Australia has a pill-popping obsession, consuming more than 40 million pills per day, about two per day for every man, woman and child.

The expensive habit cost $14.2 billion per year - $6.5 billion from our own pockets and it raises the question of whether we are over-relying on pills rather than lifestyle to maintain health.

Each year, there are 196 million prescriptions for subsidized medicines filled in and we are purchasing an extra 300 million packs of headache pills, vitamins and complementary medicines.

Over the past 17 years, the number of pills used increased by 37 per cent, an inquiry revealed. In 1993, Australians used 6.38 scripts per year on average. Currently, the figure is 8.9 scripts.

Dr Steve Hambleton, vice-president of the Australian Medical Association said the increase in the use of medicine had been driven by the ageing population, new medicines and a growth of chronic diseases.

There has been an explosion in the number of people who are diabetic. When you're diagnosed as diabetic, you go from no pills to four pills overnight, he said.

He said there was a driving demand coming from the advertising of medicines to treat smoking and diabetes.

There is pressure on doctors to prescribe something, said Dr Hambleton.

Recently he was told that a particular company's drug was the most successful way to stop smoking.

I think we have to go back to good old-fashioned focus on lifestyle.

More than two-thirds Australians use complementary medicines such as vitamins, fish oil, and glucosamine at a cost of $14 billion per year.

Lyn Weekes, chief of the National Prescribing Service said the combination of prescription and complementary medicines raised the risk of chemical interactions and harmful medicine reactions.

Many people do not know that using St. John's Wort for depression can stop the contraceptive pill from functioning, said Dr Hambleton.

The growth in medicine use is not all bad and there is a strong medical evidence to support the use of medicines to prevent heart attacks and mange diabetes, said Ms Weekes.

However, there is a significant evidence that people are relying on pills rather than changing their eating and exercise habits to improve health, added Ms Weekes.

Many people will think: I will eat that extra dessert but just make sure that I take my statin and that's not what we encourage people to do, she said.

You need a good lifestyle as well as the medicine; it's about the two working together.