Medicalization and health risk constructions

The process of marking certain aspects of human life as medical conditions is known as medicalization (Maturo 2012). Sexual violence, menopause, obesity, addictions, infertility, infant hyperactivity, and mental illnesses are only a few of the issues. In the 1970s, Irving Zola, Peter Conrad, and Thomas Szasz invented the word “medicalization.” It was once used to characterize the method of providing medical care to mentally ill patients. They believed that mental disorders were neither medical nor biological. Many years later, the word was used to describe how pharmacists marketed drugs to people who wanted to “treat” conditions like insomnia or oversleeping, anxiety, and a variety of others (Crossman 2017). Medicalization is a major problem in today’s culture. For instance, obesity which is simply an overweight condition has been turned into a medical through the surgeries, weight loss medication, and health products which exist today. Pharmaceuticalization is the transformation of human conditions into opportunities for pharmaceutical interventions. An example of this is the use of antidepressants for persons who are mildly depressed. In the long run, prescribing drugs for non-medical conditions is detrimental to a human’s healthy growth and development.
Engines behind medicalization
In the present age, the engines driving medicalization are quickly shifting from the medical profession, social groups, and organizational contests. It is currently being influenced by three main engines: biotechnology, managed care, and consumers. Biotechnology refers to the role played by pharmaceuticals, and genetics and enhancement. Consumers, on the other hand, are influencing medicalization through their demands. In economy, demand is normally met by supply. As such medicalization seeks to fill the gap created by a lack of supply to meet the needs of the customers. Such needs have led to cosmetic surgery including nose jobs, breasts augmentation, tummy tuck, and liposuction. From 1990-2000, breast augmentation increased by 92%. Managed care is the emphasis that organizations are placing on profits rather than patient care. Such organizations include insurance companies that cover health costs only if it is profitable to them. Otherwise, they limit medial insurance cover. As a result, only those who can afford medicare are treated. Those who have low income levels find themselves in a position where their medical covers are limited. For example, in the past insurance companies did not cover gastric bypass surgery. However, when they realized that they were missing out on the financial advantage which it gives, they began covering it.
The levels of medicalization
There are three levels of medicalization namely the conceptual, institutional, and interactional levels. Institutional medicalization is an instance where the personnel are given roles that they do not qualify for. An example is if a nurse is asked to manage a department yet they have no academic title in administration. Conceptual interaction, on the other hand, is defining non medical issue as medical. For instance, referring to breasts which droop naturally after pregnancy as “mammary ptosis” is not right. Then the interactional medicalization refers to defining a social problem as a medical problem. For example, there is a period of time when homosexuality was classified as a disease as per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Effects of prescribing pharmaceutical uptake
Pros of medicalization
A major reason as to why medicalization has been approved of is because it reduces social stigma. This is normally with reference to mental disorders and addictions. The prescription of drugs helps in managing the problem and restores their self respect in the society. It also helps individuals avoiding moral and punitive consequences of their actions. For instance a person who has mental disorder will not be jailed for crimes they did. Instead, they are taken to rehabilitation centers where they can be assisted to regain their mental stability. Mental illness patients usually face oppression, dehumanization, and ignorance of their personal dignity and political liberty.
Cons of medicalization:
In as much as mental disorder has been used to validate medicalization in many instances, early sociologist scholars such as Szasz did not think it was a medical condition. According to him, the problem should be defined as a non-normative behavior. Medicalization has many perils such as (1) the possible addiction to drugs, (2) drug abuse complications, and (3) suffering from the side effects of drugs. Most drugs are processed to react with the pathogens in one’s body. Taking drugs when there are no such pathogens, only leads to heaping up harmful chemicals in the body. This may lead to organ problems such as kidney failure (Cohen 2001). Some of the conditions that patients are treated for just need interventions such as lifestyle change, community change, societal change, and addressing the “root causes” of the poor health. It is sad to note that nowadays there are drugs for treating chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). One would expect that any such diagnosis should be accompanied by a doctor’s instruction to take a week of total rest from work, not drugs!
Impact of the pharmaceutical companies on medicalization
Pharmaceuticals are up and about marketing diseases and then selling drugs to treat those diseases. They do so through promotion of their products to the public through medical journals and sponsoring medical events. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Modernization Act has made it easier for pharmaceutical companies to advertise their drugs to the public and create markets for their goods. This has led to the increased usage of off-label drugs. Some of the commonly used off-label drugs include;
i. Viagra
Viagra was approved by FDA in 1998 as a treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED) which is a male impotence problem. However, Pfizer-a pharmaceutical company- began advertising sexual difficulties as a medical condition, and viagra as the cure. This has led to the current widespread misuse of Viagra. In 2000, so much of the drug was sold it was ranked 6th in terms of DTC spending in sales. In the year 2003, the company made $1.7 billion in sales revenue (Conrad 2005).
ii. Paxil
Antidepressants such as Paxil are sold to treat Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The idea behind the drug sprung from the mild anti-depressant called Prozac that was introduced in 1987. It was very safe to use as it had no side effects and was administered by medical practitioners. Today, the people who use the Paxil drug perform self assessment on the internet by themselves to see whether they suffer from SAD or GAD. Then they proceed to buy the drug from pharmacies. Paxil is now a widely recognized prescription having gained $2.1 billion (2001) in sales revenue.
In addition to the adult off-label drugs, pharmaceuticals have also developed psychotropic drugs for “troubled” children. The drugs are used to treat ADHD, depression, and act as stimulants. It is quite disturbing to see how the business is booming yet children’s health is endangered by these drugs.
Consequences of medicalization and pharmaceuticalization
First, the patient’s safety is compromised. For example many children are being exposed to drugs due to hyperactivity and being troublesome being defined as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The second consequence is that they complicate normal life experiences such as childbirth. One asks themselves whether Caesarean Section (CS) surgery is really necessary. Giving birth naturally has been associated with stress and danger yet it is safe. Doctors do so to benefit financially from women. In fact, CS is becoming very expensive for that very reason. The more women are convinced to give birth through CS, the profit gains more profits. Thirdly, they lead to recreational drug use e.g the use of Viagra to improve sexual functioning regardless of whether they suffer from clinical impotence or not. Expert control makes people run to doctors rather than deal with issues normally. As a result, the doctors abuse their power by misadvising them when they genuinely need help. Finally, since the medical personnel are respected as the only skilled persons with regards to medical conditions, medicalization and pharmaceuticalization makes them abuse their medical power for financial gain (Conrad 2005).
In the long run, prescribing drugs for non-medical conditions is detrimental to a human’s healthy growth and development. As discussed herein, the medicalization of social problems into medical conditions is a health risk. In as much as pharmaceutical organizations are maximizing profits in this area, their actions risk the health of most people. Conditions such as depression, and obesity, fatigue only need adjustments in one’s lifestyle. For instance, depressed persons should determine the root cause of their problems and deal with those causes; rather than taking drugs to “heal” depression. Fatigued people should take time to rest from their busy lives. And obese people should check their diet and engage in physical exercises and they will be well. None of these conditions should be medicalized. In as much as for conditions such as mental disorder there can be need for prescribed drugs, it is not the best solution for individuals to engage in. Therefore medicalization and pharmaceuticalization are truly harmful to people’s health in the long run.

Cohen, D., M. McCubbin, J. Collin, and G (2001). Perodeau 2001 Medications as Social Phenomena. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine 5(4): 441-469.
Conrad, P. 2005 The Shifting Engines of Medicalization. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour 46(1):3-14.
Crossman, A. (August 31, 2017). Medicalizaion in Sociology. ThoughtCo. Retrieved on the September 26, 2017 from
Maturo A. (2012). Medicalization: Current Concept and Future Directions in a Bionic Society. Mens Sana Monogr 2012; 10: 122-133.

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