A person should not take antibiotics without a prescription. Doing this can increase the risk of antibiotic side effects and contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics are a class of medications that treat or help prevent bacterial infections. Some people may take antibiotics without a prescription.

This article will explain why someone should avoid taking antibiotics without a prescription. It also covers why a person might decide to take antibiotics that a doctor has not prescribed them and how individuals can find help covering the cost of antibiotics.

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Antibiotics can treat a variety of bacterial conditions, such as urinary tract infections, whooping cough, or strep throat. However, not all antibiotics work against all types of bacteria.

Taking unprescribed antibiotics may result in someone taking the wrong type of antibiotic. This means a person may experience side effects without treating their underlying condition.

Side effects are usually mild and can include nausea and diarrhea. However, some people may experience more serious side effects, such as a severe allergic reaction.

Different types of antibiotics can also result in specific side effects. For example:

Learn more about the side effects of antibiotics.

Taking unprescribed antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, antibiotic resistance is an urgent global public health threat. Each year, antibiotic resistance may kill around 1.27 million people worldwide.

Antibiotic resistance happens when the bacteria stop responding to antibiotics. This means that the bacteria can spread to other people, resulting in potentially life threatening infections.

Learn more about antibiotic resistance and how it occurs.

A 2023 survey consisting of 564 participants found that 43.6% had previously used antibiotics without a prescription.

A person may choose to do this for several reasons, including:

  • a lack of health insurance
  • concerns over the cost of visiting the doctor
  • a lack of access to proper medical care
  • being younger

According to a study from the World Health Organization (WHO), around 1 in 3 people in Europe have taken unprescribed antibiotics.

Of those surveyed, 61% incorrectly believe antibiotics can treat viral infections, while over 50% believe antibiotics can treat the common cold.

It is worth noting that these studies made extensive use of surveys and self-reported data, and this is not always the most reliable means of collecting information.

The CDC provides several tips for taking antibiotics responsibly. These include:

  • only taking antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • using antibiotics exactly as doctors have prescribed
  • not using other people’s antibiotics or sharing antibiotics with others
  • not saving antibiotics for a later date

Individuals also need to speak with a doctor if they experience antibiotic side effects. They should also consult a doctor before taking antibiotics.

An individual’s health insurance plan may cover the cost of antibiotics. These plans usually involve providers such as Medicare. However, the precise extent of the coverage may vary from case to case or depending on the insurer.

Medicaid can also cover the cost of antibiotics. However, a 2020 study suggests that up to 17% of Medicaid-covered antibiotics were for prescription use for conditions that did not require antibiotics. Even when using providers such as Medicaid, a person should only take antibiotics when necessary.

A person can also find help covering the cost of prescription medications using the following organizations:

Antibiotics are medications that fight and prevent bacterial infections.

People may take antibiotics without a prescription for a variety of reasons, such as incorrectly believing that they will treat their condition or due to the cost of these medications.

Although antibiotics can treat many bacterial infections, not all antibiotics can treat all bacterial infections. This means that if a person takes antibiotics without a prescription, they could experience side effects without treating the underlying condition.

Taking antibiotics without a prescription can also contribute to antibiotic resistance. This can result in bacteria becoming resistant to the medications and potentially causing life threatening infections.