What is Self-Medication?

Self-medication is treating oneself for common heath problems without medical consultation or supervision with medications approved for use.

These are commonly known as “non-prescription” or “over the counter (OTC)” medications. There is no need for a prescription to buy these medicines and they are available in pharmacies and supermarkets.

People may also self-medicate to relieve stress, anxiety, overcome psychological trauma or reduce symptoms of mental illness.

What are the Types of Self-Medication?

Types of self-medication vary with the medical condition and medicine(s) being consumed.

Self-medication for Stress, Anxiety, Depression and Psychological trauma:

  • Alcohol – Consumption of alcohol helps numb thoughts and emotions, making people forget their problems. However, it can cause liver and heart damage, leave the person in an inebriated state and impair judgment capability. It is also an addicting substance.
  • Use of drugs: Self-medication with psychostimulants, e.g. cocaine and amphetamines is commonly done to attain a euphoric feeling. People may self-medicate to improve mental health, may be to develop confidence, or for public speaking. Cocaine has a very high potential for addiction.

Self-medication for pain, fever, cough and other minor symptoms

People use painkillers or analgesics for relief from discomforts like headaches and backaches. One must be cautious when self-medicating with common medications like paracetamol or ibuprofen as these can cause damage to the liver and stomach lining.

Self-medication for medical conditions:

In this type, the patient self-diagnoses the condition and tries to cure it using non-prescription medications. This can lead to complications as the medical condition can get enhanced and at times be fatal.

Self-medication can also be classified depending on the addictive mechanism.

Direct self-medication - In these cases, the person suffers discomfort when withdrawing the substance, e.g. alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, illegal drugs, OTC medications

Indirect self-medication - These can be achieved by actions or behaviors that cause changes in the brain’s neurochemistry, e.g. gambling, eating disorders, sexual compulsions. The addiction happens to the person’s own biological substances, e.g. adrenaline, endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, etc.


  1. What is Self-Medication? - (http://www.wsmi.org/about-self-care-and-self-medication/what-is-self-medication/)
  2. Are You Self-Medicating? - (https://americanaddictioncenters.org/adult-addiction-treatment-programs/self-medicating/)
  3. Self-medication: A current challenge - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4012703/)
  4. Risks of self-medication practices - (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20615179)

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