Prevalence and Trends in Substance Use In the UK

"Overall prevalence of drug use reported in general population surveys in England and Wales is similar to a decade ago, with almost 1 out of 10 adults aged 16-59 years reporting illicit drug use in the last year. In Scotland, there was a decline in last year illicit drug use between 2008/09 and 2014/15.

"In the early 2000s, prevalence of last year cannabis use reported by the Crime Survey for England and Wales was among the highest reported by European countries; however, this is now at a level that is fairly typical to that seen elsewhere in Europe. Following a decrease in prevalence between 2003/04 and 2009/10, the trend in cannabis use in the general population has since been relatively stable. The prevalence rate in 2017/18 was the highest reported since 2008/09; however, the increase from 2016/17 was not statistically significant.

"Prevalence of new psychoactive substances (NPS) use in general population surveys is generally low in comparison with the main traditional drugs. Mephedrone was the only stimulant NPS to show signs of becoming established alongside traditional substances among recreational drug users in these surveys. However, prevalence of use of this drug has fallen since the 2010/11 Crime Survey for England and Wales, when questions were first asked about its use.

"There was a steady decline in lifetime prevalence of drug use among school children (11- to 15-year-olds) in England between 2004 and 2014; however, an increase was reported in 2016. Drug use prevalence among young people in Scotland has declined since 2004 but remained stable between 2013 and 2015. Cannabis is the most commonly used drug among school children, and there has been a long-term downward trend in reported use with a more recent levelling off that is similar to the trend for the general population. A similar trend is also seen for other illicit drug use, as well as for alcohol and tobacco use.

"London and Bristol participate in the Europe-wide annual wastewater campaigns undertaken by the Sewage Analysis Core Group Europe (SCORE). This study provides data on drug use at a municipal level, based on the levels of illicit drugs and their metabolites found in sources of wastewater. For 2018, only data for Bristol were available. The results pointed to a possible increase in cocaine use in Bristol since the initiation of the study (2014). Furthermore, higher levels of cocaine metabolites were detected at the weekends."


European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2019), United Kingdom, Country Drug Report 2019, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.