Prescription Medications – The New Stigma

By on February 1, 2014

By Brenda Abbott –

In today’s society there is a stigma attached to prescription medications and respectively the people who need to take them for chronic pain, mental health, neurological and other health issues. The media consistently paints unrealistic image of prescription medication use and that has contributed to the stigma on prescription medication, not to mention the negative impact of the quality of life and care of people who need prescription medications.

The stigma on prescription medication usage has made people label themselves and allow society to disrespect, devalue and subject them to stereotypes. Because of this, many people who need medical attention are refusing treatment because they do not wish to be labeled as addicts.

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The reason there is a stigma on prescription drug use is due to misinformation that is being spread through the media. Many people do not recognize the impact and capacity of mental illness, pain management and simply the fact that taking prescription medications doesn’t necessarily make one an addict. This trend is especially worrisome with respect to the elderly population refusing much needed help. Their anxiety about being seen as an addict or actually becoming addicted can become an obstacle to receiving early treatment and successfully managing chronic and life threatening conditions.

This stigma of prescription drugs can affect the lives of so many people who have health conditions and are using prescription medications to manage their condition in several different ways:

  • It can contribute to low self-esteem, low motivation and depression.
  • It can have a negative impact on social prospects or employment opportunities.
  • It can actually encourage people to turn to illegal substance use or alcohol.
  • It can cause negatives feelings of isolation, embarrassment, shame and anger.
  • It can affect not only the person who is using the prescription medication, but their family as well.

People are living longer today and by leading a healthy life style they can live well throughout their senior years. Improving their physical, spiritual and emotional health, as well as taking appropriate prescription medication when needed, people in their late 70’s and 80’s can live fulfilling lives. Those older adults who are refusing help or are ashamed to get help, have a much higher risk of substance use problems, heart and liver disease, gastrointestinal disorders, dementia, cataracts, hearing loss, arthritis, and diabetes.

Some individuals go to the extreme of hiding what they are going through from their loved ones. For example, if they are suffering from mental illness they will try to ignore their symptoms, but some untreated conditions can lead to much more severe conditions including stroke, congestive heart failure, diabetes, heart disease and even suicide. Along with those issues, side effects of ignoring symptoms and avoiding getting appropriate help can include headaches, insomnia, reckless behaviors, chronic pain and digestive disorders.

Of course, we cannot turn a blind eye that there is a small group of people who have contributed to the stigma on prescription medications by using such medications inappropriately and for the wrong reasons. These people use prescription medications because they are seeking to get high. They will often go to emergency rooms and will see multiple doctors to get more and more of these prescription medications. While the percentage of people using these meds inappropriately is relatively small, it has risen dramatically in the last few years and much more attention is being given to it creating the stigma.

It is unjust that people who truly need these medications should be afraid to seek help. The people who have mental illness or chronic pain need prescription medications to be able to function and make it through the day so that they can be the mother, daughter, son, father, husband, wife, grandfather or grandmother that they want to be, not because they are seeking a high.

Anytime the media creates hysteria, there are victims of that hysteria. In this case it is by and large our elderly population. Many are fearful that they will become hopelessly addicted to medications, or that people will judge them, and they do not get the help they need. It is important that they understand the truth: that there are millions of people who take their prescription medications as prescribed and encounter no problems commonly associated with addiction.  They also need to know that taking medications as prescribed can lead to a better quality of life for some, and that at no point do people ever lose the power of choice with respect to taking medications.


Author Brenda Abbott works as an Executive Assistant at Saint Jude Retreats– a non 12 step alternative to conventional alcohol and drug rehab.

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Prescription Medications – The New Stigma