Prescriptions and proscriptions: moralising sleep medicines

Jonathan Gabe, Catherine Coveney, Simon Williams

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The pharmaceuticalisation of sleep is a contentious issue. Sleep medicines get a ‘bad press’ due to their potential for dependence and other side effects, including studies reporting increased mortality risks for long‐term users. Yet relatively little qualitative social science research has been conducted into how people understand and negotiate their use/non‐use of sleep medicines in the context of their everyday lives. This paper draws on focus group data collected in the UK to elicit collective views on and experiences of prescription hypnotics across different social contexts. Respondents, we show, drew on a range of moral repertoires which allowed them to present themselves and their relationships with hypnotics in different ways. Six distinct repertoires about hypnotic use are identified in this regard: the ‘deserving’ patient, the ‘responsible’ user, the ‘compliant’ patient, the ‘addict’, the ‘sinful’ user and the ‘noble’ non user. These users and non‐users are constructed drawing on cross‐cutting themes of addiction and control, ambivalence and reflexivity. Such issues are in turn discussed in relation to recent sociological debates on the pharmaceuticalisation/de‐pharmaceuticalisation of everyday life and the consumption of medicines in the UK today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)627-644
Number of pages18
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number4
Early online date20 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Pharmaceuticalisation
  • sleep medicines
  • moral repertoires
  • focus groups

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