What is a Lifestyle Drug?

woman getting Botox injection
Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Definition: Lifestyle Drug

The term lifestyle drug is a way of defining a drug that is a choice because it might improve your life, function or appearance, as opposed to a drug you might take because you need to cure something or manage an illness. They are not therapeutic or medically necessary, but they still may require a prescription and you may not be able to buy them over-the-counter.

Even though some of these drugs could be helpful for you to improve your health, perhaps as a preventive measure (losing weight, quitting smoking), they aren't considered curative or life-saving in the same sense as other prescription drugs are.

Examples of Lifestyle Drugs

  • Drugs for Erectile Dysfunction: Viagra (sildenafil citrate), Levitra (vardenafil HCl) and Cialis (tadalafil). These are multi-billion dollar per year drugs for their manufacturers.
  • Drugs that Prevent Balding: Propecia (finasteride), Rogaine (minoxidil) for examples.
  • Drugs used for Weight Loss: Meridia and other weight loss aids.
  • Cosmetic-Related Drugs: Latisse and Botox that may improve your appearance, but don't necessarily improve your health.
  • Drugs for Focus and Energy: Provigil (modafinil) has therapeutic uses for narcolepsy and sleep apnea but some people seek it for general use.
  • Drugs for Birth Control: Yaz, Levora and others may be considered lifestyle drugs. FDA-approved contraceptive methods are required to be covered in plans by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, but there are exemptions for religious employers and non-profit religious organizations.
  • Smoking Cessation Drugs: Zyban, Chantix and others. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 expanded coverage of FDA-approved smoking cessation medications. It is now considered a preventive service and covers 90 days and two quit attempts per year.

    Health Insurance Coverage of Lifestyle Drugs

    Further, few healthcare payers - private insurers, Medicare or others - are willing to pay for what they consider to be lifestyle drugs the same way they do in their tiered formularies. Instead they may offer you a discount from a higher, retail price, or they may offer you no payment assistance at all.

    Some treatments that were called lifestyle drugs are now required to be covered by health insurance plans, Medicare and Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act of 2010. There was a significant amount of debate over including birth control, and exemptions were granted to religious employers.

    Ethics of Lifestyle Drugs

    Development of lifestyle drugs by pharmaceutical companies can be very profitable. The enormous success of erectile dysfunction drugs is an example. But pharmaceutical companies use research money and the talents of researchers that could be used in developing therapeutic drugs. The profits from lifestyle drugs may or may not provide funding for research into cures for cancer or heart disease. The best minds might be at work on the next Viagra rather than the next diabetes medication.

    There is also an incentive for drug companies to medicalize common everyday ailments so they can market curative drugs for them. They have a stake in lobbying for their drugs to be included in health insurance plans and in medical formularies so they will be prescribed.

    Lifestyle drugs may have side effects and drug interactions that the patient would not risk if they didn't take these medications. As new lifestyle drugs are developed and rushed to market, the long-term risks are not known. Patients may be paying out of pocket for a non-therapeutic drug that can cause them further medical problems.

    Continue Reading