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 data from the Office for National Statistics: Drug misuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2020  showed:

“Overall drug use continued to remain stable, with around 1 in 11 adults aged 16 to 59 years having taken a drug in the past year. However, there were differences between age groups. Drug use was much more common among younger adults although, again, the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds taking drugs was similar to the previous year.

“Cannabis continued to be the most commonly used drug, followed by powder cocaine. However, the proportion of users who took powder cocaine more than once a month fell in the year ending March 2020.”

There were no changes in last-year drug use for the majority of individual drug types including cannabis, ecstasy, powder cocaine, new psychoactive substances and nitrous oxide. However, there were falls in the use of two low-volume drug types and the proportion of frequent powder cocaine users:

  • Cannabis continues to be the most common drug used in the last year among adults aged 16 to 59 years and 16 to 24 years, 7.8% and 18.7% respectively; this is much larger than the second most prevalent drugs used in the last year, powder cocaine use for 16- to 59-year-olds (2.6%) and nitrous oxide use among 16- to 24-year-olds (8.7%).
  • Amphetamine use in the last year in adults aged 16 to 59 years fell by 42% compared with the previous year (to 109,000 people), continuing the long-term decline since the year ending December 1995.
  • Anabolic steroid use among 16- to 59-year-olds in the last year also fell compared with the previous year from approximately 62,000 to 31,000 people, following a period over the last decade where reported use was relatively flat.
  • Although there was no change in last-year powder cocaine use among adults aged 16 to 59 years compared with the year ending March 2019, the proportion of frequent users fell from 14.4% in year ending March 2019 to 8.7% in year ending March 2020.

Latest reports on drug prevalence

For international perspectives see:

Global Drug Survey 2019 (PDF)
Key findings from this year’s report into global drug trends | GDS, UK

European Drug Report 2018
What are the latest drug market trends and what are the factors driving them? What drugs are causing the most concern today? What are the most recent developments in drug prevention, treatment and policy? These, and other, questions are explored by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) in its annual overview of the European drug situation | EMCDDA, Portugal

Drugs in syringes from six European cities: results from the ESCAPE project 2017, 2019
This report presents the results of an innovative method for gathering information on the substances used by people who inject drugs. In this pilot study, chemical analysis of the contents of used syringes collected from exchange sites reveals the drugs and drug combinations injected in the six participating European cities. This approach can provide local and timely information that can be used for city-level monitoring and interventions | EMCDDA, Portugal

For the UK see:

Drug misuse: findings from the 2017 to 2018 CSEW, 2018
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 Drug Misuse: England, 2018
This statistical report presents a range of information on drug use by adults and children drawn together from a variety of sources. It focuses on England only where possible although some statistics are only readily available at GB or UK level or for England and Wales combined. Some of this is new information whilst some has been published previously | NHS Digital, UK

United Kingdom drug situation: Focal Point annual report, 2018
Annual report and data tables from the UK Focal Point on Drugs on the national prevalence, impact, prevention and treatment of drug use | PHE, UK