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Behavioral Psychology approach to self-medication behavior

Natalia Díaz-Caycedo, María Alejandra Payán-Madriñán and Andrés M. Pérez-Acosta
University of Rosario, Colombia


Behavioral Psychology is a growing global phenomenon that has traditionally been defined as action
individual to consume a drug or follow a treatment without a prescription. However, positive and negative,
This vision has fallen short of the contemporary manifestations of the phenomenon that are more
beyond self-care and is increasingly associated with massive drug use induced by
advertising. In this sense, this article presents the definitions and explanatory theories of self-medication offered by the scientific literature, especially those that emphasize the dimension
self-care (for example, the concept of Zoopharmacognosy) and develops a new hypothesis
on self-medication, as individual consumption behavior, explained by a simple causal cognitive positioning about the action of drugs, facilitated by advertising and
the marketing of these. It is concluded by showing the importance of counteracting the effect of advertising
by educating the consumer about the risk involved in the complexity of self-medication from the action of drugs in the body.
Keywords: Self-medication, self-care, medications, consumption, cognitive positioning
simple causal


Behavioral Psychology is a growing global phenomenon traditionally defined as an individual action of taking
medication or medical treatment without a prescription. However, this view falls short of the contemporary phenomenon that goes beyond self-care and is increasingly associated with mass consumption
induced by advertising. In this sense, this paper introduces definitions and explanatory theories of self-medication offered in the scientific literature, especially those that emphasize the self-care dimension.
(e.g., the concept of Zoopharmacognosy), and presents a new hypothesis about self-medication, as individual consumer behavior explained by a simple causal cognitive positioning of drug action, facilitated
by drug marketing and advertising.

Behavioral Psychology

Etymologically, the term self-medication is composed of the prefix “auto” with a Greek root that
means “own” or “by oneself” and from the lexeme “medication”, originated in the Latin medicatĭo,
which means the administration of medication. The Royal Spanish Academy defines the
the action of self-medicating as “taking a drug, or following treatment, without a prescription
medical ”2
The concept of Behavioral Psychology more complete than Ruiz-Sternberg and Pérez-Acosta (2011)
found in their review of the literature on the subject was by Loyola Filho, Lima-Costa and Uchôa
(2004), who argue that the phenomenon of self-medication includes a wide spectrum, which
it ranges from the consumption of industrialized drugs to the use of home remedies; in
Ultimately, self-medication is defined as access to medications without a prescription, whether in
the pharmacy, in nearby support networks or when consuming medicines previously used or
found in the home medicine cabinet. Loyola Filho et al. Consider, also, as
self-medication by modifying the time and dose prescribed by the doctor.
Tizón Bouza and Vásquez Torrado (2006) propose self-medication in a more
orthodox as a behavior in which a drug is acquired voluntarily, with
in order to improve health, reduce symptoms or modify the course of a disease, perform a
primary prevention in disease or improve status or performance.
In addition, in the literature on self-medication, there are differences between
self-care and Behavioral Psychology. PubMed’s Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
of the United States understands self-care
such as the performance of activities or tasks traditionally performed by professionals of the
Health. Here, the concept includes caring for oneself or a family member and
friends. Orueta, Gómez-Calcerrada, and Sánchez (2008) postulate that self-care serves as
a way of disease prevention, symptom reduction, and health promotion, which
coincides with the definition of self-medication by Tizón Bouza and Vásquez Torrado (2006).
Lorenzo Fernández et al. (2008) recommend health education as a measure
pertinent to avoid and control abusive use and some of the side effects of
medications, situations that lead to the need for additional investment in research

without a prescription, including toxic problems, accidental emergencies
or intentional, undesirable or secondary effects, the deviation from the original diagnosis and the
generation of resistance mechanisms due to the inappropriate use of antibiotics.

The progressive increase of the dose without consulting the prescribing doctor, a use of drugs
to obtain other effects than those sought according to their pathology or symptoms, a use
continued use of substances despite possible adverse effects and a concern for
obtaining the medicine (p. 256).
With these voices of alarm, international entities such as the World Medical Association
(2002) in their Declaration on self-medication promotes the category of “self-medication
responsible ”as
The use of a registered or monographic medicine that is legally available without the
prescription of a doctor, either on the person’s own initiative or on the advice of a health professional. Using prescription drugs without a prescription
it is not part of responsible self-medication (par. 1.3.).
Self-medication is an inevitable fact, whether due to cultural or economic factors, and it is necessary to inquire about the global and current phenomenon of self-medication for the purpose
to offer an explanation both at the mass level and at the individual level, a task that falls to the
fields of Psychology. Specifically, the most relevant applied fields of Psychology
to address this problem are Consumer Psychology and Health Psychology. Self-medication would be at the intersection of these two fields.

The global phenomenon of self-medication

Loyola Filho et al. (2004) describe the phenomenon of self-medication as a problem
important public health in the world and attributed to economic, political and cultural factors
to its increase. Sherazi et al. (2012) point out a higher incidence of self-medication in the population with restricted social, economic and educational resources, conditions that make it difficult to access to health.

The irrational use of drugs is a practice that is increasing worldwide. Analyzes of the phenomenon of self-medication by country are frequently found in the literature; Francis,
Barnett and Denham (2005) state that self-medication is reinforced in the United States as
a measure that, on the one hand, safeguards the government in health policies and, on the other, benefits
the pharmaceutical industries.

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