This study investigates the reasons people give for taking overdoses of drugs. A representative sample of 128 subjects were interviewed immediately after their recovery from an overdose. During the interview they were given alternative reasons for taking overdoses and asked to choose any that applied to them. Spontaneous comments about suicidal intent were also recorded. Of the subjects, 44 per cent indicated that they had wanted to die. On the basis of their choices 33 per cent were ‘seeking help’, 42 per cent ‘escaping from the situation’, 52 per cent ‘obtaining relief from a terrible state of mind’ and 19 per cent ‘trying to influence someone’. The association between these various reasons and other expected effects or feelings associated with the act were examined by means of multidimensional scaling analysis. In addition, the characteristics of those expressing suicidal intent and other reasons were studied, together with such consequences as toxic effects and psychiatric after-care. The possibility is discussed that a large proportion of those indicating suicidal intent do so either to gain social acceptability for their act or to influence helping agencies.