Pharmacophobia is the fear of medication or other pharmacological treatments. A medication phobia can also present in parents who are concerned about giving medications to their children, fearing that a medicine may do more harm than good. Sometimes patients mistakenly associate symptoms of an acute illness with side effects from prescribed medications, or can be skeptical of a treatment’s effectiveness or necessity. Pharmacophobia can lead to lasting problems with medication adherence, through fear or lack of understanding.

Assessing Your Phobia

Phobias are irrational fears of something that is unlikely to cause harm, and are marked by an experience of intense fear of a certain object or situation. Phobias can be a major source of anxiety, especially if we are exposed to these fears on a daily basis. A life constricted by fear can feel hopeless. These fears can be harmful on the whole, but even more so when the phobia is of medication to treat an illness. Phobias are most effectively challenged by educating yourself on the source of your fears and thinking out what would happen if their thoughts came to fruition, as well as assessing the real-world likelihood of the feared outcomes.

Weighing the Risks

Another thing to familiarize yourself with to overcome a fear of medications is the concept of relative risk, or the probability of negative outcomes from taking prescriptions over the possibility of harm from not taking them. Healthcare professionals are aware of the possible risks of medications as well as the risks of untreated illness. Prescribing doctors weigh these risks, and often conclude that the benefits of treatment outweigh the risks prescriptions may pose or allow the illness to progress untreated. Delaying or refusing treatment can often make healthcare conditions more severe and more expensive to treat.

Nocebo Effect

Some patients may experience what is called a ‘nocebo’ effect, which can manifest as a detrimental effect on one’s health produced by negative expectations. A counterpart of the better-known placebo effect (a beneficial effect produced by positive expectations), one’s negative outlook on medication can produce psychosomatic responses or make side effects appear more severe. As with phobias, negative expectations can be allayed through education and understanding through communication with your doctor or pharmacist.

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