What's the difference between drug and medication?

Do you agree with Dose of medications=Dose of drugs?

7 Answers 7


The word "drug" can have connotations of illicitness, whereas medication is always used in licit contexts. But a drug can refer to licit medicines as well. New drugs come on the market.

A drug is typically ingested (or injected) whereas medications can also be topical. Not that we don't say "topical drug" too, but "topical medication" is used more often and has been in use since the 1840s, whereas "topical drug" is a fairly recent usage, arising in the 1950s per Google ngram.

So, they're more or less interchangeable, except in illicit contexts, where drug is used. The criminal is said to be a "drug dealer", or a "drug runner", and the addict is said to be "hooked on drugs" or "on drugs". The patient is said to be "on medication".

  • 2
    And yet a "drug store" is a place to buy legal medicine. (In UK I gather they use the term "chemist" rather than drug store.) While few Americans would say "I'm taking drugs", period, meaning that they were taking a legal medicine, it is not uncommon to say "I'm taking drugs for my arthritis" (or whatever condition).
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 17:02
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    And I'm reminded of the time our Bible study teacher commented before class began, "I'm off the drugs and in rehab now". I commented that he might want to clarify that he meant, he was no longer taking pain medication following his surgery, and was now in occupational rehabilitation to regain the use of his arm.
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 17:05
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    Another distinction is that drugs are intended to affect the organism to which they are administered; some medications, such as antibiotics, are intended to affect other (invading) organisms and would ideally have no effect on the organism to which they are administered.
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 17:29

Medications are substances that are taken with the intention of healing or improving health. Drugs can refer to any substance that has an effect on the body — positive, negative, intentional, or side-effect.

For example:

  • Cannabis is a drug. If you are using it to treat pain or cancer, it's a medication. If you're just smoking it for fun, you're just using it as a drug.
  • Alcohol is a drug. You might be able to call it a medication if you are taking it on a doctor's advice, but it would be a bit of a stretch.
  • Athletes who take performance-enhancing drugs may refer to them as "medications", but I would consider that usage a euphemism.

Whether the word drug has a positive or negative connotation depends on the context. A "drug store" would generally be a legitimate business; a "drug deal" usually implies illegal activity. Drug delivery is an active area of scientific research, but sometimes "drug delivery" is used in the other sense.


Medicine is a type of drug. All medicines are drugs, not all drugs are medicines. In AE (not sure about BE), "drug" tends to have an illicit connotation, so it is better to use "medicine" for clarity if there is a chance of misunderstanding.

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    Just to clarify the implicit question: in British English (I assume this is what BE is) drug is used in the context of "illegal drug use" the same as in American English.
    – Chris
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 16:24

I think a drug is just a raw state of a chemical and a medicine is the use of a particular chemical to prepare something to change the body's state in positive way.

For instance, the use of acetaminophen. If it is taken "raw" or as it is a chemical regardless of the quantity and without any additives or other ingredients, that can be termed as a drug because taken in that alone can have both positive and negative effects on your body. In a case where other additives are added to acetaminophen, it becomes a medication because it has been prepared to treat a disease.


All medicine is drugs but all drugs are not medicine. Because Drug is the active ingredient used to modify physiological system or pathological states for the benefit of the recipient but it may not have a suitable form & dose. On the other hand, Medicines are finished products, which contain drugs in active ingredient as well as the excipients and It has a suitable form & dose.


Drug is a chemical substance use to treat disease, illness and disorder that has dose and dosage. While Medicine is a chemical substance use to treat disease, illness and disorder that does not have dose and dosage. Example herbal medicine.


A drug is any substance which when introduced into the body of an organism,brings about the desired effect.Drugs that bring about a positive effect are said to be medications or medicines.When adrug is used for purposes that were not intended then such a drug is said to have been abused

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