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Why Do People Self-Medicate?

Why Do People Self-Medicate?

Many people self-medicate so here’s a look at why and when you shouldn’t or should consider self-medication… plus how best to go about it.

Have you ever taken an aspirin to cure a headache? Does that sound like a familiar situation? You’re not alone.

Almost everyone has reached for a quick fix at some point. Whether it’s popping a pill for pain, drinking herbal tea to soothe an upset stomach, or using a sleep aid to battle insomnia, self-medication is a common practice. It’s a part of everyday life for many of us.

But have you ever stopped to consider why we do it?

In the United States, a staggering 77.7% of people have reported self-medicating when they experience various health issues.

This behavior is divided into three main groups:

  • 27.5% self-medicate for physical health issues
  • 26.5% for mental health concerns
  • 23.7% for both

These statistics highlight a significant trend: self-medication is not an isolated practice but a widespread phenomenon.

I’m sharing about this topic because I’m a bestselling wellness author and leading Behavioral Change Coach – with about 2 million books sold globally.

I love to help people to live happier, healthier lives. So I put together this article about self-medication.

Self-medication can take many forms.

It might involve using over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve pain. Some people turn to CBD or cannabis to manage anxiety or chronic pain, while others might use opioids for more severe conditions. Then there are those who might opt for hard drugs and substances, or even alcohol, to cope with emotional or physical discomfort. Changing one’s diet, taking supplements, or adopting new lifestyle habits are also common methods of self-medication.

This prevalent practice raises important questions. Why do so many of us choose to self-medicate instead of seeking professional medical advice? Is self-medication always a bad thing, or can it sometimes be a reasonable approach? As we delve deeper into these questions, we’ll explore the nuances of self-medication, its potential risks and benefits, and the reasons behind its widespread use. 

What self-medication looks like…

Self-medication can manifest in various ways, from seemingly harmless to potentially dangerous. For instance, someone might take over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to manage chronic pain. Another person might use CBD oil or cannabis to alleviate anxiety or insomnia. Some might resort to opioids for severe pain, while others might turn to alcohol to cope with stress or emotional turmoil.

Changing diet is another common form of self-medication. People might adopt a gluten-free diet to address digestive issues or increase their intake of vitamins and supplements to boost their immune system. Some might make drastic changes like intermittent fasting or cutting out entire food groups to lose weight or feel more energetic.

However, not all self-medication methods are safe. For example, using hard drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine for energy or focus, or taking medications that don’t match your symptoms, can be highly dangerous. Overuse of alcohol to manage anxiety or depression can lead to addiction and other severe health problems.

Is self-medication always bad?

Self-medication isn’t inherently bad. Its impact depends largely on the choices you make and how informed you are before making those choices. For example, treating a headache with over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen is generally considered safe. However, if you start taking these medications frequently or in large quantities, the risk of overdosing increases. Contrary to common belief, overdose does not happen only with hard and illegal substances. Overdosing on painkillers can lead to serious health issues, including liver damage, gastrointestinal bleeding, and even kidney failure. This is a clear indication of how self-medication can spiral out of control if not approached with caution.

Another risk associated with self-medication is misdiagnosis.

Without proper medical training, it’s easy to misinterpret symptoms and choose the wrong treatment. For instance, treating what you believe to be a simple cold with common cold remedies could mask the symptoms of a more serious condition like pneumonia or bronchitis. This delay in seeking professional medical advice can lead to complications and worsening of the actual condition.

Furthermore, using substances like alcohol or recreational drugs to manage stress, anxiety, or depression is a dangerous form of self-medication. These substances can lead to addiction, impaired judgment, and a host of other health problems. Alcohol, for instance, might provide temporary relief from stress, but it can also contribute to liver disease, cardiovascular problems, and mental health issues in the long run.

Even dietary changes, which are generally seen as positive, can have negative consequences if not done correctly. While adopting a healthier diet can improve overall well-being, extreme dietary changes without proper guidance can lead to nutritional deficiencies. For example, a drastic reduction in calorie intake for weight loss can result in an energy deficit, affecting your body’s ability to function properly. Similarly, eliminating entire food groups without understanding their nutritional importance can cause deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals.

Moreover, the lack of professional oversight in self-medication means that potential drug interactions are often overlooked. Combining over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, or supplements without knowing how they interact can be dangerous. Some combinations can reduce the effectiveness of the medications or, worse, cause harmful side effects.

No time for doctor appointments

Can you guess which is the most common reason mentioned by people to self-medicate? It is the lack of time for doctor appointments. It’s often difficult to make time for a doctor’s visit due to several reasons: no same-day appointments are available, there’s a lot of waiting even when you get an appointment, and the appointment times can be inconvenient for those who work.

Finding solutions to ensure you can get an appointment on time is crucial. Telemedicine has emerged as a viable option, allowing patients to consult with doctors via video calls, thus saving time and providing flexibility. Ultimately, telehealth is a practical solution for those who can’t go to a physical appointment because they are either stuck at their desk or need to provide any form of constant care, such as childcare or being someone’s carer. 

Another option that is growing in popularity is concierge medicine, where patients pay an annual fee for personalized care. This can be highly desirable, especially if you want all the benefits of seeing a real doctor without any of the inconvenience of having to wait or book time off when it is impractical. A concierge doctor can rapidly diagnose patients because they offer same-day appointments and have access to all their medical data.

People think their issues are not serious

Many people self-medicate because they believe their issues are not serious enough to warrant a doctor’s visit. It might seem silly to get a doctor’s appointment for a minor issue like a cold, but it’s essential to know when something might be wrong. For instance, a cold or cough that doesn’t go away, a minor headache that keeps recurring, or numerous minor issues appearing simultaneously can indicate a more serious underlying condition.

Sometimes, people normalize their ailments, thinking it’s just something they have to live with. However, normalizing these issues doesn’t make them go away. It’s also important to consider that if everyone in your family has the same problems, it might indicate a genetic or environmental factor that requires medical attention.

Medical treatment is too expensive

The high cost of medical treatment is another reason why people self-medicate. Finding more affordable healthcare insurance plans can help mitigate this issue. For instance, Blue Cross Blue Shield is a top pick for affordable health insurance due to its low overall cost, best-value Silver plans, a wide variety of offerings, and good quality ratings. The company’s plans are widely available and offer the largest provider network.

When considering how affordable a health insurance plan is, it’s essential to look beyond the premium. If you expect to visit a doctor for anything other than preventive care, you should also consider the plan’s deductible and copays. Factors like cost, plan benefits, state availability, customer satisfaction, types of plans available, ACA metal level plans available, and dental coverage are crucial in determining the best affordable health insurance companies.

It’s also important to note that self-medication doesn’t necessarily save money (false economy) because you may not be targeting the cause of your medical issues. You could be doing more harm than good, leading to more expensive treatments in the long run. Additionally, you might be spending money on something that doesn’t effectively address your health concerns. In other words, self-medicating as a way to save money is just bullsh*. It often achieves the exact opposite! 

Understanding your health before resorting to self-medication is crucial.

While there is a place for self-medication when you know what you’re doing and why, it’s essential to be aware of the health risks involved. Self-medication can sometimes fail to resolve problems and may even exacerbate them. For instance, treating symptoms without addressing the underlying cause can lead to more severe health issues down the line.

The United States needs radical social, economic, and healthcare changes to address the root causes of self-medication. Improving access to affordable healthcare, increasing health literacy, and providing better support for mental health are essential steps. By addressing these systemic issues, we can reduce the reliance on self-medication and promote healthier lifestyles.

Modern approaches like telehealth and concierge medicine offer promising solutions. Telehealth makes it easier for people to consult with doctors from the comfort of their homes, while concierge doctors provide personalized care and quicker access to medical professionals. These innovations can help mitigate the risks of self-medication and encourage individuals to seek professional help for their health concerns.

Ultimately, balancing self-care with professional medical advice is key. By making informed decisions and utilizing available healthcare resources, we can better manage our health and reduce the potential dangers of self-medication.

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