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Drug abuse: The danger of misusing antibiotics

Emeh Joy
By Emeh Joy

Basic Medical Scientist, Freelance Health Writer, Lifestyle Blogger and Business Enthusiast

Drug: Antibiotics (bacterial medication)

The benefits of antibiotic drugs like penicillin cannot be overstated; they are indeed important medications. However, what most people don't know is that, if not used properly, these drugs can cause even more harm than good.

Have you been misusing antibiotics? You have to stop!

How does antibiotic work?

Let's give you an insight into how antibiotics work, perhaps that will help curb its misuse.

Antibiotic, which is one of the most significant advances that medicine has made during the years, was first used in the 1940s. However, it is unfortunate that overprescribing and overusing them has led to cases of bacteria resistance.

What this means is that an individual who once responded to treatment with a particular antibiotic stops responding to treatment using the same drug.

Also, kids could develop other side effects such as allergy and stomach upset alongside the resistance to treatment.

Let's talk about the two main types of germs that get people sick. This will help us understand more about how antibiotics work.

Types of disease-causing germs

viruses

Viruses (just like the coronavirus we are battling with currently), can't exist on their own. In fact, they are only said to be living when they invade other living cells.

In that case, they grow and multiply. Otherwise, they merely exist as particles containing genetic material wrapped up in a protein coat.

Most times, the body's immune system fight off viruses even before they cause one to fall sick but in other cases (such as the common cold), the viruses just run their full course.

Now, here is the thing- antibiotics do not work against viruses and thus, cannot be used to treat viral diseases.

bacteria

Unlike the viruses, bacteria are single-celled living things that exist almost everywhere. You should know that not all bacteria are harmful; some are actually beneficial.

For instance, there are the gut bacteria such as the Lactobacillus which make up the healthy bacterial flora in the intestine. They are there to help digest food.

However, there are also harmful bacteria which cause sickness when they invade the body. They multiply and cause disruptions in normal body processes.

The good news is that antibiotics are quite effective in killing these harmful organisms. They eliminate them from the body using different methods such as stopping their reproduction and growth.

Why it is harmful to overuse antibiotics

Most people make this mistake of running to antibiotics each time they get a symptom of sickness (even viral illnesses). Also, some people fail to complete their complete antibiotic dosage.

These practices can have dangerous side effects over time, as they result in the creation of bacteria that are even harder to kill.

It causes antibiotics resistance

Antibiotic resistance is when a bacterium resists medication because the bacterium has changed in a certain way. The change could either cause neutralization of the medicine or somehow; it would protect the bacteria from the action of the medication.

The fact is that it is normal for bacteria to develop resistance to medication but how you take your medications also has much impact on how fast they develop this resistance.

What happens is that each time a bacterium survives a particular antibiotic treatment, it goes ahead to multiply and pass on its resistance properties.

In some other cases, it transfers these properties to other bacteria that do not possess them before (just the way you pass a cheat sheet) to help another survive.

Antibiotics resistance has become a widespread problem as treating resistant bacteria requires even higher doses of medicine as well as more potent antibiotics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has categorized antibiotic resistance as "one of the world's most pressing public health problems".

Bacteria that were once very much responsive to antibiotics have become more resistant, making it harder to treat some bacterial infections such as pneumococcal infections and tuberculosis.

How antibiotics resistance occurs

It has side effects in children

Studies have shown that most almost 50% of antibiotics prescribed to children are for upper respiratory infections (which are mostly a result of viral infections).

And in such situations when antibiotics are prescribed incorrectly, it puts the children's health at risk.

In some cases, it causes diarrhoea and severe stomach ache in children. It can also result in certain allergic reactions.

It can upset the normal gastrointestinal flora

The human intestine contains as much as 100 trillion different bacteria strains. While some are harmful, the helpful ones known as the gut flora does help with immunity and digestion.

There is a natural balance in the gut that can be thrown into a state of haywire by antibiotics. Some antibiotics can eliminate the good intestinal bacteria while leaving out the others that are resistant to antibiotics. This can cause long-lasting changes to the gut flora.

It causes an increase in the cost of treatment and healthcare

The more bacteria develop resistance, the more often common antibiotics (including the generics that are readily available) become more extinct and outdated.

This means treating patients become more difficult as it would require longer and even more expensive forms of treatment.

Taking antibiotics safely

Now that you know that it is dangerous to misuse antibiotics, what do you do? What role do you play to help curb the fast increase in antibiotics resistance?

  • Take antibiotics only when you have a bacterial infection- When you show symptoms of illness do not go rushing for an antibiotic until it is confirmed to be a case of bacterial infection. If it is a viral infection, it would be of no use as antibiotics are not effective against viruses
  • Take antibiotics only if you need them- Asides the fact that antibiotics do not work on viruses, there are also certain common bacterial infections that may not require antibiotics such as some ear and sinus infections. Unless your doctor prescribes it, do not opt for it.
  • Complete your antibiotics dosage- Some people have this terrible habit of not taking their drugs with the prescribed dosage or not completing their dosage. Remember that when you don't complete your dosage or skip taking some pills when you are meant to, the bacteria would survive and would end up developing resistance to the drug.
  • Consult your doctor and seek advice from medical personnel- You should let your doctor decide whether an illness is mild or not and whether it needs antibiotics or not. Do not take that call yourself; it's not in your place to. Remember, self-medication can be harmful to you or your child.