A Spanish study finds that 1 in 5 people engage in self-medication — using an over-the-counter drug, alcohol, street drugs, or drugs prescribed for a different purpose, to alleviate an illness or condition, without professional supervision.
The study found that women were more likely than men to self-medicate.
Experts from the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid believe self-medication is associated with nationality, income level and alcohol and tobacco consumption amongst the population.
“In spite of the negative connotations generally associated with the idea of self-medication, it is actually the most significant method of self-care for the population,” said Dr. Pilar Carrasco, main author of the study.
According to the research, published in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, 20.17 percent of Spaniards use medication without a medical prescription.
Women were found to self-medicate more than men (with a prevalence of 16.93 percent compared to 14.46 percent).
According to Carrasco, women self-medicate more because they “are more likely to suffer from emotional disorders and are more vulnerable in our society.
“This may be due to a greater disposition among women to acknowledge and voice their symptoms.”
Researchers used data gathered between 2006 and 2007 from 20,738 people through the National Health System. Age, sex, nationality, marital status, level of education and occupational status were studied.
Those surveyed were asked if, in the last two weeks, they had consumed any of the drugs on a list drawn up by the researchers, without medical prescription.
Both men and women had consumed painkillers, antipyretics (to reduce fevers) and drugs to relieve the common cold or sore throat, without a medical prescription.
Those 16 to 44 years old were the population group most inclined to self-medicate, with differences based on gender, level of education, nationality and health habits.
“The consumption of non-prescribed drugs is more prolific among young women without chronic pain. This practice is also related to tobacco and alcohol consumption and the use of alternative therapies in this group,” Carrasco said.
The World Health Organization advocates improved transparency on the correct use of drugs. They suggest creating spaces where the public can receive information on the correct use of drugs.