Dr Paula Goel , Fayth Clinic
Does the thought of taking medicine create irrational fear in your heart ?
If so, you may suffering from a rare phobia called pharmacophobia which is the irrational fear of taking medication. Patients who suffer from pharmacophobia experience palpitations, panic attacks, racing heart rates, trembling, nausea, and even weakness. These are all traditional anxiety symptoms that stem from an overactive “fight or flight” response in the body.
When these individuals have to go for medical assessment or even for routine annual health screening , they get very stressed out . The first thought which enters their head is “ What if something is wrong and I do need to take medicines”. This creates an anxiety situation leading to fight or flight response . Sometimes , so high is the fear , that they stop taking their medications leading to aggravation of the disease process and causing a great deal of harm to themselves.
So , is it possible to overcome this fear of pharmacophobia ? Here’s the good news: it is possible to overcome your pharmacophobia. Start with these strategies to build up your anxiety coping mechanism.
Find out how the pharmacophobia started
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Generally this develops after a particular negative experience in the past like side effects or aallergic effects which could have been life threatening or they could have seen a loved one suffering a serious illness which required taking very strong medications and associated with death. Even though the death may not have been as a result of the medications, the brain then draws the correlations between the two. This may cause patients to fear that they will have the same experience. Therapists often refer to this as “fearing the fear” itself.
If you can trace your fear back to when it may have started, you may also identify what caused it in the first place. Think back to negative experiences you or someone you know has had with medication. How did those experiences affect you? Remind yourself that someone else having a negative experience does not necessarily mean you will too.
Try taking your first dose in front of your doctor
If there is tremendous fear of taking medications by yourself , you could take the first dose in front of your doctor , so that you can be monitored and incase of any adverse effects , you can be treated immediately . Once you realize that there are no problems , you can overcome your phobia and start taking them at home in front of your family members . Research tells is that people with pharmacophobia experience the most fear with the first dose. As they take their medication and witness the lack of side effects, the anxiety lessens – hopefully it lessens for you, too
Try Talk Therapy
If you still require help to deal with pharmacophobia , you could go for Talk therapy, including both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), can both significantly help people who suffer from pharmacophobia. The first attempts to change how you perceive your fear, and thus, its outcome. The second approach teaches you to be mindful and stay in the moment. In phobias where regressions and triggers can potentially cause more harm than good if mishandled, hence finding the right therapist is vitally important
You could also try DBTSelfHelp.com. This website contains a database of DBT-based exercises and information you can put to use right at home. Practical skills learned include distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and mindfulness
Try Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy may help to desensitize you. This form of therapy exposes you to your fear with a therapist by your side to help you work through the negative emotions you experience. By research and statistics, it shows the highest level of efficacy in resolving extreme phobias. Exposure therapy is often gradual, so a complete fix may not happen for months or even years. However, it is still a valuable long-term tool. Patients with phobias who undergo exposure therapy often come to resolve their fears completely and permanently
Change Your Dosing Method
The phobia itself may be related to a specific form of dosing rather than the medication itself. Patients may struggle with swallowing medicines , but do fine when given intramuscular injections. Others may be fine with pills, but struggle with topicals. Even the fear of choking on medication can be enough to dissuade some patients from sticking with treatment. Changing the approach to accommodate may be easier than eliminating it.
Compounding is especially useful for children with pharmacophobia, who may be more willing to take a medication that has better taste over a formula that’s bitter or sour. Pharmacists can add in flavoring to make the medication more palatable.
What’s most important is that you know pharmacophobia is nothing to be scared of . There are plenty of patients who struggle with it, and most eventually overcome their fears and can get treated for their medical problems. It is always best to diagnose & identify medical problems early in the course of the disease . You can, too!
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