How many people use drugs?
Drugs are used by many different people and in many situations. Here is what the national and local surveys have found:
- The latest statistics from the British Crime Survey 2005/2006 - England and Wales (PDF 617KB) suggest that among young people, aged 16 to 24, use of many drugs has decreased significantly and Class A drug use remained stable.
For the 16 to 59 year old age group, between 1998 and 2005/06, the use of any illicit drug decreased and Class A drug use increased. The increase in Class A drug use is mainly due to a comparatively large increase in cocaine powder use between 1998 and 2000. Between 2000 and 2005/06 the use of Class A drugs has remained stable.
- It is estimated that over 11 million people aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales have used illicit drugs in their lifetime while less than three and a half million are estimated to haveused illicit drugs in the last year and approximately two million in the last month.
- According to the British Crime Survey 2005/2006 it is estimated that 34.9% of 16 to 59 year olds have used one or moreillicit drugs in their lifetime, 10.5% used one or more illicit drugs in the last year, and 6.3% in the last month.
The survey also estimates that 13.9% of those aged 16 to 59 have used a Class A drug at least once in their lifetime, 3.4% used at least one Class A drug last year and 1.6%last month.
Cannabis is the drug most likely to be used. The 2005/06 BCS indicates that 8.7% of 16 to 59 year olds reported using cannabis in the last year. Cocaine is the next mostcommonly used drug with 2.4% claiming to have used any form of it (either cocaine powder or crack cocaine) in the previous year. This is followed by ecstasy use at 1.6% and use of amphetamines at 1.3%. Amyl nitrite use in the last year is estimated at 1.2% and use of hallucinogens (LSD and magic mushrooms) at 1.1%. Other drugs are more rarely used.
- Surveys on a national and local level have found that illegal drug use is only an occasional activity for most people.
- Most illegal drug use is experimental or on a relatively controlled, recreational basis.
- Most people who use drugs – be it legal or illegal substances – do not come to serious harm.
Age of use
- According to the British Crime Survey 2005/2006 the highest levels of recent drug use were reported by the 16-19 and 20-24 year age groups.
- Most young people moderate or completely stop using illegal drugs and moderate their alcohol use by their mid to late 20s when they ‘settle down’ and take on adult responsibilities.
- A small, but significant, number of people continue to use illegal drugs, and particularly cannabis, into their 30s. Many of these people are parents.
- The main mood-altering drug used in the UK is alcohol. Excessive alcohol use causes more problems than use of illegal drugs.
- By far the most commonly used illegal drug is cannabis. In many areas by age 16 years a majority of young people may have tried cannabis at least once and between 20 and 25 per cent may be regular users. Use of other illegal drugs is not as prevalent or frequent.
- After cannabis, the most commonly used illegal and other socially unacceptable drugs are LSD, ‘poppers’, amphetamine, magic mushrooms, solvents (aerosols, gases and glues etc.) and ecstasy. Most people who use these drugs tend to do so on an occasional basis.
- Small, but increasing, numbers of people inject drugs or become dependent on drug use. Recent studies have suggested that there are over 130,000 and possibly as many as 200,000 dependent drug users in England and Wales.
- Drug use occurs in all classes and communities even though the drugs used and the way they are used varies from area to area and over time.
- Experience of serious drug-related problems is strongly correlated with economic disadvantage and/or emotional deprivation.
For a full report on prevalence see the EMCDDA National reports page and click on the UK report. This page also lists reports for all the other countries in the European Union.
And/or consult the British Crime Survey - England and Wales 2005/06 (PDF 617KB)
Updated October 2006