self-medication

  1. Another bad use for painkillers

    Hearts have been broken for about as long as there have been hearts to break -- but it's only in recent years that people began to rely on drugs to get over the emotional toll of rejection.

    And if a new study is any indication, self-medication for this "condition" is about to get dangerously easy.

    Acetaminophen, aka Tylenol, is already one of the most overused drugs on the planet, with overdoses now the nation's leading cause of acute liver failure.

    But now, researchers claim this same med can help with more than just physical boo-boos. Because both physical and emotional pains are processed in the same part of the brain (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex), the same meds used for one can supposedly help with the other.

    To make that point, researchers assigned 62 people to either 1,000 mg of Tylenol or a placebo, and asked them to keep emotional journals for three weeks.

    Sure enough, those who took the drug had fewer hurt feelings over that time.

    In an earlier study, the same researchers found that Tylenol helps dull emotional pain in nine days.

    And in another sequence of experiments, they used videogames to make people feel excluded and found that people who took Tylenol were less bothered by this high-tech version of classic social rejection.

    The researchers admit that popping Tylenol for emotional pain probably isn't the best idea in the world, but you can bet that message is going to get lost in the wilderness.

    And that's where this one can turn ugly fast -- because along with the risk of liver failure, acetaminophen overdose is responsible for 56,000 trips to the emergency room and hundreds of deaths every year in the United States alone.

    This drug has also been linked to a host of side effects, including stomach bleeding, abdominal pain, an increased risk of blood cancer and even severe allergic reactions.

    One recent study found that even small overdoses taken over several days --- what scientists call a "staggered" overdose --- can actually be deadlier than the big overdoses taken by people who attempt suicide.

    So no matter what form of pain you're going through -- physical or emotional -- this drug is a bad choice.

    Stick to natural options instead, including time itself. It might not heal all wounds, but it does a pretty good job with emotional pain.

  2. Teens sharing too well

    We all like it when our kids share. But there are certain acts of generosity that we're not so crazy about — like the sharing of germs, bad habits… and prescription meds.

    Researchers conducted a survey of 592 kids between the ages of 12 and 17 and found that 20 percent of them share their meds, while another 20 percent admit to borrowing them. Because it's a survey, remember that this is the number that will admit to it – which means the real number is likely higher.

    Much higher.

    I'll be honest here – I wasn't surprised when I read about this in August in the Journal of Adolescent Health, but it's probably a real eye-opener for many adults – especially parents.

    The survey found that kids most often share allergy meds and powerful painkillers, but they also "prescribe" each other antibiotics, antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds, among others.

    The problem hits the kids in two ways: First, they are at risk of taking a drug that could give them an allergic reaction, side effects or worse. In fact, more than a third of the borrowers said they experienced some kind of reaction from the borrowed meds.

    Second, this habit of self-medication means some may not go to a doctor when they should, instead choosing to visit the "doctor" in the next locker or the "pharmacist" on the playground.

    So children with problems that require real attention aren't getting it, putting your kids at risk not only for their original conditions, but from the complications that come from ignoring them.

    And the survey shows that when these kids do make it to the doctor, 40 percent of them "forget" to mention the borrowed meds, putting them at risk for overdose or interactions when the doctor writes a real prescription.

    Now, it's disturbing enough that kids are doing it – but adults who should know better do it too. In fact, we're worse than the kids. Some studies have shown that up to 40 percent of adults have shared their meds.

    As a nation, we've become far too comfortable with drugs. Medications aren't a big deal to many of us – but they should be. Because so many of us take so many pills, we don't see them for what they really are: dangerous drugs with the potential for terrible side effects.

    So let's start with our kids on this one and hope they grow up with a healthier respect for the powers – and dangers – of prescription drugs. Teach them that sharing is good when it comes to school supplies, sandwiches and even opinions.

    But not when it comes to meds.

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