Drugs: Self Medication or Prescribed Medication

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Published on Nov 26, 2021

What is medication?

According to Wikipedia, medication is a drug used to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent disease.

A drug is a chemical substance that causes a change in the mental or and physical state of an organism. Drugs are further classified into over-the-counter medicine, prescribed medication, and unapproved/illegal drugs. It is important to note that over-the-counter and prescribed drugs when consumed inappropriately knowingly or unknowingly become an abuse of drugs


Types of drugs:

Over-the-counter drugs: These are drugs that can be dispensed by a pharmacist without prior approval from a doctor.

Prescribed drugs: These are drugs that can’t be diagnosed without the approval of a doctor.

Illegal/Unapproved drugs: These are drugs that are not approved by the government to be used for treatment. An illegal drug in Nigeria might be legal elsewhere.


Mode of Drug Consumption

Depending on the purpose for which a drug is meant, there are various modes of consumption. Drugs are taken through the mouth (ingestion, smoking), nose (inhalation), skin (patch, injections), or veins (injections). The most common form of drug consumption is through the mouth, which is likely known as oral consumption. But the type of drug with a rapid effect is the injection.


Drug (Substance) Abuse

Abuse of drugs is an improper use of drugs that are legal or unapproved/illegal. Some might mistake abuse as when you take more than the required dosage and might limit these actions to illegal drugs. That will not be the case as drugs prescribed by a doctor can be abused by the patient. Below are some scenarios that will indicate that prescribed drugs are being abused:

  • Consistently not taking the prescription at the required time.
  • Taking above and below the required dosage.
  • Not completing the medication.
  • Purchasing an alternate drug without getting prior approval from the doctor.

Taking illegal or unapproved drugs can also be likened to abuse. Some drugs need to pass approval by a drug regulating agency particular to your country. These drugs will be subjected to a series of tests or reviews to determine if the drug’s health benefits outweigh the known side effects. On that note, a drug that isn’t regulated can’t be prescribed because of lack of approval. A drug regulating agency will comprise doctors, chemists, pharmacologists, etc. 


Types of medication

Generally, there are two types of medication; prescribed medication and self-medication. 

Prescribed medication

Prescribed medication is an approved drug that is only gotten through a doctor’s prescription. In context, drugs that are taken as documented on a doctor’s note are prescribed medication. That is to say, over-the-counter drugs also fall under prescribed medication if mandated to be taken a certain way on the doctor’s note. This might go against the types of drugs. A safe rule will be: “All over-the-counter drugs can be prescription medication but all prescribed drugs are not over-the-counter drugs.

Benefits of prescribed medication

Treatment follows a laid down process. It starts with a diagnosis that leads to medical examination and thereafter, treatment. Drugs, therapy, or change of lifestyle are used to carry out the treatment. Following the process is needed to know what to treat and to get the best treatment that is better suited for the patient, which can be referred to as personalized treatment. The benefits are as such but not limited to:

  • Better and improved health 
  • Saving money that would have been used to resolve medication abuse.
  • Avoiding side effects, life-threatening conditions, or even death.
  • Avoiding longer recovery time.


According to WHO, self-medication can be defined as the use of drugs to treat self-diagnosed disorders or symptoms, or the intermittent or continued use of a prescribed drug for chronic or recurrent disease or symptoms. For better understanding, a patient undergoing treatment based on what he or she perceives as the symptoms is self-medication. A patient that treats self for a disease that went away and came back with already prescribed drugs is self-medication. Not related to WHO definition, but purchasing over-the-counter drugs without getting proper direction from the pharmacist or doctor is also self-medication.

Dangers of self-medication

Doing it yourself when it comes to healthcare is without its merits. For certain procedures like Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) or giving first aid assistance: these can be done by yourself to save a life. But at the end of it, the required or part of the necessary step would always be to either see a doctor or wait for an Emergency Medical Team (EMT) to arrive to do what’s needed medically. Life is so precious and fragile that treating it whichever you know-how is never the best response. Self-medication is more like treating a precious and fragile life the way you think best. You might say he who wears the shoes knows where it pinches and while that may be true, it is not entirely true because you need certain tests and scans to know where it is pinching you. Even if you knew where you will need a doctor to ascertain certain risk factors that he or she spent years in school and practice learning. These risk factors will show the right medications that are meant for you and to treat the disease. That said, the dangers of self-medication are as follows:

  • Worsening disease
  • Longer recovery from the sickness
  • Wrong self-diagnosis
  • Damage to internal organs like the liver, kidney, etc
  • Developing adverse reactions
  • Increased chance of getting another disease
  • Over-dependence on the drug leads to addiction
  • Spending more money to cure ailment self-medication caused



Drugs can change your mental and physical state for good or worse depending on the way it is used. The science (chemical composition and reaction) behind these drugs and how it affects the human body are not known to you but to those in the medical field. People like doctors, pharmacologists, etc. Going through the process will save you a lot in the future (the next second till the unknown future). The processes are:

  1. A doctor’s consultation
  2. Medical tests and scans as recommended by the doctor
  3. Treatment
  4. In a scenario the patient is not hospitalized, following through with the treatment or medication to the end
  5. Reporting back to the doctor in case you feel the condition is getting worse.


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Self-medication practice among patients in a public health care system

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