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Abstract

Since the late 1970s there has been a marked decline in the prescribing of the benzodiazepines. Yet long-term use of this drug persists despite widespread media condemnation and growing professional concern. The study seeks to illuminate this phenomenon by deploying qualitative methods to investigate the meaning that such medication has for the users themselves and their styles of management. In-depth interviews were conducted with fifteen community-based users and seven members of a self-help group. From this material a typology was developed that reflected the relationship users had formed with their medication. The key dimensions in this typology were the degree of dependency on the drug, the perceived level of risk associated with it, and underlying attitude. The relationships to the drug reflected in the typology were suggestive of a pattern of self-regulation and active management by users, rather than dominance and control by practitioners. Furthermore, the investigation indicated that characteristics of the medication regime itself—such as type of drug and dose exert an influence on the attribution of meaning and the place of the drug in users' lives. While a characterisation of patient subculture has real potential for application in clinical practice, there are also implications within medical sociology for theories of medicalisation and social control.