Let me ask you…
Are you opposed to taking medications in general? Have you ever stopped taking an antibiotic before the regimen was complete because you felt better? Is it depressing to think you might have to take a medication for the rest of your life? Have you ever had a side effect from a medication such as drowsiness, dry mouth, an upset stomach, or a cloudy mind? Have you ever taken a medication that caused you to gain 25 pounds? Well, if you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might understand why someone with a mental illness might quit taking their meds when they feel better.
The side effects from psychotropic drugs are numerous – blurred vision, dry mouth, drowsiness, irritability, over-sedation, gastro-intestinal disturbances, low blood pressure, hot flashes, rapid heartbeat, inhibition of memory, substantial weight gain, diminished libido, involuntary body movement, sleep disturbances, impaired sexual functioning, swelling of legs and ankles, and sometimes even med-induced seizures.
Another factor that leads people to stop taking medications is inadequate health care. When they must pay out-of-pocket for medications that give them undesirable side effects, it makes it even more inviting to stop taking them. The higher the cost of pharmaceuticals, the less perceived benefit a patient might have.
Some decide not to take prescription medications at all and they try to manage their illness through a healthy lifestyle. They weigh the side effects against the symptoms and decide they would rather deal with the symptoms. While I do not recommend this, I have known people who are successful in doing so.
Here are some suggestions for gaining medication adherence for your loved one:
1. Ask their doctor to explain the pros of adherence and the cons of non-adherence.
2. Encourage your loved one to take education classes on their illness. Insight into their illness helps them own the diagnosis and treatment it. They are less likely to be in rebellion against “patienthood.”
3. Help them set up a plan to monitor taking the medications.
4. Listen to their complaints. Tell them it is okay to hate taking medications, but discuss the consequences of not taking them.
5. Ask for permission to accompany them on a doctor’s appointment to discuss the side effects.
6. We have little control over an adult loved one who refuses to take medication. Unfortunately, the only way some patients will eventually comply is to end up in a hospital. In the meantime, we can prepare a crisis plan and keep them safe when the crisis strikes.