Reasons for the use of mild analgesics among English students

Pharm World Sci. 2008 Jan;30(1):79-85. doi: 10.1007/s11096-007-9146-7. Epub 2007 Jul 27.


Objective: Mild analgesics such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are amongst the most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. However, little is known about what beliefs people hold about them. The present paper examines: (a) the patterns of mild analgesic usage in a sample of university students, (b) their beliefs about the associated risks and the necessity of taking mild analgesics, and (c) the association between beliefs about analgesics and self-reports of their use.

Setting: A convenience sample of 333 students studying at a large English University were approached on the University campus. Of these, 291 agreed to participate, yielding an 87% response rate.

Method: This study employed a cross-sectional design, with all participants completing the same questionnaire concerning their use of mild painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, and beliefs about their use.

Main outcome measure: Four questions asked about their patterns of mild analgesic use in the past month, specifically (a) have they taken analgesics, (b) how often did they take analgesics when they had symptoms, (c) did they take more than a single dose of 1-2 tablets at one time, and (d) did they exceed the maximum dose.

Results: Almost all of the 291 participants reported symptoms in the past month, with over two thirds treating with mild analgesics, and one sixth exceeding the maximum dose. Only 17% indicated that there were short-term risks of using mild analgesics, although half indicated that there were long-term risks. The risks that were identified generally did not conform with current medical thinking. Perceptions of risks were not generally associated with self-reports of analgesic usage. Rather, respondents who thought analgesics were more necessary were more likely to report taking analgesics, report taking more analgesics, and report exceeding the maximum dose.

Conclusion: These results indicate the need for caution in current moves to encourage self-medication. If people are unaware of the risks of drugs such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, then they may only contact health professionals after they experience adverse effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / administration & dosage*
  • Aspirin / administration & dosage
  • Citrates / administration & dosage
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Combinations
  • England
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Ibuprofen / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Nonprescription Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Risk
  • Self Medication*
  • Sodium Bicarbonate / administration & dosage
  • Students / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Citrates
  • Drug Combinations
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Acetaminophen
  • sodium acetylsalicylate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate drug combination
  • Sodium Bicarbonate
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen