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What Is Non-Therapeutic Use?

By S. Berger
Updated May 17, 2024
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Both medications and medical treatments have specific purposes that the medical community agrees upon. These are referred to as therapeutic uses, and they may serve certain purposes like preventing or treating certain diseases or medical conditions. Many countries have government organizations that regulate which uses of these treatments are acceptable, in that they are effective and do not cause undue risk to patients. At times, individuals may take medications for reasons other than the ones accepted by the medical community, and this is known as non-therapeutic use.

A distinction should be made between non-therapeutic use of medication and off-label use. With non-therapeutic usage, medications are taken in such a way that is not only not practiced by doctors, but also is not meant to treat a disease or medical condition. Off-label use refers to taking a medication for a reason other than the normal ones accepted in the medical community, but still with the intention of treating a medical condition.

Non-therapeutic use of medications can take many forms. One such form is recreational use, which may include the use of drugs with legitimate medical purposes, such as amphetamines or opioids, for the sake of personal enjoyment. In this case, these medications exert the same effects that they would if they were taken therapeutically, but they are often taken in larger doses than what doctors would recommend. This type of non-therapeutic use may also include the ingestion of drugs that do not have a known use in the medical community, such as alcohol or tobacco.

Some types of non-therapeutic use may not occur so that a person may enjoy a drug's effects. Anabolic steroids, for example, may sometimes be taken by bodybuilders in order to help build large amounts of muscle in short periods of time. These medications are not normally prescribed for this purpose, and are instead often used to treat hormone imbalances or inflammatory disorders, so this would also be a type of non-therapeutic use.

People that raise livestock may also engage in administering medications for non-therapeutic purposes. Antibiotics may sometimes be given to pigs, cows, and other animals, not to treat disease, but instead to prevent it, and to promote more rapid growth than would otherwise be possible. This type of non-therapeutic use may sometimes be combined with administering hormones for growth, as well. Some controversy surrounds this practice, however, as it is suspected by some people of helping to create bacterial strains that are resistant to antibiotic treatments.

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