Is the expression “strong medicine” idiomatic?

I am referring to drugs that contain a high concentration of chemicals and are used for soothing severe pains or treating severe diseases. A drug whose dosage of chemicals is higher compared to your average over-the-counter drugs.

Can I say the following:

  1. You need some strong medicine to take away the pain

  2. I want to ask my doctor for some strong medicine

Is there perhaps a more idiomatic expression used in the US or in the UK?

  • It is a well-known metaphor meaning something that is quite effective but very possibly upsetting or unpleasant if "taken". For instance, an government economic policy may be described as "strong medicine" if it will supposedly "fix", say, unemployment, but will also cause incomes to drop. – Hot Licks Oct 26 '15 at 23:25
  • So according to what you said, there is not a term for describing this kind of medicine , right? – keramus Oct 26 '15 at 23:26
  • Any metaphoric idiom can be used in its literal form (if the literal form makes any sense). One needs to be a little careful in its use, though, to assure that it's properly understood. – Hot Licks Oct 26 '15 at 23:30
  • Please give us an example of how you wish to use the phrase in a sentence about medicine. Then we have something to work with. – chasly from UK Oct 26 '15 at 23:47
  • "Prescription medications" tend to be stronger (and are certainly more regulated) than "over the counter medications" if that is the goal. – user662852 Oct 26 '15 at 23:58

In Pharmacology, they use the noun potency which is

a measure of drug activity expressed in terms of the amount required to produce an effect of given intensity. A highly potent drug (e.g., fentanyl, alprazolam, risperidone) evokes a larger response at low concentrations, while a drug of lower potency (codiene, diazepam, ziprasidone) evokes a small response at low concentrations. It is proportional to affinity and efficacy.

Therefore, it would be more idiomatic and understandable if you say (highly) potent drug/medicine than strong drug/medicine.

Powerful could be a better alternative to strong in your context.

[Wiktionary, Ngram Viewer]


If you are seeking ways to identify strong medication for alleviating pain and not something that would imply another meaning, may I suggest the word 'narcotic'. Heavy duty narcotic for a bit more emphasis. For disease in general perhaps "potent remedy" would be one way to describe such medicine. I hope one of those will work for you.

  • "Narcotic" defines a specific set of chemical characteristics. Even some fairly strong pain relievers are not "narcotics", and there are many psychoactive drugs that are not "narcotics". – Hot Licks Nov 9 '15 at 21:34
  • Yes, thank you. I understand that, but my answer was in response to this part of the question: 'I mean drugs which are used for soothing severe pains or treating severe diseases? and it contains a high concentration of chemicals'. Would my other suggestion suffice as a possible solution? How do you feel about 'potent remedy' or even 'potent medicine' as the word potent may not be as idiomatic as the word 'strong'. – Spherical Trigonometry Nov 9 '15 at 21:50
  • Perhaps keramus would be most able to determine whether or not my suggestion(s) are useful as he or she did not mention specifically in what context this 'strong medicine' phrase would be used. – Spherical Trigonometry Nov 9 '15 at 22:01

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