In our society we take drugs for everything and most of us don’t even realize it. Having a hard time waking up? Swig some espresso or pop a No-Doz. Feel a twinge in your muscles or a headache coming on? Down some Advil or Tylenol.

The over the counter remedies have stopped cutting it? No problem! See your doctor and grab a script for something professionally strengthened!

The Painkiller Problem

A recent report released by the UN shows that 6% of the adult American population aged 15-64 is addicted to pills, painkillers and opioids in particular. We use prescription painkillers more than any other country on the planet. In fact, according to the report, we are so dependent on these drugs we use them at twice the rate of the next country on that report’s list: Australia.

It is well known, even by those outside of the medical community, that prescription strength painkillers are highly addictive. And, in spite of what you might have heard, they are not implicitly safer than the drugs you’d buy on the street.

It is important to understand, though, that painkillers aren’t the only drugs that pose a risk to the people who take them. Even the drugs that are supposed to be safe, like antibiotics can cause problems.

Antibiotics: Heroes or Villains in Hero Suits?

Painkillers aren’t the only drugs that doctors are handing out at the slightest sign of a problem. Antibiotics are being overused as well. This is because most doctors out there are quick to prescribe antibiotics to patients whether or not they are implicitly needed.

They are given out as “just in case” drugs to help cure diseases and conditions that may or may not be present. It seems like a good strategy: a lot of the conditions that warrant antibiotics, like bacterial infections, present as simple colds, flus and simple infections at first.

It is only later, when they’ve reached the problematic stage (and have become much harder to cure) that a patient will develop illness-specific symptoms. To prevent the bacteria that causes these more severe conditions from “getting any ideas” antibiotics are prescribed as a preventative measure. The problem with this is that bacteria and viruses are smart and quick to evolve.

This means that as we increase our antibiotic use, these “bugs” are getting stronger and better able to thwart the preventative measures designed to destroy them. This means that, the more we use antibiotics the less effective they become.

Adapt or Die: Do Drug Manufacturers Move too Quickly?

It is the drive to stay ahead of the diseases that causes drug manufacturers to constantly send out new antibiotics, painkillers and other drugs–even if their side effects might hurt patients more than they help.

For example, Cipro, a drug designed to fight infections, also causes severe pain, muscle weakness, difficulty walking and an extreme sensitivity to touch. So many people have had problems with the drug that the makers of Cipro are facing class action lawsuits.

What You Should Do

Obviously this is discouraging. You want to feel better and medicine is supposed to help you do that. Medicine does help you do that, but it is important to not become overly reliant upon it. Medical professionals are already calling for a reduction in the prescription of both antibiotics and opioids. Many ranchers and farmers have agreed to cooperate and stop administering antibiotics to their herds.

At the personal level, the three day rule is a good one. Unless symptoms are severe (and it is important to understand the difference between medically severe and being severely inconvenient to your daily routine), do your best to wait it out.

If symptoms become severe or last more than three days, then see a doctor. Until then, try to persevere (and make do with the mild OTC’s recommended dosages).