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The Dangers of Self-Medication (4 min read)


What is Self-Medication?

Self-medication is the use of any medicine for the treatment of oneself of any ailment without a relevant medical personnel’s prescription. The medicine may be a herb or a conventional drug which can be bought over the counter. A person may also self-medicate by taking more or less than the prescribed or recommended dose of a drug.

The Dangers of Self-Medication

In Nigeria, when an individual falls sick, he/she typically consults with drug hawkers or a local chemist to obtain medication or asks a neighbor to spare a few tablets. Most of the times nothing detrimental occurs after following such an intake of unprescribed and unsupervised drugs, but it could be very dangerous as people can have access to drugs that are harmful to take without proper diagnosis from a medical professional. Thus, if an individual takes the wrong medication based on his/her own judgement or unprofessional medical advice, he/she could face serious consequences outlined below:

  • Indiscriminate use of antibiotics could, over a long time lead to antimicrobial resistance and consequently, the antibiotic may become ineffective when taken in the future.
  • Self-medication by pregnant women could adversely affect the unborn child causing congenital disabilities.
  • Delays in seeking medical advice when needed.
  • Can cause dangerous drug interactions.
  • Masking of a severe disease, as seen in those who use analgesics to suppress fever in malaria.
  • The risk of dependence and abuse.

Why do People Self-Medicate?

Despite the adverse effects that may arise, why do so many people choose to self-prescribe themselves drugs? In fact, it was observed that the people of the rural communities in Southeastern Nigeria self-medicate with "99.4% for their health care need and only 0.6% report to physicians in times of sickness” in a study by Arikpo et al. (2009). This is almost the entire population in this rural environment.


Thus, Omalese and his colleagues conducted a research to comprehend why people choose to self-medicate amongst university students in Southwestern Nigeria. 


They discovered the following reasons as shown in the table below:


R e a s o n                                             P e r c e n ta g e ( % )

Minor ailment                                               54 .7

Financial constraint                                     22 .4

Know what to do                                          10 .0

Services not available                                   9.4

Lack of escort                                                2.9


Ignorance                                                        0.6





Solutions to curb self-medication include:

  1. The government must raise the level of health care in rural communities to the existing levels in urban centers through adequate budgetary provision.
  2. Effective public health educational programs for the rural communities will help them increase awareness of the dangers of self-medication
  3. Drug hawkers must be arrested and prosecuted to decrease access to dangerous drugs in addition to misdiagnosis. Furthermore, there have even been cases where drug hawkers mixed multiple drugs to "prescribe” to people seeking medical advice.
  4. The Government should enforce relevant legislation which limits the sales of drugs without prescription to only a few relatively harmless over the counter ones.



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