Responsible Self-Medication: All That You Need to Know

Self-medication is the use of medicines which include herbal and traditional products that individuals use to treat their self-recognized illness or symptoms or the intermittent or continued use of prescribed medication for recurring symptoms or chronic disease (W.H.O).

Advances in medical care, information technology, ease of access to information (internet), the ready availability of medications, improved socio-economic status, better education status, rise in the incidence of chronic illnesses and increased emphasis on health promotion have led to an increase in the practice of self-medication. Although self-medication has many benefits, studies have shown that irrational self-medication carries potential risks of antibiotic resistance, intoxication, dependence, hypersensitivity reactions, drug withdrawal symptoms and development of neoplasms.

 To maintain the delicate balance between the benefits and risks involved in self-medication, nurses need to utilize every possible opportunity to advocate and promote responsible self-medication.

Responsible self-medication is the use of a registered or monographed medication that does not require a medical prescription and that which is designed and labeled for use without professional supervision.

Benefits of responsible self-medication

  • It increases the patient’s sense of responsibility and accountability for their health.
  • It is cost-efficient for the patient as they do not have to access healthcare services for minor illnesses and discomforts. This is especially beneficial in countries where healthcare is an out-of-pocket expense.
  • Medications are readily available and easily accessible saving the patient’s time from visiting a healthcare provider for minor ailments and symptoms.
  • On a larger scale, it ensures that healthcare services are utilized effectively in countries or regions where medical resources are scarce.

Nurses role in responsible self-medication

  • Assess the ability of the patient for responsible self-medication. This includes the ability to :
    • distinguish between symptoms and ailments that require medical attention and that which may be alleviated by self-medication
    •  choose the appropriate medication
    • follow instructions and directions to use the product
    • recognize signs of deterioration or improvement in their condition and seek professional help if untoward effects occur.
  • Teach and develop competence in self-administration of medication among patients who have chronic illnesses that require long term medication use. Utilize evidence-based methods and techniques to teach patients to effectively self-administer medications
  • Disseminate knowledge regarding the difference between prescription and nonprescription drugs to patients. Encourage them to seek advice from a health care professional when concerns related to medications arise .
  • Encourage the patient to read information leaflets, package inserts and labels on the prescribed as well as OTC(over -the -counter) medications to gain a full understanding of the drug that they are about to use.


Responsible self-medication is one of the vital yet underutilized strategies to manage long term illnesses and to promote health. It calls for greater collaboration opportunities and consultation among the patient, their family or caregiver, the physician, nurse and pharmacist to gain optimum results from self – medication.


W.H.O. (2000). Medicines and Health Products Information Portal. Retrieved from World Health Organization:

Mahapatra T. Self-care and self-medication: A commentary. Ann Trop Med Public Health [serial online] 2017 [cited 2020 Feb 19];10:505-6. Available from: