"Social medication" and the control of children: a qualitative study of over-the-counter medication among Australian children

Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):e378-83. doi: 10.1542/peds.2004-0759.


Objective: The aim of the study was to identify the patterns of use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications among children.

Methods: The study used a qualitative design, with in-depth interviews of 40 parents with children <5 years of age.

Results: There were 3 striking and readily apparent themes in the use of OTC medications among children. One was the administration of OTC medications as a form of "social medication," to give parents control over children's behavior that they perceived as fractious and irritating. A related theme was the use of OTC medications to reduce the inconvenience to the parents of having a sick child, again giving parents greater control and better time-management abilities. Finally, acetaminophen was considered by many parents to have almost miraculous properties in calming, sedating, and lifting the mood of children.

Conclusions: The use of OTC medications for the treatment of minor ailments among children is widespread, despite the lack of evidence of efficacy of the most commonly used medications and the potential for toxicity. With the increasing propensity to look to medication as a means of supporting changing lifestyles, there is an urgent need to review the prevalence and effects of social medication.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / therapeutic use
  • Advertising
  • Australia
  • Child Behavior / drug effects*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Health Services Misuse
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Nonprescription Drugs / adverse effects
  • Nonprescription Drugs / history
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Self Medication / history
  • Self Medication / statistics & numerical data*
  • Self Medication / trends


  • Histamine H1 Antagonists
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Acetaminophen