High-frequency use of over-the-counter analgesics among adolescents: reflections of an emerging difficult life, a cross-sectional study

Scand J Caring Sci. 2014 Mar;28(1):49-56. doi: 10.1111/scs.12039. Epub 2013 Mar 20.


Aims: To examine characteristics of 15- to 16-year-old adolescents who used over-the-counter analgesics daily to weekly (high-frequency users) as compared to those who used less or no analgesics (low-frequency users). Further to analyse the differences in pain experience, lifestyle, self-esteem, school attendance and educational ambition.

Methods: An anonymous cross-sectional questionnaire-based study. The questionnaire covered the use of over-the-counter analgesics, pain experience, sociodemographics, lifestyle factors, self-esteem, school absence and future educational plans. The study took place in the 10th grade in six junior high schools in a medium-sized town in Norway. The local sales data for analgesics and antipyretics were close to the national average. We invited 626 adolescents to participate. Of the 367 adolescents (59%) who responded, 51% were girls. Associations between the frequency of use of over-the-counter analgesic and the mentioned variables were analysed using multiple logistic regression.

Results: In total, 26% (42 boys and 48 girls) used over-the-counter analgesics daily to weekly. These high-frequency users experienced more widespread pain, slept less, had more paid spare-time work, drank more caffeinated drinks, participated more often in binge drinking, had lower self-esteem, less ambitious educational plans and more frequent school absence than did the low-frequency users. These associations remained significant when controlling for gender, cultural background and self-evaluated economic status.

Conclusion: Adolescent, who are high-frequency users of over-the-counter analgesics, suffer more pain and have identifiable characteristics indicative of complex problems. Their ability to handle stress appears to be discordant with the kind of situations to which they are exposed. The wear and tear associated with allostatic mechanisms counteracting stress may heighten their pain experience.

Keywords: OTC analgesics; adolescents; allostasis; allostatic load; lifestyle; pain; self-esteem; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Utilization Review
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nonprescription Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Norway


  • Analgesics
  • Nonprescription Drugs