BACKGROUND: Medicine use among children and young people is under-researched. Studies that investigated cross-national patterns in adolescents' medicine use practice are rare. This study aims to investigate adolescents' medicine use for corresponding health complaints in Europe and USA. METHODS: Nationally representative samples of adolescents from 19 countries and regions in Europe and USA completed an anonymous, standardised questionnaire as part of the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children 2005/2006 survey. The prevalence of health complaints and medicine use were determined. The influence of the frequency of medicine use, age, gender and country of residence, on the likelihood of medicine use was assessed using multilevel multivariate logistic regression, with separate analyses for boys and girls. RESULTS: Both health complaints and medicine use were common among adolescents. Medicine use was strongly associated with the frequency of health complaints. The prevalence of both medicine use and health complaints was higher among girls than boys. Boys and girls with weekly health complaints were both similarly likely to report elevated rates of medicine use. CONCLUSIONS: The findings indicated that adolescents who report more frequent recurrent health complaints are also more likely to report more frequent medicine use for their health complaints. Adolescent boys with weekly health complaints have the same risk of medicine use as girls with weekly health complaints. The importance of educating school-aged children to interpret their bodily feelings and complaints and to use medicines appropriately is of high priority.