCOMING PHOBIAS:

As we already discussed the phobias of a hospital environment, doctors, surgical procedures could be overwhelming. Moreover, it is important to overcome those fears and seek psychiatric support if needed.

RISKS THAT FOLOW:

Understanding the side effects of the drugs and the resistance caused by the continued intake of certain drugs can help you reduce the intake. Seeking medical help is important before taking any sort of medication. No one can help you better than a medical professional when it comes to matters of the body.

Apart from these, the disease can be left undiagnosed. For instance, if you have a continuous headache and keep on taking pain meds (analgesics), the root cause may be left undetected. Further, all the analgesics you take might lead to an entirely different problem. Also, liver toxicity is a very common side effect of taking Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s). Thus instead of diagnosing the condition, we end up creating a totally different problem.

GUARDING PERSONAL SPACE:

Not only the doctor, but the patient also shares the responsibility of protecting confidentiality when it comes to matters of health. Never discuss health issues unless it’s necessary and never share prescription drugs with people who have the same condition. Always store meds in a safe space away from access and reach of children. Dispose of meds once they have crossed the date of expiry and if they are no longer needed.

To sum up, having read about the potential risks of self-medication it is always advisable to always consult a doctor before taking meds. Drugs should never be manipulated negatively. Every person’s body is unique and demands different needs. It is always advisable to get a doctor’s opinion before proceeding with drugs or meds. Only a professional can perfectly tailor the medicines according to your needs. When the world is moving on to new and better healthcare with personalized and 3D printed drugs, it is rather imprudent to self-medicate or follow medication prescribed for others.


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Dr Kavitha M

I am an undergraduate degree holder in dentistry. I have a great interest in music and reading. I am a linguaphile. My areas of interest lie in psychology, medical imaging, diagnostics, and oncology. I am a person who focuses more on the emerging areas of forensics.

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