Medications are utilized in our society today based on two primary trends in scientific culture: medicalization and biomedicalization. Medicalization was the advent of consumer drugs. Although doctors had previously made many of their own remedies, large scale factory production and the discovery of antibiotics in the 1950s helped society accept medicine into daily use. The original use of medications during this time was to control the human body and strange symptoms through medical interventions. Health was considered to be the absence of disease and the role of medicine was to normalize the body. The opinions of doctors influenced society as a whole and allowed them to expand their role into areas of society such as gambling, alcohol abuse, homelessness, and cults. In 1985 biomedicalization began to take hold, which involved the enhancement of the human body. Medications became commercialized and medical knowledge began to diffuse down to the consumer.

It seems to me that medicalization illustrated the new acceptance of medical knowledge as “truth.” As stated in lecture, doctors had the keys to this new knowledge, so their role in society expanded as people began to value their opinions more and more. This led to the expansion of medical boundaries as described in the paper by Peter Conrad and Deborah Potter. ADHD was formerly a syndrome attributed to only children, but as the doctoral descriptions of the disease relaxed, the syndrome began to be diagnosed in adults as well. Biomedicalization, on the other hand, seems to reflect our culture’s capitalistic tendencies and our desire as a human race to improve our conditions. As stated in Katz’s paper, the surgery room became a place of ritualistic behaviors and served as a place where people expect to enter ill and exit healed. Also, people began to look at pills as a way to make their symptoms go away. This was described especially well in the film, Pill Poppers, which shows how drug companies do everything they can to find the next big cure.

The condition I chose to write about this week is insomnia. I feel like this is often a misunderstood and misdiagnosed disease (often by the patient). A popular drug called Rozerem ran an ad a few years ago that tried to use humor to convince the viewer that it would cure their insomnia. The ad may be viewed here: In the advertisement, an average guy can’t sleep and is confronted by Abraham Lincoln and a groundhog at the dinner table who are awaiting a game of chess. The average guy seems to represent the average person in our culture who is stressed about work and can’t sleep. Insomnia is presented by Lincoln and the groundhog as being common in more than 50% of adults a few times a week. The narrator then pitches Rozerem as the way to fall asleep when you have insomnia. The drug is presented as having no possibility of dependence so that you can start taking it when you need it and stop taking it when you don’t. This advertisement seems to be trying to convince you that you do have insomnia and that you Rozerem is the only dependence-free cure. This echoes biomedicalization in that the drug is commercialized, the patients will often diagnose themselves, and the drug is offered as a way to improve your abnormal sleeping.

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Naomi Fleischmann says:

    The fact of the matter is that every night people around the world are either not getting enough sleep or have a restless night. Insomnia seems to have grown in the number of diagnoses over the past many years, and I would place money on there being a correlation with, what seems to be, an upward trend in how many jobs a single person holds. This is simply speculation, but from what I can tell, more people are in need of more jobs than ever before which has led to increased stress levels. Any doctor would tell his patient that he may not be sleeping well if he is feeling stressed or overworked. Historically as a person grows older he is tasked with more responsibilities, and this trend is not different in today’s world. There should be no surprise then that research has shown that, “the prevalence of insomnia symptoms generally increases with age” (Ohayon). In terms of looking at an increase in insomnia diagnoses from a cultural point of view, the trend is still logical. The culture of today is one that is driven by how productive, successful, and accomplished a person can be. These added stressors are all the more reason to have insomnia. Society has come to the point where it is no longer acceptable to simply do one’s best, he must be able to do better than his best. In order for people to keep up with the fast-paced highly stressful world, they will require medication that allows them to have a good night’s rest, and be completely refreshed every morning. For this reason, insomnia is becoming a more dangerous illness to have because it puts one behind at the workplace, which means that medication is almost required in order for a person with insomnia to keep up.

    “How Is Insomnia Diagnosed? – NHLBI, NIH,” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, accessed August 1, 2014,

    Maurice M. Ohayon, “Epidemiology of Insomnia: What We Know and What We Still Need to Learn,” Sleep Medicine Reviews 6, no. 2 (April 2002): 97–111.

Leave a Reply