Managing medications can be complicated, particularly if you are taking several prescription drugs that treat different conditions. When we think of medications, we normally think of them as tools for getting better. We may not be aware there can be harms as well as benefits and many medications can cause side effects. Medications can also have an impact on our social, school and work lives. Some medications affect our ability to remember and learn things. This could impair our ability to do well in school or perform at work.

Some people use medications over the long term because they find the drugs helpful for managing ongoing health problems. But it is important to remember that making good decisions about using medications involves regular consultations with a healthcare professional and weighing the benefits and risks of continuing use.

When you receive treatment for any health concern, you need to make choices that fit your needs and your values. Your doctor, pharmacist, and other health care providers can guide you through different options and help you understand the risks and benefits, but in most cases, the final decision is up to you.

Medications are drugs manufactured to help people deal with a range of health issues. Some medications are psychoactive (mind altering) while others are not. We use medications to relieve symptoms of medical conditions, to combat both short-term and chronic illness, and to manage our daily lives. It is important to note that while medication may be beneficial, they can also be harmful. It is very important to consult with your healthcare provider, doctor or pharmacist about proper management of medication(s).

Some medications, such as those for colds, flu, headaches and stomach aches, are sold over the counter and therefore do not require a prescription. Medications that are prescribed include the following:

  • antibiotics (for bacterial infections
  • antidepressants (for depression)
  • Cardiovascular drugs (for heart disease)
  • opiates (for pain)
  • stimulants )for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • tranquilizers and sleeping pills (for stress, anxiety and sleeping problems)

The following strategies can make managing medication(s) easier and safer:

  • Follow medication directions and dose as prescribed by your healthcare professional
  • Confirm the exact dose and timing of each medication with your pharmacist. Follow the schedule exactly, and take the exact dose prescribed.
  • Verify your information with your pharmacist each time you fill or start a new prescription to keep you on track.
  • Make taking your medications part of your daily routine; for example, try setting a timer on your phone, watch or alarm clock.
  • Make sure all clinicians know what medications you take. If you go to different clinicians for different conditions, it’s extremely important to tell each of them about the medications you are taking.
  • Never stop taking a medicine on your own. Always get your physician or clinician’s guidance. Some medicines must be stopped gradually to avoid complications. If the medicine is making you feel sick or causing side effects that are difficult to tolerate, ask about adjusting the dose or changing the medicine.
  • Medication should always be stored safely in a dry, cool place.
  • If children are around, keep medicine containers out of reach, especially those without childproof caps. Some medicines have bright colors and shapes that children can mistake as candy.
  • Never take medicine in the dark or when you are tired or distracted. You might take the wrong medicine or too much.
  • Take only your own prescriptions.
  • Ask your pharmacist before drinking alcohol. Some medications interact poorly with alcohol. Ask your physician or pharmacist if it is safe to drink while taking any prescription or over-the-counter medicine.

Medications usually come as pills or tablets and are swallowed or administered as suppositories. Some medications come in liquid form and can be injected. Other medications come in slips that fit under the tongue and dissolve in the mouth. Medications can be short-, medium-, or long-acting, referring to the length of time the drug affects the body.

Different medications affect the brain and body in different ways. For example:

  • Stimulant medications speed up activity in the central nervous system;
  • Depressant medications slow down activity in the brain.
  • Pain medications block pain receptors in the brain, thereby decreasing the amount of pain felt.
  • Antibiotics treat bacterial infections by killing the bacteria or preventing it from multiplying.

The way a form of medication affects us depends on more than just the type, dosage and method of administration. Other factors include our:

  • past experiences with the drug,
  • present mood and circumstances,
  • weight and age, and
  • use (or non-use) of other drugs at the same time

In consultation with your healthcare professional you can make an informed decision about the benefits and risks of taking a prescribed medication and discuss situations where a medication may reduce your ability to function safely and act responsibly.
Always read the label and other information provided with the medication and check for warnings concerning the effects on physical and mental functioning (e.g., driving ability).