Objectives: To contribute to achieving a deep understanding of lay beliefs about antibiotics and develop a typology of antibiotic user behaviours in the community.
Method: Qualitative semi-structured interview study with 32 women and 14 men, selected by both purposive and theoretical sampling, from areas of high, average and low deprivation.
Results: Respondents were highly confident about the efficacy and safety of antibiotics. Reported respondent antibiotic user behaviours fell into six types, those that: (1) always took antibiotics as prescribed; (2) could not take doses because of work, child care, or social constraints; (3) frequently forgot doses; (4) believed it made sense to stop taking antibiotics as they started to get better; (5) actively sought to limit antibiotic use because they believed their own bodies became used to them or because antibiotics are 'unnatural'; and (6) deliberately planned to stop early so as to have an antibiotic supply for self use in the future to avoid the challenges of consulting and obtaining antibiotics in primary care.
Conclusion: Members of the public are confident about the safety and efficacy of antibiotics. Most report taking antibiotics as prescribed, but there is a range of other unintentional and intentional characteristic non-adherent behaviours that require different solutions.
Practice implications: Promoting public engagement in the control of bacterial resistance through adherence to antibiotic regimes requires some interventions that address beliefs, others addressing forgetfulness, and others addressing practical barriers to adherence.