The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines self-medication as the use of drugs to treat self-diagnosed disorders or symptoms or the intermittent or continued use of prescribed drug for chronic or recurrent disease or symptoms. Self-medication is a very common practice in all regions of Nigeria.

In a study conducted in Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria, Omolase and his colleagues reported that as much as 85% of the sampled population engaged in self-medication. In a more recent study in Lagos, Ayanwale, Okafor and Odukoya reported that as much as 92% of the sample population still practiced self-medication despite having a good knowledge of the implications of irresponsible self-medication, and the place of responsible self-medication.

A comparative analysis of data on self-medication for other countries shows very similar trend, even for developed nations. For instance, a consumer survey on self-medication showed that nearly 80% of Americans report using an over-the-counter medication in the past year to treat at least one of the ailments they suffer from.

Classification of Drugs

For ease of understanding, this article explains two broad classes of drugs. The two classes include;

  1. Over the Counter Drugs:

Over the counter drugs are those drugs that can be easily gotten and used without a doctor’s prescription. Examples may include drugs like minor pain relievers (Paracetamol), oral anti-malarial and dietary supplements.

  1. Prescription Drugs:

Prescription drugs are pharmaceutical products that are taken upon a doctor’s prescription.


Several persons have reasons why they engage in self-medication. Some reasons include;

  1. Having a feeling that their complaint is minor
  2. Insufficient funds to go see a doctor
  3. Hospital services not being readily available
  4. Certainty of efficacy of self-medication
  5. Ignorance
  6. Easy access to Medication
  7. Fast relief at onset of discomfort
  8. The urge to play an active role in your own health care


It is important to note that sometimes self-medication may be a life-saving option that helps to ease the patient’s symptoms until such time as a doctor becomes available for proper diagnosis and medication. For instance, we all experience that severe occasional headache sometime that feels like our head is about to burst. In cases like this, a quick relief can be gotten from taking some paracetamol tablets. It is however imperative that we understand the need to visit our doctor after the temporary relief gotten in instances like this to find the appropriate cause of symptoms and receive the right treatment.


Taking over-the-counter or prescription medications without talking to a doctor first may seem to save you time and money, but it is much costlier to your health in the end. The effects of self-medication can be harmful and potentially life-threatening. Some of these effects include:

  1. Antibiotic Resistance:

Antibiotics are drugs that can destroy harmful bacteria, but their misuse can have dangerous effects in your body. Taking antibiotics when you do not have a bacterial infection or illness can lead to antibiotic resistance.

  1. Expired Medications:

Taking drugs not prescribed can lead to one unknowingly ingesting expired drugs and this might not work effectively. It is advisable to always double check drugs before consumption, this is because chemical reactions can occur as drugs expire, making them dangerous to consume.

  1. Adverse Drug Interactions:

Some medications can affect the potency of other drugs when mixed together. If this is done, it can put your health at risk by letting your symptoms go untreated due to lowered drug potency.

  1. Overdose and Under-dose:

Taking more than the required dose for any drug can become toxic to the body especially to the liver. In same way, taking less than a required dose can make one become sicker as the dose taken might be ineffective.

  1. Death:

Some self-administered drugs can even lead to death if proper medical care is not given in time.


National Centre for Biotechnology Information

Mayo Clinics

Ayanwale MB, Okafor IP, Odukoya OO. Self-medication among rural residents in Lagos, Nigeria. J Med Trop [serial online] 2017 [cited 2018 May 25];19:65-71. Available from:

Consumer Healthcare Products Association

RELATED ARTICLE: Antibiotics Resistance

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