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The words "Medikamente", "Arzneimittel" und "Drogen" all seem in the dictionaries to mean drugs or medicines.

Apart from drogen which I can understand may have the negative connotation of illegal drugs, are Medikamente and Arzneimittel completely exchangeable?

It seems like the word Arzneimittel is mentioned frequently in einem Beipackzettel, so does that make it more formal?

Is that for example the difference between saying:

Ich will mein Arzneimittel von der Apotheke abholen

vs

(wenn man im Spital ist) Die Krankenschwester wird Ihnen bald die Medikamente bringen!

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In the German Wikipedia Medikamente is forwarded to Arzneimittel. The very first sentence states "Arzneimittel ... or equivalent Medikamente ..." –  Olaf Dietsche Feb 26 at 11:02

7 Answers 7

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The differences can be quite small.

Medikamente are in my eyes (I have no proof of it, I'm just a native german speaker) only pills that will have a curing effect.

Arzneimittel is a more formal word for Medikamente, plus it includes unguents and herbage besides pills. Also just with curing effects.

I wouldn't use Medikament when I'm about to say I have to use a lotion / unguent.

Drogen references only to illegal things but can mean everything that makes you high.

EDIT: I did a bit of research. The definition of Medikament (translation follows):

Ein Medikament ist ein Arzneimittel, das in bestimmter Dosierung zur Heilung, Vorbeugung oder Diagnose einer Krankheit dient. Als Medikamente dienen seit alters her bestimmte Pflanzen und Pflanzenteile und tierische Substanzen, in neuerer Zeit jedoch vor allem synthetische Präparate.

Translation:

A "Medikament" is a "Arzneimittel", that in certain dosage serves to heal, prevent or diagnose a disease. As "Medikament" serve since ages certain plants and parts of plants and substances of animals, in more recent times though more and more synthetic things.

Source: http://flexikon.doccheck.com/de/Medikament

Arzneimittel:

Es sind Substanzen, die im oder am menschlichen (oder tierischen) Körper angewendet werden, um:

  • Krankheiten zu heilen (z.B. Antibiotika gegen Bronchitis),
  • Beschwerden zu lindern (z.B. Kopfschmerztabletten) oder
  • Krankheiten oder Beschwerden vorzubeugen (z.B. Impfstoffe).

Arzneistoffe sind chemischer Natur oder werden aus Pflanzen, Tieren, Algen, Pilzen, Flechten, Mikroorganismen und Viren gewonnen. ... Zu den Arzneimitteln gehören außerdem Gegenstände, die Arzneistoffe enthalten oder an der Oberfläche tragen, und vorübergehend oder dauerhaft im Körper verbleiben. Beispiele sind Stents, die mit Medikamenten beschichtet sind, oder Hormonspiralen zur Verhütung.

Schließlich umfasst der Begriff Arzneimittel auch Substanzen, die zu Diagnosezwecken im oder am Körper angewendet werden, beispielsweise Röntgenkontrastmittel oder radioaktive Marker bei der Szintigrafie.

Translation:

Arzneimittel are substances, that are used in or on human bodies or animals to - heal diseases - appease pain - prevent diseases

They are of chemical nature or are made of plants, animals, algae, fungus, ..., microorganisms and viruses.

...it's a bit hard to translate the rest and may lead too far. Source: http://www.netdoktor.de/Medikamente/Rund-ums-Medikament/Arzneimittel-Was-sind-Medikam-10656.html

The thing is, Medikament and Arzneimittel is quite interchangable, but as I wrote I'd use it only in the context as written in my original answer.

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Arzneimittel and Medikament are the same. Arzneimittel is the legal term, but (in my opinion) a bit old-fashioned and not used as much in colloquial language. Just Arznei is also possible, but even more old-fashioned.

Droge is used exclusively for psychoactive drugs nowadays, and mainly for illegal ones (even though alcohol and nicotine can also be referred to as Drogen).

Ein Freund von mir nimmt Drogen.

Alkohol ist die Droge mit dem höchsten Schadenspotenzial.

Another word you can use is Medizin, but it mainly means medicine as in the scientific field.

Hast du deine Medizin schon genommen?

Ich studiere Medizin. Ich möchte Arzt werden.

Both of your examples are correct, but Arzneimittel maybe sounds a bit stiff. So when in doubt, just use Medikament.

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"Arzneimittel" is the official (and rather stiff) term for something, whatever it is, that is somehow related to health and regulated by the Arzneimittelrecht.
It needs not be a pharmacological drug, although most of the time, this is what you refer to if you use the word. Among other things, "Arzneimittel" means you can only (legally) buy it in a pharmacy and there are some more or less silly restrictions and implications coming with the product (such as expiry date, technical safety, usage instructions, clinical testing, admission procedure). A prescription may or may not be necessary ("verschreibungspflichtig").

There are however products which are quasi under submarine-"Arzneimittelrecht" without being "Arzneimittel" per se, such as e.g. the first-aid kit in your car, which is pretty absurd.
You can buy them in every DIY store, but since they are subject to the Arzneimittelgesetz, they are required to have an expiry date and you are not allowed to use them after that date. Traffic regulations, on the other hand, require that you to have a kit in your car which exactly matches a particular specification, but without an expiry date.
Of course, if your kit is beyond the expiry date, the police will still try to coerce you into paying an illegal fine if you are naive enough to pay it. They base this on the logic that clearly the contents is entirely unusable once the date on the stamp is reached, and you wouldn't be allowed by the law to use the contents in case of an accident.
Also some (albeit few) dietary supplements are under Arzneimittelrecht without being "Arzneimittel" for rather obscure reasons.

"Medikament" and "Medizin" are the colloquial words used for "something to treat illness". Not rarely, they are associated with "something chemical", often "pills", where "Medizin" is more a layman term (with a double meaning) and "Medikament" is more professional.
"Medikament" is generally understood as a treatment of the "serious kind", usually something prescribed by a physician. On the other hand, a cup of tea with rum (or some other strong alcohol) might very well pass as "Medizin" in some situations, too.

To discriminate "non-chemical" medicaments from the others, sometimes "Naturmedizin" is used. Not rarely, "homöopathisches Medikament" is used as an incorrect synonym. Most people will, although entirely wrong, understand these terms as identical.

To make it even more complicated, there are also the terms "Heilmittel" and "Hilfsmittel", often used together as "Heil- und Hilfsmittel" when it comes to whether or not an insurance will cover the cost. You do not normally use these, other than in communication with an insurance company.

"Heilmittel" is particularly stiff, but its meaning is quite close to the common understanding of "Medizin": It is anything, in general, that you ingest, inject, inhale, or rub onto your body, hoping that your illness will get better.
"Hilfsmittel" on the other hand is everything else which does not directly cure, such as e.g. crutches or a wheelchair, but also e.g. an inhalator (what you put inside the inhalator would be a Heilmittel).

The correct understanding of "Droge" is much alike the meaning of "drug" in English. However, the usual understanding is "bought in a seedy alley", "intoxicating, causes addiction", and "clearly illegal", although some "Drogen" like alcohol and nicotine are not illegal, in widespread use, and available in every supermarket. These are sometimes referred to as "Genussmittel" or "Genussgifte", which sounds a lot less harsh compared to "Droge".

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Welcome at GL&U. It's good, you used the formatting already to make the post a good readable one. If possible, try to enable the reader to get easily what matters most to the questions you actually answer. –  user5513 Feb 26 at 19:49

Droge is something that has a psychoactive effect, leads to addiction (or at least habituation), and is something that's not prescribed by a medical doctor. Valium, for example, when prescribed by a psychiatrist, is generally not regarded as Droge, but might be if you illegaly buy it somewhere.

Medikament, at least as i know/use it, is something you either ingest, or the active ingredient in an unguent or something else that you use externally. For example, i'd say Die Salbe enthält ein Medikament, but not Die Salbe ist ein Medikament.

Arzneimittel, as already mentioned, is the official term, which, when used officially, only includes medication that needs formal approval before being allowed to be sold. Anybody is allowed to sell homeopathic medication without formal approval, for example, but it would be illegal to call it Arzneimittel.

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As additional info, the ngram shows Medizin far superior over the others, followed by

  • Arzneimittel
  • Medikament,
  • and Arznei.

However I'd also says that Medikament is the (maybe most) usual term in spoken language.

Medizin - blau
Arzneimittel - green
Medikament - red
Arznei - orange

4 terms

Edit: Ngram as proposed by Emanuel

ein Medikament - blue
ein Arzneimittel - red
eine Medizin - green

enter image description here

Ngram as proposed by Daniel

Medikament + Medikamente - blue
Arzneimittel - red

enter image description here

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7  
Well, that's no surprise, as Medizin has an additional meaning. –  Daniel Feb 26 at 10:18
    
@Daniel ah right. You even mentioned in your answer already. –  user5513 Feb 26 at 10:26
2  
I changed the definite article for the indefinite one so as to dodge the "field" meaning of "Medizin" and the outcome is very different. books.google.com/ngrams/… –  Emanuel Feb 26 at 10:31
    
Cool. This also shows that Arzneimittel is more frequent only because it is both singular and plural. books.google.com/ngrams/… –  Daniel Feb 26 at 10:36

What has not been mentioned yet (I'd use a comment but don't have sufficient points for that) is that there is a subtle difference between "Arzneimittel" and "Medikament" somewhat similar to the difference between "drug" and "medication". "Arzneimittel" is used more to refer to a substance while "Medikament" refers to the actual form in which it is taken.

As a weak corollary, there is something like an "Arzneimittelhersteller" (drug manufacturer) but not a "Medikamentenhersteller" (medication manufacturer). In the age of prepackaged medication, this distinction seems rather absurd but language might have been slow to catch up from the time where it was the job of either apothecary or physician to prepare the actual prescription.

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Additional remark concerning the term "Droge":

Whilst most will associate "illegal drugs", it can also mean "dried substance", typically for medicinal use. Think dried plants, fungi,...; herbal tea being an obvious example. The term "Droge" originates from dutch "droog", which ist dry (trocken in German). -> This is what was sold at drugstores (or the German "Drogerie").

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