Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Pharmacophobia: What It Means To Fear Your Medication
Published Nov 11th, 2021 & updated on Nov 30th, 2021
Put yourself in this situation. You’re at a doctor’s office, being diagnosed with an illness or condition, and you’re prescribed medication. Most people are totally fine taking that medication and going on their merry way! But for a small group of folks, that decision is nowhere near as easy because of something called pharmacophobia. If you have pharmacophobia or any other phobias, you know exactly how scary it can be!
We all want what’s best for ourselves when it comes to our health. But being diagnosed with an illness and prescribed medication can make you feel everything from scared to ashamed. It can be really difficult to cope with! And no doubt you have a few questions and concerns when your doctor recommends prescriptions like:
What are the positive effects of this medication?
What are the possible adverse side effects of these medications, and what should I do if the effects are getting severe?
Is there a best time to take the medication, and should it be taken on an empty stomach or with food?
These are normal questions for patients to want to know answers to!
If you are hesitant to take prescription medications, you’re not alone. An estimated 30-50% of people don’t take their medications as prescribed, and pharmacophobia is a significant reason why. In a 2020 study, 21% of respondents self-identified as pharmacophobic. However, there are plenty of options to help improve your pharmaceutical experience.
What Is Pharmacophobia?
In short, pharmacophobia is the fear of medication and any sort of pharmacological treatment.
People with pharmacophobia may feel nervous or upset seeing or hearing about medication in a variety of settings, from a television show to seeing a pill container in someone’s bathroom.
Pharmacophobia manifests itself differently for each individual, depending on what triggers them. For example, having to take drugs regularly can be extremely difficult to deal with for some; for others, the phobia may induce severe panic attacks. The anxiety they are experiencing may be so acute that they require hospitalization.
What Causes Pharmacophobia?
One of the most common causes is a negative medical experience. That could be an allergic reaction, choking on a pill, or watching someone you love deal with a severe illness. There doesn’t even have to be a direct link to prescription drugs — your brain could still make that connection for fun. Alllll of that dread culminates in a fear of having the same response the next time you take medicine, which might make it difficult to “trust” the prescriptions. Even after talking with your doctor about the benefits, you may still decide not to take it at all.
The Nocebo Effect
We’re pretty sure you’ve heard about the placebo effect. It basically happens when you’re given some form of medication, told that it is going to help you and it does actually make you feel better, but in reality, you’ve only been given a sugar pill. Well, folks with pharmacophobia have the exact opposite of that, something called the nocebo effect.
Say you’re being prescribed medication, and your doctor warns you about some possible side effects. The nocebo effect can cause people with pharmacophobia to have a negative reaction to a drug, just because they think they’re going to. It can even outweigh the benefits of the drug.
You’ve heard the old saying “mind over matter.” For some people, merely thinking about side effect ideas can cause unfavourable symptoms. It’s difficult because, on one hand, you want to take the meds and feel better, but knowing about the adverse effects makes you even more afraid to take them. And when you begin taking your medication, you will be extra conscious of how your body adjusts to them.
Although thinking positively is great, it can also be unrealistic all the time because shit happens. But trying to be generally upbeat about treatments and medications will help. The brain can change the way nerve cells communicate by emitting chemicals called neurotransmitters that attach to molecules on neurons known as receptors, so positive thinking actually has a physical effect!
Treating pharmacophobia is tough because it’s taking medicine that creates fear in the first place! So because drugs probably won’t help… other treatments are your best bet! There are a couple of approaches you can take with it, so let’s have a look at them.
This form of behavioural therapy is used to manage anxiety problems and is a popular option for phobias. But it’s not easy. The patient may experience increased anxiety at first as the therapist introduces the medication to observe and touch. The therapist will make sure not to induce any harm, of course. The goal is that the more you are around this medication, the more comfortable you will become with it.
Patients learn about the symptoms and strategies to help reduce feelings of discomfort. The therapist will determine the length of therapy based on the needs of the patient.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Because it is a problem-focused and goal-oriented kind of therapy, CBT can be helpful for pharmacophobia. Patients learn how to recognize and examine specific sensations, respond better, and think when their worries manifest emotionally and behaviourally. CBT is commonly used to treat patients with OCD and anxiety disorders.
This form of therapy works to identify specific troubles and establish a treatment plan. Patients also practice coping strategies outside of sessions, to work on their thought processes, troublesome feelings, and actions.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Meditation and Mindfulness, when combined with treatment, can be extremely beneficial to people who have pharmacophobia. This can assist in diverting your anxiety by refocusing your attention on items you may not have an emotional relationship with. Breathing, redirecting energy, and emptying the mind are examples of relaxing and relieving tension in the body and mind.
Mindfulness meditation consists of several activities that can be done anywhere as long as the mind is present—easing the mind’s detachment from continually overpowering weighty thoughts to assist in achieving peace of mind.
If you totally relate to the feelings mentioned in this article or have some of the symptoms listed, we hope it helps… but we also recommend talking to your doctor. Anxiety over taking medications is quite normal and is nothing to be embarrassed about.
It’s a new journey, but you’re doing the best that you can, and that’s really important! You can be on medicine and still live your best life. As you go through this process, keep a diary to jot down your feelings and consult with a therapist for coping strategies. You’ve got this!!