Nearly half the United States population uses a prescription medication each month. Over 11 percent use 5 or more prescription drugs.1
When is enough enough, and when is it too much? To answer these questions, it’s important to learn more about overmedication, prescription drug addiction, and your health.
What Is Overmedication?
When you’re overmedicated, you’re receiving more medications or greater amounts of one medication than you need for your health. Too much medication can simply be a waste of your money, but it can also cause serious health complications.
Some potential consequences of overmedication include the following:
- Substance use disorders and addiction
- Other psychological health issues
- Dangerous drug interactions
- Greater risk of negative side effects and physical health complications
Protect yourself or your loved one by taking an in-depth look at what you’re taking, how much you’re taking, and why you’re taking it. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your options and make sure he or she is aware of just what it is you’re taking.
What Causes Overmedication?
Overmedication has several causes and contributors. These may include the following:
- Pharmacist or doctor errors
- Pharmacists or doctors being unaware of other or multiple prescriptions
- Personal error in dosage or use
- Additional undiagnosed medical conditions
- Medication-first approaches to physical and mental health care
- Continuing to take prescriptions after they are no longer needed
- Intentional doctor shopping or pharmacy fraud
Because there are so many potential causes, overmedication is common, and it’s a problem across all age groups and demographics.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Overmedication?
Signs and symptoms of overmedication are difficult to diagnosis. They can mimic other mental or physical health conditions — often resulting in another prescription — or even the original condition for which they were prescribed. When multiple drugs are involved, diagnosis becomes even more of a challenge. Symptoms are endless or unpredictable because of the potential interactions.
However some of the more common signs of overmedication include the following:
- Fatigue, loss of energy
- Abdominal pain
- Bodily aches and pain
- Motor and coordination problems
- Falls and accidents
- Frequent, skin flushing and rashes
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Dramatic changes in mood
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory impairment
- Mental cloudiness or confusion
- Delayed thought process
- Impaired rational thought
- Hallucinations, delusions and psychosis
- Withdrawal symptoms when not using
In other words, if you don’t feel like you think you should — physically or mentally — talk to a doctor about what you are taking before asking about other medications you can add.
A bad drug interaction or overdose can land you in the hospital or even lead to overdose. “Older adults account for about 35 percent of all hospital stays,” PBS reports, “but more than half of the visits that are marred by drug-related complications.”2 And elderly patients aren’t alone in experiencing the serious consequences of overmedication.
Consumer Reports shares that as a whole, “Almost 1.3 million people went to U.S. emergency rooms due to adverse drug effects in 2014, and about 124,000 died from those events.” Many of those were related to prescription, and even prescribed, drug use. And as Consumer Reports continues, “Research suggests that up to half of those events were preventable.” So what can we do about overmedication? How can we protect ourselves and our loved ones?
Communication is key to preventing or addressing overmedication. As mentioned above, make sure both your doctor and pharmacist know exactly what you’re taking, how much, and when.
Additionally make sure you’re doing the following:
- Keep all of your doctors and medical health providers informed of all medication you are taking including over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, prescription drugs or even illegal narcotics
- Report any and all side effects even if they seem unrelated or unimportant.
- Stay organized by making a list of all your medications, when and how to take them, and dosage amounts Take this list with you when you go to the doctor’s office or pharmacy
- Ask your doctor for a comprehensive medication review to make sure you still need or should still be taking the medications you are and to make sure you’re using your medications correctly
- Don’t just take any and every medication your doctor suggests without first doing some research about its purpose and its potential side effects, interactions or complications
- Educate yourself about drug dependence and addiction and look for signs and symptoms so you can take quick action if needed
Most importantly — get help when you need it! Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions, report side effects, ask for second opinions or look for additional mental health care or addiction treatment resources.
We’re here to help you better understand your health and your medications, and we’re here any time you need us. Reach out to Dual Diagnosis at 844-675-1221 to learn more about overmedication and solutions that meet your individual needs. Whether you just have questions or are ready to begin treatment today, we can help.
1 “Americans Taking More Prescription Drugs Than Ever.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 19 Jan. 2017.
2 Gorman, Anna. “Has Overmedicating Seniors Become America’s ‘Other Drug Problem’?” PBS. 30 Aug. 2016.
3 Carr, Teresa. “Too Many Meds? America’s Love Affair With Prescription Medication.” Consumer Reports. 3 Aug. 2017.
Further Reading About How Do I Know If I Am Overmedicated?
Read our general and most popular articles
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.