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By Bernice Alhassan.
Self-medication involves the use of drugs without the advice of a qualified medical practitioner or doctor. It has become a norm in our society and unknown to many, it is a potentially dangerous practice to indulge in.The stressful conditions under which we live, the competition at work or business and the hustle and bustle of everyday life have taken a toll on human health. About 50% of the general population suffer from headaches several times during the month. Stomach upsets, digestive disorders, heartburn and peptic ulcers are other regular complaints. As depression, insomnia, allergies and several other health challenges increase, pharmaceutical companies flood the market with new drugs. There are pills available even to combat laziness or shyness. Creative advertising and aggressive marketing have turned us into a generation of pill-poppers. Several reasons are behind people’s decisions to self-medicate today. For some people it’s just a lack of time to go see a doctor. It is no news that seeing a doctor often times is time consuming and there are situations where for an ailment which you consider as minor, a long list of tests get prescribed for you by the doctor. This always comes with a lot of financial commitment which brings me to the next reason why people pop pills. Adequate health care these days is costly and thus, people will much rather opt for the less expensive over-the-counter (OTC) remedies. Other times, it’s the prescriptions from a previous illness people use after considering that the symptoms then, look the same now.Yet another reason is the sea of information available on the internet. Finding the cure to your ailment has become as easy as just a search away from the internet it (or at least, so it seems). Whatever the case, it still doesn’t make self-medicating proper. The saying “he who self-medicates has a fool for a doctor” is true. The risks, I can tell you, far outweigh the benefits. For one, you may have misdiagnosed the problem and are taking the wrong medication or correctly diagnosed it, but are still taking the wrong thing or at a wrong dosage. Besides these, there is the issue of drug interactions which arise from taking the wrong combination of drugs and again, some home remedies can solve one issue while creating or aggravating another (for instance, some medications for cold, can raise blood pressure). The inherent dangers in self-medicating are numerous and can be fatal, if not now, then in the long run. These include: Habituation: This refers generally to a psychological dependence on the continued use of a drug to maintain a sense of well-being, which can result in drug addiction. Many folks have become addicted to prescription drugs such as cough syrups, anti-allergy drugs, antacids, pain relievers or tonics and as such, find themselves unable to do without these medications. Allergic reactions that may be severe or even fatal can occur. Antibiotics like Penicillin or Sulpha drugs can cause very severe reactions. Irrational drug combinations are available in the market. Nobody tells the full truth about the products they sell and this goes for medicines as well. Some of them may be dangerous especially if taken with alcohol or other substances. Even food supplements and tonics can sometimes be harmful. Under-dosage may not cure the symptom. Over-dosage can produce collateral damage to heart, kidneys or other organs. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics through wrong dosage or inadequate duration may lead to resistance or sudden allergic reactions. As a result, when there is need for an antibiotic, it may be ineffective. Vitamins- Vitamin C in particular seems to me to be one of the most abused drugs. As a matter of fact, people consider it to be more of a sweet than a drug. However, even an overdose of vitamins may have an adverse result, especially fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. Addiction to psychotropic drugs such as LSD, Ketamine, cocaine, marijuana is on the increase. A symptom like headache or nausea may be common to many medical diseases. By masking the symptom temporarily, it will be difficult for a doctor to arrive at a correct diagnosis. All these are only a few of the many risks inherent in self-medication. As trivial as it seems, even common paracetamol can cause potential complications if taken without a doctor’s diagnosis and prescription. Your life and health are very important so the next time you are tempted to pop a pill, just pause and think!  

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This article was first published on 7th November 2012 and updated on November 23rd, 2012 at 3:18 pm

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