As a busy student, it requires special attention to remember to take your medication. The university environment can present some predictable challenges to managing your medication. Check out these strategies that may help you notice and overcome any challenges you may encounter.
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Develop a Strategy for Remembering to Take Your Medications
Organizers help you remember to take your medication each day and prevent you from accidentally forgetting or from taking a duplicate dose. Once a week, fill your medication organizer with your pills for the entire week. It’s helpful to schedule this activity into your calendar so that it becomes a routine you perform at the same time each week.
Keep your pill box or organizer in a place where you will see it every day (e.g., with your keys or next to your toothbrush).
Take your pills at approximately the same time each day. Choose time when you are sure to be at home, like when you first wake up in the morning or just before you to sleep at night.
Especially when first starting a new medication, it’s helpful to set an automated reminder or alarm on your computer or cell phone. Many free online calendars allow you to set daily emails or text message alerts (e.g., Google Calendar). If you have smart phone, there may be applications available to help you track your medication:
Keep using the electronic reminders until you are confident that taking your medication has become a consistent part of your everyday routine.
Keep Your Medications Out of Sight
Some of the medications you may be prescribed can be misused as drugs of abuse. Be discrete about who you tell about your medications. Keep your medications safely put away, out of sight, and even locked in a lock box if you believe you are at risk of having them stolen.
Long Academic Breaks, Study Abroad, and Other Travel Considerations
Before you leave home, count your travel days to make sure you have enough medication to last through your entire trip. Be sure to have your prescription refilled before leaving or call your provider if you do not have sufficient medications to return home from your travels.
If you are planning to be away from home for more than one month, consult with your pharmacist or medication provider about obtaining an early refill authorization to ensure you can take additional medications with you on your trip.
If you are taking a medication that requires you to have blood drawn frequently, contact your provider to find out if you need to have blood work done before you leave, or at a facility away from home during your travels.
Always travel with your insurance information and your provider’s telephone number in case you require medical attention while away from home.
If you are traveling by air, always pack your medication in your carry-on luggage to avoid being without your medication should your luggage get lost or delayed in arriving at your destination. Make sure that you travel with your medications in the pharmacy issued bottles that bear your name and the name of the medication.
When traveling internationally, some countries may ask to see a paper copy of your physician issued prescription to document even if your medications are in pharmacy-issued bottles. Make a copy of your prescriptions before having them filled at your pharmacy so that you can include copies of your prescriptions with your international travel documents.
If you are studying abroad, consult with the coordinator of your study abroad program for information about how to locate medical providers abroad in case of any emergencies. Alert your medication provider of your plans to travel abroad to discuss how best to stay in contact if you need a refill or a consultation.
Long Breaks Away from Campus
When you are away for summer break, or any breaks of one month or longer, consult with your provider for instructions on how to get your prescriptions filled while you are away. It may be helpful to identify another provider in the area where you are traveling in the event that you require medical attention or a prescription while you are away.
Be sure to take your insurance information and your medication provider’s telephone number with you.
When traveling within the United States, larger national chain pharmacies are able to transfer your authorized refills from one store to another store within their chain. Transfers between different chain pharmacies are also possible, but require a little more coordination between pharmacies. Before you leave, consult with your local pharmacist about how to arrange for an electronic transfer of refills to a pharmacy located in or near your travel destination. Make sure that your provider has authorized enough refills to ensure that your medications will not be interrupted while you are away.
Side Effects and Medication Reactions
Psychiatric medications can come with unwanted side effects. Before prescribing a new medication, your provider will review any predictable side effects that you may experience and any potential for more serious reactions. Even though the side effects from psychiatric medications are to be expected, in most cases these are mild and go away after a short time. For some people, however, side effects can persist for an indefinite period of time and may require you to consult with your provider for management strategies.
Side effects are likely to occur within the first two weeks of either starting a new medication or increasing the dosage. Often side effects are a temporary reaction to the medication, and go away once your body adjusts. If you have questions about the side effects that may occur due to your psychiatric medications, or if you start experiencing new side effects from your medication, talk to your medication provider or your pharmacist right away.
It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish a psychiatric medication side effect from one of the symptoms of the mental health condition for which you are being treated. For example, some people experience some tiredness when taking medications, while low energy can also be one of the symptoms of depression. Consult your medication provider to help you assess any persistent psychiatric symptoms and/or side effects that you may be experiencing.
In the rare event that you experience a serious allergic reaction (e.g. a problem breathing or swallowing or hives) immediately consult your medication provider, report to your local emergency room for an evaluation, or phone 911.
Helpful Tools for Managing Medications and Monitoring Your Progress
Keeping a diary of both benefits and side effects can provide helpful information for you and your provider to consider when making future decisions together about your treatment plan.
Consult Your Provider Before Changing Your Medication Plan
If you develop side effects, talk to your treatment provider. Never stop or adjust your medication on your own. Often your provider can offer recommendations that may reduce or eliminate side effects. For most mental health conditions, there is likely to be more than one medication available that may work for you. If you having too much difficulty with side effects, your provider may recommend that you try a different medication to find the one right for you.
Keep All of Your Doctors, Nurses, and Pharmacists Informed About All of Your Medications
It is extremely important to tell your provider and pharmacist about all of the medications (prescription and non-prescription) you are taking. Similarly, if you should be prescribed a new medication by a provider other than your psychiatric provider, always inform them of any psychiatric medications. All of your providers can check if there are any drug interactions that may result in unwanted side effects or that may affect your psychiatric treatment.
Feeling Better and Keeping it That Way
The goal of treatment is to help you feel better and keep you feeling better. If you have ever been prescribed an antibiotic for an infection, you know that your provider will remind you to take all of the medication until it is finished, even if after you start to feel better. Taking your medications as directed is especially true when in treatment for a mental health condition. Most mental health disorders are time-limited, but still require many months of treatment with medication to ensure a full recovery. Some psychiatric conditions are chronic, however, and require ongoing treatment for symptom management.
Stopping your medication prematurely once your symptoms improve can put you at risk for experiencing a potentially dangerous side effect or an undesirable relapse of symptoms. Always check with your psychiatric provider before stopping or adjusting your medication.
Paying for Medications
The price of psychiatric medication can be highly variable, and sometimes students don’t fill their prescriptions because of cost.
Ask your provider or pharmacist about generic drugs options rather than brand names to save money. Generic prescriptions contain the same active medication as brand name drugs and are usually less expensive.
Some discount stores have pharmacies with low-cost prescription programs (e.g. Wal-Mart, Target). In addition, some pharmaceutical companies have programs for those who cannot afford the full price. Consult with your pharmacist to learn if you qualify for a program to help you pay for medication.
You can save money by inquiring with your insurance plan’s Pharmacy Benefits Management program about mail order prescriptions or larger quantity discounts. Some insurance plans have programs that allow for 90 day refills and / or mail order medications that can save on the cost of your treatment.
In factoring the financial cost of your treatment, remember that treatment could save money in the long run by helping you avoid unwanted consequences of an untreated medical condition. Untreated mental health disorders could lead to expensive medical visits, hospitalization, lost wages from missed work, poor academic and job performance, and additional tuition from a prolonged academic career.
Alcohol and Drugs
The use of drugs and alcohol can bring on symptoms of mental health conditions (e.g. depression, anxiety, psychosis, etc.), or can cause your symptoms to become even worse. While the use of drugs and alcohol come with risks for anyone, the risks may be much greater for individuals with mental health disorders and for those taking psychiatric medications.
People with mental health disorders are significantly more likely than most people to develop an alcohol or drug dependency problem. For example, patients with Bipolar Disorder have a nearly 75% greater risk of developing an addiction to substances than does someone without this mental health illness.
Mixing drugs and alcohol can potentially dangerous and even lethal effects, when combined with certain psychiatric medications. Drug and alcohol use can make treating or managing a mental health disorder much more difficult, even among people who have control over their drinking or drug use.
If you are taking psychiatric medication and are using or considering the use of any drugs or alcohol, consult your psychiatric medication provider about safety first. Your provider’s primary objective is to help you remain healthy and safe, and not to judge or reprimand you. Be open and honest with your providers to learn more about your medications and safety in making an informed decision about your drug or alcohol use.
- Visit the Food and Drug Administration webpage for more safety information about the psychiatric medications that you are prescribed.
- Information about the dangers of mixing medications and alcohol provided by the UConn Center for Students with Disabilities.