Medicalization is the process in which non-medical issues are redefined in terms of illnesses or disorders and treated with the assistance of biomedicine. As medicalization evolves, medical intervention is used to alleviate the undesired symptoms of human life, which often leads to pharmaceutical companies developing and advertising medications to assist in treating medicalized illnesses.
As a result, more and more human processes and behaviors being diagnosed as medical or pathological illnesses are being treated with medications that remove the discomforts of aging, mood fluctuation, grief and eviant behaviors; allowing one to be better than well. While many medicalized illness can be treated without pharmaceutical intervention, drug therapy is commonly used; changing the physiology of the human body and mind; resulting in what is known as a bionic society.
Medicalization and the Construction of a Bionic Society Just four decades ago, audiences were intrigued by the science fiction television series The Bionic Woman; the tale of a woman who is re-built and in a sense reborn after sustaining life- threatening injuries. Jamie Sommers was saved with the help urgical implants and prosthetics that not only repaired her broken body, but enhanced her previous abilities with super- human strength.
Today, the term bionic is used to describe a society changed by the social construct of medicalization, or medical social control, and is defined as assigning a medical meaning to a person’s physical characteristics, mental processes, and deviant behaviors (Schierenbeck, 2010). Medicalization gives medical meaning to a broad scope of normal human occurrences such as, feelings of sadness and shyness, physical changes in the human body due to aging, and o behaviors that do not fit into the current social norms, or structured social situations.
Furthermore, medicalization, with the assistance of biotechnology, allows individuals to seek medical intervention to enhance their ability to be better than well (Maturo, 2012). And while medicalization and biomedicine have improved the quality of life for many patients who suffer from severe emotional distress, mental illness, or loss of mental cognition; it has stigmatized normal life progressions and childhood behavior, consequently increasing the desire for medical intervention in the absence of pathological illnesses or hen a cure is not required (Davis, 2006, p. 1).
Evolution of Medicalization Medicalization emerged in the 1970’s with publications of social scientific literature written by sociologists that include, Andrew Scull, K. Irving Zola, and Joseph Schneider (Overgaard, et al. , 2014, p. 743). Published studies primarily focus on medical interventions of deviant behaviors, mental health, personality differences, aging, and the role that medical intervention has played in society.
Additionally, studies also examine the increase of pharmaceutical advertising that robustly stimulates the nvention of illness and targets consumers to self-diagnose through check-lists of symptoms (Maturo, 2012, p. 124). Ultimately, most theorists agree that by describing certain aspects of life and human differences as pathologies, the institution of medicine has metamorphosed into an institution of social control, therefore dictating what is normal and acceptable within society, and what should be classified as a medical condition in order to correct or control undesirable and deviant behaviors. Conrad, 1992).
Medicalization- Transforming Life into Illness Medicalization stigmatizes many facets of life ranging from ging, to grieving, to personality differences, by associating them with illnesses and disorders; blurring the lines between what is normal and what is pathological (Maturo, 2012). Menopause for example, once viewed as a normal occurrence in older women, is now classified as estrogen deficiency disease due to ovarian failure, leading women to seek hormone replacement therapies to combat a natural transformation in their lives.
Similarly, age-related impotence in men is now widely diagnosed as erectile dysfunction and is commonly treated with oral medications, chemical injections, and even surgery to reserve masculinity (Parens, 2011, p. 6). While medications used to treat these conditions come with serious and sometimes life-threatening side effects, the desire to defy aging often outweighs the risks to one’s health. Additionally, medicalization is also often seen mental health practices as practitioners continue to diagnose feelings of sadness or shyness as specific types of anxiety and depression disorders.
For instance, the medical diagnosis of winter depression, usually treated with antidepressant medications, describes what most have labeled cabin fever or winter blues or centuries (Visser, et al. , 2016, p. 207). While medical meaning can be assigned to almost any human emotion or behavior, aging adults and those with winter gloom aren’t the only members of society being affected by medicalization in mental health.
Perhaps the most wide-spread form medicalization in recent years pertains to certain childhood behaviors and modification of those behaviors with medications to coincide with social norms. Medicalization of Pediatric Behaviors Childhood deviance is not a new concept. In 1902, Sir George F. Still, the father of British pediatrics, described deviant childhood ehavior as “an abnormal defect of moral control of children” (Overgaard, et al. , 2014, p. 745); most commonly referred to today as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Transforming childhood behavior into a medicalized phenomenon is increasing, as is seen in ADHD. ADHD continues to be a widely accepted diagnosis for children across every social spectrum. Since the 1990’s, ADHD diagnoses have climbed significantly, and continue to climb as non-medical personnel, essentially teachers and parents, identify behavioral issues that may not be compliant or convenient in a structured lassroom or household setting (Visser, et al. , 2016, p. 444).
Representing ADHD as neuro-biological disorder or disease has resulted in drug therapy a becoming routine treatment in behavior modification (Mather, 2012, p. 17). Medicalization to Pharmaceuticals. Although the use of pharmaceuticals is not directly associated with medicalization, pharmaceutical or drug therapy is often used in the treatment of social, behavioral, and certain pathological conditions when considered necessary or beneficial by medical professionals, patients, or both (Maturo, 2012, p. 125).
Considering the diagnosis of mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, medications classified as antidepressants are often used to decrease the undesired symptoms. Subsequently, in the treatment of ADHD, stimulants that include Methylphenidate are commonly prescribed to patients of all ages to control or eliminate certain behaviors. Further, in cases of disease risk factors, such as predisposition for developing heart disease, drug therapies are often used to lower cholesterol or regulated blood pressure in order to prevent the development of the disease.
Treating the entioned conditions with medications is considered to be pharmaceuticalization, as it is possible to manage the mentioned conditions successfully with non-pharmaceutical therapies that include psychotherapy, behavior modification therapy, and life-style change (p. 125). Conclusion While the story of Jamie Sommers may have been a far cry from reality in the 1970’s, it is not so unfathomable today. Transforming her into a bionic human was the result of manipulating her human self with the assistance of biomedical technology, in the form of prosthetics and implants; enhancing er physical and sensory abilities.
With medicalization and biomedicine, manipulating the physiology of aging helps a patient feel young, transforming a child’s behavior into behavior that is deemed socially acceptable, allows him or her to fit into social norms, and altering human moods and emotions allows one to feel they are able to act and react within social norms without having to make life-style changes. Therefore, it is likely that medicalization will continue to evolve as the “enhanceable of today becomes the pathological of tomorrow” (Maturo, 2012, p. 130)