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How Culture & Religion Influence Drug & Medicine Use

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
A person's cultural and religious background can greatly influence how they perceive and use drugs, be they legal or illegal. Such factors can both predispose a person to using drugs, or not.

What is a Drug?

Did you ever think that there's more to drug use than peer pressure, celebrities, and experimentation? Drugs are substances, other than food, that in one way or another change the physiological or psychological function of a person. They can be illegal drugs, like cocaine, or they can be drugs that are easily bought off the store shelf, like aspirin. Their use, or lack thereof, is also influenced by a person's religion and culture. This lesson explores how this is so.

Religion, Culture & Medicine

One way by which culture and religion intersect is by way of prescription medication. For example, a patient may go to the doctor. The doctor may diagnose them with something like high blood pressure and then tell them they need to take prescription blood pressure medication for a very long time in order to prevent complications like heart disease or kidney damage.

Well, that may be a problem because some cultures or religious beliefs prohibit or limit the use of modern medication. Instead, some cultures rely more on traditional or folk remedies like herbs, certain body positions, or acupuncture points.

For example, people with an Asian background are more likely to believe that modern medication is harmful and even addictive. In their view, this type of medication should be avoided. In contrast, people with a European background are more likely to believe that modern medication is beneficial and should be used when necessary. However, this is an oversimplification. People who have an Asian cultural background will definitely use modern medicine for sudden or serious events like emergency surgery, but compared to Europeans, they are more likely to rely on traditional or folk medicine for anything that requires the use of medication for a long time, as per high blood pressure.

Like culture, religion also impacts a person's use of medication. One example of this would be related to some of the adherents of the traditional aspects of Christian Science, some of whom are less likely to use modern medication in general than those who are agnostic, atheist, or even of a different religion. This has led to many of these adherents, or their children, dying from preventable or treatable causes.

Other religions, such as Hinduism and Islam, may not promote the avoidance of modern medication like strict adherents of Christian Science do, but they may impact a person's medical treatment nonetheless. These, and other religions, do not allow the consumption of various animals. The problem is that some ingredients used in medication are derived from these animals, like swine and cattle. This may lead a devout adherent of the religion to avoid taking medication with such an ingredient unless no alternative is available or they are in need of emergency medical care.

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