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 2018/19 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 11 (9.4%) adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a drug in the last year. This
    equated to around 3.2 million people. While the latest estimate was not significantly higher than the previous year’s (9.0%, in the 2017/18 CSEW) there has been an upward trend since the 2015/16 survey (8.3%). The latest estimate is similar to the 2008/09 CSEW (9.9%) but remains lower than in 1996 (11.2%), when the time series began.
  • Around 1 in 5 (20.3%) adults aged 16 to 24 had taken a drug in the last year, which equates to around 1.3 million people. Whilst not significant, there has been an apparent upward trend in last year drug use among adults aged 16 to 24 since 2015/16 (18.0%), with the latest estimate similar to the 2017/18 survey (19.8%). The latest estimate was lower than in 1996 (29.7%), but there was no significant change compared with a decade ago (22.4% in 2008/09 CSEW).
  • The survey measure of recent drug use showed that around 1 in 20 (5.0%) adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a drug in the last month. Prevalence of ‘any drug’ showed an increase compared with 2017/18 for adults aged 16-59 (4.3%), however there has been a general downward trend since 2003/04 (7.3%).
  • Around 1 in 9 (11.4%) young adults aged 16 to 24 had taken a drug in the last month.There was no significant change for adults aged 16 to 24 compared with 2017/18 (9.6%) or with a decade ago. Similarly to adults aged 16 to 59, there has been a general downward trend, for which drug use in the last month has decreased from a high of 20.8 per cent in 1998.
  • Around one-third (34.2%) of adults aged 16 to 59 had taken drugs at some point during their lifetime. This was a similar level to the previous year’s survey (34.6% according to the 2017/18 CSEW) but an increase compared with the 1996 survey (30.5%).
  • Around 1 in 25 (3.7%) adults aged 16 to 59 had taken a Class A drug in the last year, which equates to around 1.3 million people. This has increased compared with the 1996 survey (2.6%) and is similar to the previous year’s estimate (3.5%). While there is some fluctuation from year-to-year, there has been a general upward trend in class A drug use since the 1996 survey.
  • Among young adults aged 16 to 24, 8.7 per cent had taken a Class A drug in the last year. Although there appears to have been an upward trend in the use of Class A drugs, the changes are not statistically significant compared with the previous year (8.4%) and a decade ago (8.0%). There was an increase compared with the 2011/12 estimate (6.2% to 8.7%), with the 2018/19 estimate the highest since 2002/03 (8.9%). This is mainly driven by an increase in powder cocaine and ecstasy use.

More reports on drug prevalence:

Statistics on Drug Misuse, England, 2019
According to this report, there were 7,376 hospital admissions for drug related mental and behavioural disorders. 9.4% adults (16 to 59) had taken an illicit drug in the last year, whereas 20.3% of young adults (16-24) had taken an illicit drug in the last year. There were 2,917 deaths related to poisoning by drug misuse | NHS Digital, UK

For international perspectives see:

The World Drug Report 2019
Globally, some 35 million people are estimated to suffer from drug use disorders and who require treatment services. The Report also estimates the number of opioid users at 53 million, up 56 per cent from previous estimates, and that opioids are responsible for two thirds of the 585,000 people who died as a result of drug use in 2017. Globally, 11 million people injected drugs in 2017, of whom 1.4 million live with HIV and 5.6 million with hepatitis C | UNODC, Switzerland

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

European Drug Report 2018
Revealing the latest drug market trends and the factors driving them. Also looks at the most recent developments in drug prevention, treatment and policy. | EMCDDA, Portugal

Latest wastewater data reveal drug-taking habits in over 70 European cities and an increase in the detection of stimulants, 2019
The latest findings from the largest European project in the emerging science of wastewater analysis are presented today by the Europe-wide SCORE group, in association with the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) | EMCDDA, Portugal