The meaning of medications: another look at compliance

Soc Sci Med. 1985;20(1):29-37. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(85)90308-9.


Most research on compliance with medical regimens takes a doctor-centered perspective and proceeds from certain assumptions. This paper presents an alternative, patient-centered approach to managing medications, using data from 80 in-depth interviews of people with epilepsy. This approach focuses on the meanings of medication in people's everyday lives and looks at why people take their medications as well as why they do not. I argue that from a patient's perspective the issue is more one of self-regulation than compliance. When we examine 'noncompliance' beyond difficulties with 'side effects' and drug efficacy, the meanings of self-regulation include testing, controlling dependence, destigmatization and creating a practical practice. What appears to be noncompliance from a medical perspective may actually be a form of asserting control over one's disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / adverse effects
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Attitude to Health
  • Dependency, Psychological
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Therapy / psychology*
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy / psychology
  • Humans
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Self Administration / psychology


  • Anticonvulsants