Why You Shouldn’t Self-Medicate with Antibiotics

It’s never a good idea to self-medicate with antibiotics. The consequences could be serious. You need to consider the negative social effect of doing it, as it can favour bacterial resistance.
Why You Shouldn’t Self-Medicate with Antibiotics

Last update: 25 March, 2020

It’s dangerous to self-medicate with antibiotics. We emphasize the word dangerous; not only is it inconvenient and against common sense, but also extremely risky for many health reasons.

Not only are you putting your own health at risk of side effects by self-medicating with antibiotics, but also encouraging resistance. Meaning that if you need antibiotics in the future, you may become immune to them.

The issue is not just limited to the effects it can have on your own life and health, but eventually it will have a global effect.

According to the World Health Organization, resistance to antibiotics is one of the greatest threats to global health.

Do you self-medicate with antibiotics?

When we talk about self-medicating, we mean a person who takes medicine without it being prescribed by a doctor, a diagnosis or a follow-up. It’s normal for many places to not be strict with regulating medication.

Over-the-counter medications exist. You can buy them without a prescription – drugs that treat minor symptoms like headaches, coughs and heartburn. However, these drugs have warnings about their uses that you shouldn’t ignore.

Antibiotics, in particular, should never be taken without a prescription. However, some pharmacies dispense them without any requirements. There are also people that use left-over drugs from an old prescription when new symptoms of infection arise. This is completely ill-advised and you’ll see why below.

A woman holding her stomach.
Medications have adverse effects, and hence they’re dangerous if used indiscriminately.

Main risks

The main risk of using antibiotics inappropriately is that you may become resistant. When a doctor prescribes them for you, it means that they’ve found a bacterial infection and believe that one of these drugs can help you overcome it.

The dose and duration of treatment are very important. Your doctor will determine this, based on their knowledge and your state of health. You must take these medicines as prescribed by the professional who prescribes them to avoid risks and so that the treatment is effective.

If antibiotics aren’t taken correctly, bacteria could develop mutations, specifically a mutation that resists medication. Consequently, if you get a bacterial infection, these antibiotics won’t help you. Therefore, your doctor will have fewer options for helping you fight the illness.

Other self-medicating effects

Self-medicating with antibiotics will not only put you at risk of becoming immune, but it could also have other effects on your health which could be very serious. The most important ones are:

  • Side effects: all drugs have side effects, ranging from headaches, dizziness and diarrhea, to seizures or anaphylactic shock.
  • Personal characteristics: if you have another illness, or your health has some peculiarities, the antibiotic can make things worse, possibly leading to hospitalization.
  • Intoxication: taking an incorrect dose can intoxicate you.
  • Mixing drugs: if you’re taking other medication, the antibiotics could increase or decrease the effects of the other drugs.
Prescription drugs.

Societal consequences

One of the most serious consequences is that you’re contributing to the creation of super bacteria that are currently plaguing the world. Excessive or inappropriate use of antibiotics is the main reason why this happens.

According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), illnesses caused by micro-organisms such as staphylococci have become extremely resistant, even to the most powerful antibiotics. These illnesses kill more people in this country than Parkinson’s disease and homicide.

Tuberculosis is another global issue. It’s becoming more and more resistant to all types of antibiotics and kills many people each year. Pneumonia and sepsis are other good examples.

The World Health Organization has said that if people continue to use these drugs inappropriately, within 10 years several infections that are completely treatable today, will be deadly. For all these reasons, you should never self-medicate with antibiotics.

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  • Fajardo Zapata, A. L. (2013). La automedicación de antibióticos: un problema de salud pública. Revista Científica Salud Uninorte, 29(2).