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The Medicalization of Society: The Relabeling of Normal Conditions Into Medical Problems

Casey has a Ph.D. in Sociology and has 15 years experience studying topics in academia.

As a Sociologist, one of my favorite topics to study within my field is health and medical practices. Specifically, the topic of "medicalization" is one I find fascinating and I thought I'd share what this is and why it is an important topic to examine. In future posts I may discuss different areas of society that are medicalized in depth like the examples I'll give below.

What is the "medicalization" of society?

Basically, what the term medicalization means is the changing of a condition from a normal everyday thing into something that is a medical issue that requires treatments. The medicalization of society looks at modern medical conditions to see how certain concepts have gone from being normal, to being labeled as a medical problem that can be fixed.

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You're Going Bald? There's A Medicine For That Now.

A good example of the medicalization of a condition is baldness. When men get older, sometimes they lose their hair and go bald. Throughout history, men have gotten older and lost their hair. In today's society, the medical community has treatments for such a condition. You'll find all sorts of medicines and hair treatments marketed to those losing their hair to try to "cure" their problem.

What was once normal is now seen as a medical issue that can be treated.

This is a trend you will see in the area of medicalization. Pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars creating new drugs to treat more conditions. Because medicine is a business that makes money, this impacts what gets labeled as normal and what gets labeled as a medical problem. Something, like baldness, may have been perceived as normal throughout history. Because big pharmaceutical has found drugs that help some people going bald, the condition is relabeled as a medical issue that can be treated with medicine.

Kid Misbehaving At School? They've Got ADHD and Need Pills

ADHD is a large topic within the subject of medicalization. It's so large I'll discuss this topic further in a future article. While there may be children suffering from a disorder like ADHD, sometimes this diagnosis is overused. Children who are normal are given a diagnosis as having something wrong with them when they actually don't. If a teacher or parent can't handle a hyper or misbehaving kid, the child might get labeled as having ADHD and will be given medicines to calm the child down.

Instead of ADHD Your Kid Is Bipolar..

If you want to look at a fascinating documentary on this subject check out the below documentary called The Medicated Child. This documentary discusses children being diagnosed with more severe mental conditions requiring medications to treat. For example, there has been a rise in children being diagnosed as being bipolar. The drugs used to treat this condition have limited tests on children so their long term effects are not fully tested. Because of the medicalization of new behaviors that were once seen as normal childhood behaviors, medicines are being prescribed to children that may be dangerous with long term effects. If side effects happen when kids take some of these drugs, the child will be prescribed more drugs to treat the side effects. Because of the medicalization of childhood behaviors like being hyper, kids are being medicated and told they have something wrong with them.

The Medicated Child Documentary

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Discovering New Drugs and Then Creating Medical Conditions

One practice you find within pharmaceutical companies is the creation of drugs before conditions. What this means is pharmaceutical companies create drugs and test them to see what they do. Sometimes a drug created to treat one medical problem will have unexpected results and will have other effects on the human body....for example:

Getting Old And Unable To Have Sex? Take This Little Blue Pill. It'll Do Wonders.

Viagra (under a different name) was originally created to treat high blood pressure and angina. What scientists working on the drug didn't expect was that the drug they were working on caused men to get an erection. And thus...Viagra was invented and elderly men all over could be treated for "Sexual Dysfunction." The treatment of sexual dysfunction became a huge business success and following the creation of Viagra came numerous other treatments for what use to be a normal side effect of getting old.

The Dangers of Medicalization

Medicine is a business. That in itself is a dangerous thing. Pharmaceutical companies want to make more money and they are constantly creating and marketing new drugs to treat a wide variety of conditions. You might notice advertisements in magazines and on television commercials marketing drugs. This makes individuals into consumers who see a drug in an ad and have the power to ask to be prescribed a drug. Pharmaceutical companies give rewards to doctors who help push certain drugs which benefits both parties in making more money.

Medicalization is often done for the love of money by big businesses. Because medicine is a business, the focus is on making more money over actually helping people. Sometimes new drugs have side effects socially and medically. Kids who are hyper may be labeled as being bad kids who have a medical condition. Once they are labeled as having ADHD then they can be labeled with a stigma of having mental illness that requires pills. There are both medical and social repercussions to being labeled as having a medical issue.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Casey White