How many people use drugs?

Drugs are used by many different people and in many situations.

The latest statistics from the Home Office Crime Survey for England and Wales 2015/16 suggest that among people aged 16-59, use of most drugs has been decreasing for several years, and is around the lowest since measurements began in 1996.

The key findings were:

  • Around 1 in 12 (8.4%) of adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a drug in the last year. This is around 2.7 million people. This level of drug use is similar to the 2014/15 survey (8.6%), but significantly lower than a decade ago (10.5% in the 2005/06 survey).
  • Over one-third (35.0%) of adults aged 16 to 59 had taken drugs at some point during their lifetime.
  • As in previous years, cannabis was the most commonly used drug, with 6.5% of adults aged 16 to 59 having used it in the last year (around 2.1 million people)
  • Among younger adults aged 16 to 24, cannabis was also the most commonly used drug, with 15.8% having used it in the last year (around 975,000 young adults).
  • As in recent years, the next most commonly used drug after cannabis among adults aged 16 to 59 was powder cocaine (2.2% in the 2015/16 survey, equating to around 725,000 people). By contrast, powder cocaine is the third most commonly used drug among young adults aged 16 to 24 (4.4% or 274,000 young adults) after cannabis and ecstasy. There have been decreases in the frequent use of powder cocaine and ecstasy.
  • The level of last year ecstasy use by adults aged 16 to 59 in the 2015/16 survey (1.5%, or 492,000 people) was similar to the previous year (1.7%), and to that seen a decade ago.
  • LSD use fell, driven largely by a fall among young adults aged 16 to 24.
  • Mephedrone use fell, driven largely by a fall among young adults aged 16 to 24.
  • Ketamine use fell among 16 to 59 year olds, from 0.5 to 0.3 per cent. The 2015/16 Home Office showed that around 94,000 adults had used ketamine in the last year.
  • Steroid use fell from 0.5% to 0.1% of 16 to 24 year olds (equating to around 4,000 young adults who had used anabolic steroids in the last year).
  • The 2015/16 survey estimated that in the last year 7.5% of adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a prescription-only painkiller not prescribed to them: 7.4% (around 2.4 million adults) said that they had taken the painkillers purely for medical reasons, while a small proportion (0.2%, or 33,000 adults) said it was just for the feeling or experience it gave them.
  • 3.3% of all adults aged 16 to 59 were classed as frequent drug users. This equated to around 1.1 million people

Latest reports on drug prevalence

For international perspectives see:

The Global Drug Survey results 2016 (PDF) The world’s largest survey into drug and alcohol use | GDS, UK

For England and Wales see:

Drug Misuse: Findings from the 2015/16 Crime Survey for England and Wales (PDF)
Examines the extent and trends in illicit drug use among a sample of 16 to 59 year old residents in households in England and Wales | Home Office, UK

Statistics on Drugs Misuse: England, 2016
This annual statistical report presents information on drug misuse among both adults and children. The topics covered include: Prevalence of drug misuse, including the types of drugs used; Trends in drug misuse over recent years; Patterns of drug misuse among different groups of the population; Health outcomes related to drug misuse including hospital admissions, drug treatment and number of deaths | HSCIC, UK

Updated January 2017