Join our community of Solution Seekers!

Healthy Living

4 Common Prescription Medication Mistakes

Are you one of the millions of Americans who make dangerous mistakes with their medications? You can avoid that bitter pill with these simple strategies.

By Dana Sullivan Kilroy
Illustration of a person with pills over their mouthSerge Bloch

All these details matter, since taking medicine is more like baking than cooking: You need to be exact. Just how important are even basic-sounding instructions? See below.

“Take at the same time every day”: Doses that are taken too close together could put excessive amounts of the compound into your system. Conversely, if you wait too long between doses, you may not have enough medication in your body for it to be effective.

“Take with food”: The medication may cause an upset stomach, or an empty stomach could interfere with the drug’s absorption, says Vaida. Other prescriptions bear the opposite warning and should not be taken with food. This is to minimize interactions or to help absorption.

“Avoid alcohol consumption”: This warning indicates the potential for harmful interactions, including enhancing side effects, such as drowsiness and dizziness; causing nausea and vomiting; and triggering a rapid heart rate.

“Do not chew or crush”: A crushed pill is absorbed more quickly, which could leave you with a dangerously high level of the drug. Be especially cautious of this when giving medicines to children. Another important point to keep in mind: If your doctor tells you to take the entire course of antibiotics, don’t stop when you start to feel better, and don’t save some for the next time you get sick. Skipping even one or two doses can allow the bacteria to survive and prolong your illness, and it may make your body resistant to stronger antibiotics.

Mistake No. 3: Not Keeping Track of All the Medicines You Use

The fix: Between vitamins and allergy medicines, birth control pills and painkillers, losing track of medications and supplements is easy to do. Plus, nearly half of women between the ages of 18 and 44 take at least one prescription drug, and that number climbs as we get older. More than a third of women age 45 and up take three or more.

“Some seemingly innocuous medications can interact with other drugs,” says L. Jo Parrish, a vice president of the Society for Women’s Health Research, in Washington, D.C. For instance, antacids can prevent antibiotics from being absorbed into the bloodstream. That can reduce the effectiveness of the antibiotic or prevent it from working at all. Antacids have the same effect on blood thinners and heart medications. And those aren’t the only troublemakers. Even a common decongestant can lead to a hazardous increase in blood pressure for people who take hypertension medication or MAO inhibitors (a type of antidepressant).

Certain foods can interfere with drugs as well: Grapefruit, of all things, blocks the enzyme that metabolizes certain drugs, including some antihistamines, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medications, and some drugs that lower cholesterol and blood pressure, allowing the level of the drug to rise higher than it should.


Related Content

Thermal body image

This Is Your Brain on Heat

As the temperature spikes, your body works to counter it, sometimes with little success. Here’s how to help the cooling along—so you can survive the summer, no sweat.

What do you think about this article? Share your own solutions and ideas

View Earlier Comments

Quick Tip


Juice may serve up vitamins, but it won’t do much to ease hunger: Unlike solid foods, liquids don’t trip the brain’s satiety mechanism. For a more effective snack, pair a glass of 100 percent juice with a few nuts. Get more tips.