Common Side Effects of Drug Use

A side effect is a secondary effect caused by the consumption of a prescription, over-the-counter, or recreational drug. This effect may or may not be adverse. Every drug is capable of causing the user side effects, but the severity of the effects vary based on the type of drug consumed. The side effects of any specific drug also depend on the patient's unique body chemistry, as well as the patient's dosage of the substance. The most common side effects of any class of drugs are gastrointestinal effects, drowsiness, pain, and skin reactions.

In order to be absorbed by the body, most drugs must bypass the gastrointestinal tract. This can cause diarrhea, stomach irritation, nausea, and other related symptoms for the patient. Cancer chemotherapy medications, birth control medications, antiretroviral HIV drugs, and other hormone-containing drugs are common causes of nausea. To prevent or lessen potential gastrointestinal symptoms, patients should make sure that they follow all instructions related to taking the medication. Antiemetic herbs, such as peppermint and ginger, may also help to lessen these unpleasant side effects. 

Drowsiness is a feeling of sedation or lethargy that can cause everyday chores, such as operating machinery or driving a car, to become dangerous for the patient. The medications that are most likely to cause drowsiness are those that affect the parts of the brain that are responsible for alertness and sleep cycles. Other drugs that frequently cause drowsiness are those that slow the body's metabolism, which often results in decreased energy. Some drugs notorious for causing drowsiness include tricyclic antidepressants, benzodiazepines, opiate pain relievers, and antihistamines. To prevent potential drowsiness, patients should avoid eating heavy meals, and they should try to get plenty of sleep during regular sleep hours. Patients should also try to time their medications so that they coincide with the body's natural sleep patterns. 

Pain is listed as a side effect of many different types of drugs. Drug-induced pain may affect the head, muscles, joints, or gastrointestinal tract. Drugs that cause pain typically do so by changing the chemistry in the portion of the brain that is responsible for the perception of pain. In some cases, pain may result when a medication causes actual damage to the body's tissues. Medications that commonly cause pain include decongestants, SSRI antidepressants, and antibiotics. One of the best methods of preventing this side effect is to take an over-the-counter pain medication. Patients should also make sure that they always take their medications exactly as directed by the doctor or pharmacist.

Skin reactions that can occur as a side effect of many medications include hives, itching, rashes, swelling, and redness. Some of these skin reactions may be painful, irritating, or uncomfortable for the patient. Some drugs elicit skin reactions by enhancing the skin's sensitivity to the sun, while others can trigger the body's histamine response. Drugs that commonly cause skin reactions include chemotherapy drugs, opiates, and atypical antidepressants, such as buproprion. 

All drugs are capable of causing at least mild side effects. However, some symptoms may indicate a medical emergency. Any patient who experiences rapid heartbeat, extreme changes in behavior, or mood swings should seek medical treatment as soon as possible. In addition, patients who have trouble breathing or swelling in the throat should call for emergency medical help.