Which drugs are used most?

Caffeine is our favourite drug. It is contained in tea, coffee, many soft drinks and colas, some confectionery, included in many medicines and available in over-the-counter stimulant preparations such as Pro Plus. Apart from medicines in general, the next most commonly used drug is alcohol, followed by the nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco based products.

When it comes to illegal drugs,the most commonly tried drug by far is cannabis. This is followed by cocaine and ecstasy.

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