Britons are increasingly turning to prescription drugs to cure every ailment, a new study found.

The average number of prescriptions dispensed per person rose from eight a year to more than 16 over the past two decades, according to the paper, titled A Pill for Every Ill.

Author Professor Joan Busfield, from Essex University, said the age of "stoicism" was dead and argued that Britain was becoming more like France, with its "long-established tradition of taking medicines to heal problems".

In her study, published in the Social Science & Medicine journal, Prof Busfield said Britain was becoming a nation of pill-poppers despite people living longer, healthier lives.

She said: "I think drugs are being overused. The population is getting healthier and healthier, longevity is increasing, but we are using more and more drugs."

She accused the pharmaceutical industry of "disease-mongering", with drugs companies now categorising problems such as sexual dysfunction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and high cholesterol as diseases to maximise profits.

Prof Busfield also claimed the industry was controlling science, with trials sponsored by drug companies likely to yield more favourable results.

The report also revealed companies were "intensively marketing" their products to doctors by sponsoring medical conferences, sending their reps to surgeries and handing out gifts such as branded pens and mugs.

She said: "Companies claim such promotional activity is designed to inform practitioners about new, more effective products. And practitioners themselves, whilst recognising the blandishments of the industry, usually argue their prescribing is not influenced by industry's endeavours.

"However, the evidence indicates it is and that even small gifts can influence behaviour."

Prof Busfield said doctors also came under pressure from "demanding" patients who were asking for drugs.

"Patients are more demanding than they were. The old idea of being deferential and accepting what you are told has gone," she said.