Embarrassed by Your Meds? Tips to Help

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 06, 2021

You wouldn’t think twice about telling people that you used ear drops to clear up an ear infection. But you might feel uneasy about sharing that you’re taking drugs for an STD or an on-going medical issue.

If you’re embarrassed by your medication, it may be because you see your illness as a personal failing. Some experts call this self-stigma. Others call it simply shame.

Reasons Behind the Feeling

You may have a notion of what “normal” health looks like. And you may believe that your medicine reflects your shortcomings. That may be more likely the case if you have:

You may be self-conscious at your doctor’s office or at the pharmacy counter for other reasons. You may fear that you’d be judged for some fact about yourself. Those may include:

  • Your low income or lack of insurance
  • Sexuality or gender identity
  • Inability to read well
  • Being a smoker
  • Poor body or dental hygiene

Stigma and Your Health

Your discomfort about your condition and the need for treatment can lead to poor health choices. You may not follow your doctor’s advice or quit taking all your medicine before you finish. You may hide your diagnosis from family and friends.

Feeling ashamed can have real consequences for your body and mind. Consider:

Schizophrenia. In one study, more than half of the people with schizophrenia failed to stick with their treatments. A big driver was the level of shame the person felt about their mental disorder.

HIV. Research shows that people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus are less likely to take their drugs if they feel embarrassed about their infection or if they worry that someone will see them taking HIV medicine.

Type 2 diabetes. Some people may have deep prejudice about this condition, which is often related to extra weight. The stigma is that if you have diabetes, it’s your fault. Studies show that judgment from others can take a toll and may explain why some people don’t take their insulin or other drugs as their doctors recommend.

Asthma. One review of three dozen asthma studies found that people who believed that asthma carried a social stigma may be less likely to follow their therapy.

Overcome Your Embarrassment

These tips may help erase or at least ease any uncomfortable attitudes or thoughts you may have.

Get more answers. Ask your doctor about your prescription and how it can help you. Learn why you need it, what side effect you may expect, and what might happen if you don’t take it. Have the conversation with your pharmacist, too.

Learn your options. Are you having trouble keeping track of a lot of pills? Does it bother you to give yourself injections in public? Ask your doctor or pharmacist about alternatives, like extended-release pills that you don’t have to take as often, pumps, and auto-injectors, which have hidden needles and thus may be more comfortable to use.

Go with mail order. This option takes away any discomfort you might feel when you face your pharmacist. One study found that people who got their refills by mail were more likely to take their medications as prescribed than those who visited the local pharmacy.

Ask for privacy. Many drugstores have private rooms where you can talk to the pharmacist so others can’t overhear.

Let Friends and Family In

You don’t have to deal with embarrassment over your health problems alone. Close friends and family can give you encouraging words or offer practical help like picking up your medications. But first, they need to understand what you’re facing.

Prepare the listener. Start with something like, “I want to talk to you about something important. I feel embarrassed about it, though, so please don’t make a joke about it.”

Be specific about your conditionand how it affects you. For example: “I have bipolar disorder, and sometimes it feels like my world is out of control.”

Suggest concrete ways to give support. Whether you need to find a new doctor, get a ride to an appointment, or just get more hugs, this is a good time to share what you want from your support team.

WebMD Medical Reference



Medial Humanities: “Health-related shame: an affective determinant of health?”

Archives of Psychiatric Nursing: “The Effect of Internalized Stigma on the Adherence to Treatment in Patients With Schizophrenia.”

Aids and Behavior: “Interpersonal Mechanisms Contributing to the Association Between HIV-Related Internalized Stigma and Medication Adherence.”

American Diabetes Association: “Comprehensive Diabetes Stigma Scale—Associations with Patient Characteristics and Outcomes.”

Respiratory Medicine: “Treatment perceptions in patients with asthma: Synthesis of factors influencing adherence.”

Risk Management and Healthcare Policy: “Adherence and health care costs.”

Harvard Medical School: “How to talk to your doctor about medication.”

National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Disclosing to Others.”

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