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 2017/18 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%), withthe 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).
  • Similarly to previous surveys, cannabis was the most commonly used drug by respondents in the 2018/19 CSEW, with 7.6 per cent of adults aged 16 to 59 having used it in the last year, equating to around 2.6 million people.
  • As in recent years, the second most commonly used drug in the last year among adults aged 16 to 59 was powder cocaine (2.9% in the 2018/19 survey, equating to around 976,000 people). Among young adults aged 16 to 24 it was the third most commonly used drug (6.2%, around 395,000 young adults), behind cannabis (17.3%) and nitrous oxide (8.7%).
  • The trend in the proportion of 16 to 59 year olds using ecstasy in the last year has been relatively flat throughout the lifetime of the survey, fluctuating between one and two per cent. The proportion of last year ecstasy users aged 16 to 59 in the 2018/19 survey (1.6%) was similar to the 2017/18 CSEW (1.7%).
  • Use of amphetamines decreased among both 16 to 59 and 16 to 24 year olds. For those aged 16 to 59, prevalence of amphetamine use has followed a general downward trend since a high of 3.3 per cent in 1996 to 0.6 per cent in 2018/19. Use of amphetamines followed a similar trend for those aged 16 to 24, falling from a high of 11.7 per cent in 1996 to 1.0 per cent in 2018/19.
  • Ketamine use has increased from a decade ago across both age groups. For adults
    aged 16 to 59, use of ketamine has fluctuated in the last decade, with the latest estimate at 0.8 per cent, an increase compared with 2008/09 (0.5%). Use among adults aged 16 to 24 also showed a lot of variation in the last decade, although there was a general increase from 1.9 per cent in 2008/09 to 2.9 per cent in 2018/19, with a particularly large rise between 2016/17 and 2017/18 (1.3% to 3.1% respectively).
  • Nitrous oxide continued to be the second most used drug among 16 to 24 year olds, with 8.7% having used it, a similar proportion (8.8%) to last year’s survey. This equates to around 552,000 young adults who used nitrous oxide in the last year. Use of new psychoactive substances among 16 to 24 year olds in the 2018/19 survey was also at a similar proportion to last year’s survey (1.4% and 1.2% respectively).

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