We surveyed a representative sample of practising physicians and a representative sample of subjects from the Swiss general population (SOMIPOPS Survey) concerning their annual use of sleeping pills and tranquillizers. 77% of the physicians (n = 466) and 72% of the general population (n = 4255) responded. After adjustment for age and sex 37.1% of the doctors (general population 21.1% P less than 0.001) claimed to have taken these drugs for therapeutic purposes. The proportion of psychiatrists who reported taking sleeping pills and tranquillizers daily (10.6%) were significantly greater than for the population of doctors as a whole and for the general population (P less than 0.05). Regular users (i.e. subjects taking one mood altering drug at least once a week) accounted for 11.1% of the medical population compared with 6.8% of the general population (P less than 0.01). This over-consumption was wholly due to the greater number of regular users of psychoactive drugs amongst doctors less than 50 years of age relative to the general population or to subjects in higher management (from P less than 0.05 to P less than 0.001). Without this specific over-use, members of the medical profession would not have been found to use more psychoactive drugs than the general population and the executives. This result suggests that it would be worth investigating the mechanisms of response and adjustment (coping) to the specific stress that appears to be inherent in the exercise of medical practice.