Prevalence and patterns of drug use in the general population

Figure 1

Recent use (last 12 months) of cannabis among young adults (15–34 years) in European countries, measured by national population surveys

Figure 1

NB:

Data are from the most recent national surveys available in each country. Sample sizes (n) refer to the number of respondents for the 15–34 age group. For details regarding number of respondents for the whole survey see Statistical Table 2: Last-12-months prevalence (LYP) of drug use in recent nationwide surveys among the general population in the EU countries and Norway. The standard EMCDDA definition of young adults is age 15–34 years. In Denmark and the United Kingdom young adults are aged 16–34 years and in Germany and Ireland 18–34 years. Variations in age ranges may, to a small extent, account for some national differences. In some countries, the figures were recalculated at national level to adapt as far as possible to the standard EMCDDA age groups.

(1) France conducted a new survey in 2002 but with a substantially smaller sample (2 009 respondents). See Statistical Table 1: Lifetime prevalence (LTP) of drug use in recent nationwide surveys among the general population in the EU countries and Norway.

(2) In Ireland, the sample for the whole survey (18–64 years) is 6 539.

(3) England and Wales.

Sources: Reitox national reports 2002, taken from surveys, reports or scientific articles. See also Statistical Table 1: Lifetime prevalence (LTP) of drug use in recent nationwide surveys among the general population in the EU countries and Norway.

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Despite methodological limitations to the comparison of survey results across countries, some common patterns of drug use throughout the EU can be identified. These basic patterns have remained relatively unchanged since the last annual report.

Cannabis continues to be the illegal substance most commonly used in all EU countries. Lifetime experience is much higher than recent or current use, suggesting that cannabis use tends to be occasional or to be discontinued after some time (Figure 1 OL). Current drug use is unusual in people over 40 years of age. Some countries report a small proportion of adults (0.5–1 %) who consume the substance almost daily, and particular attention should be paid to this group.



Illegal substances other than cannabis are used by much smaller proportions of the population, although there are considerable differences between countries (Figure 2 OL). Again, regular or sustained use of drugs is uncommon – for most people their drug use is relatively short-lived (i.e. lifetime experience is clearly higher than recent use) (3).



The use of illegal substances is highest in young adults (e.g. 15–34 years), among whom prevalence rates are approximately twice those among adults as a whole. In all countries and all age groups, men are more likely than women to have ever used drugs. Drug use is more prevalent in urban areas, although some spread to smaller towns and rural areas may be taking place.

Lifetime experience of cannabis use is reported to range from about 7–10 % (Portugal and Finland) to around 30 % (Denmark and the United Kingdom) of the whole adult population, with most other countries reporting figures in the range 20–25 %. Reported rates of drug use other than cannabis are 0.5–6 % for amphetamines (except in the United Kingdom, where the figure is 11 %) and 0.5–5 % for cocaine and ecstasy (4). Generally, heroin has been tried by less than 1 % of the population, although in some countries up to 2–3 % of young men report having experimented with the drug.

Recent use of cannabis is reported by 1–10 % of all adults, although in most countries (10) prevalence varies between 5 % and 10 %. Recent use of amphetamines, cocaine or ecstasy is in general reported by less than 1 % of adults. In Spain, Ireland and the United Kingdom, the rates of use of all of these drugs are somewhat higher, while in Denmark and Norway the use of amphetamines is relatively higher, and in the Netherlands ecstasy use is more common (5).

Figure 2

Recent use (last 12 months) of amphetamines, ecstasy and cocaine among young adults (15–34 years) in European countries, measured by national population surveys

item Amphetamines | item Ecstasy | item Cocaine

NB:

E&W, England and Wales.

Data are from the most recent national survey available in each country. Sample sizes (n) refer to the number of respondents for the 15–34 age group. For details regarding number of respondents for the whole survey see Statistical Table 2: Last-12-months prevalence (LYP) of drug use in recent nationwide surveys among the general population in the EU countries and Norway. The standard EMCDDA definition of young adults is age 15–34 years. In Denmark and the United Kingdom young adults are aged 16–34 years and in Germany and Ireland 18–34 years. Variations in age ranges may, to a small extent, account for some national differences. In some countries, the figures were recalculated at national level to adapt as far as possible to the standard EMCDDA age groups.

(1) France conducted a new survey in 2002 but with a substantially smaller sample (2 009 respondents). See also Statistical Table 2: Last-12-months prevalence (LYP) of drug use in recent nationwide surveys among the general population in the EU countries and Norway.

(2) In Ireland, the sample for the whole survey (18–64 years) is 6 539.

Sources: Reitox national reports 2002, taken from surveys, reports or scientific articles. See also Statistical Table 2: Last-12-months prevalence (LYP) of drug use in recent nationwide surveys among the general population in the EU countries and Norway.

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Drug use (in terms of both lifetime experience and recent use) is higher among young adults than among the population as a whole. Recent cannabis use is reported by 5–20 % of young adults (Sweden 1–2 %), with a substantial number of countries (seven) reporting rates between 10 % and 20 % (Figure 1). Recent amphetamine use is generally reported by 0.6 %, cocaine use by 0.5–4.5 % and ecstasy use by 0.5–5 % (Figure 2).

For comparison, in the 2001 United States national household survey on drug abuse, 36.9 % of adults (12 years and older) reported lifetime experience of cannabis, 12.3 % lifetime experience of cocaine and 3.6 % lifetime experience of ecstasy. Recent (last 12 months) cannabis use was reported by 9.3 %, cocaine use by 1.9 % and ecstasy use by 1.4 % (6). Cannabis lifetime experience and recent use are higher in the United States than in any EU country. Cocaine lifetime experience is also higher in the United States than in any EU country, and recent use is higher than in most countries, except Spain (2.6 %) and the United Kingdom (2.0 %). Ecstasy use is higher than in all EU countries except Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.


(3)  This is expressed as ‘continuation rate’, i.e. the proportion of people who, having used a substance during their lifetime, have also used it during the last 12 months or last 30 days.

(4) See Statistical Table 1: Lifetime prevalence (LTP) of drug use in recent nationwide surveys among the general population in the EU countries and Norway.

(5) See Statistical Table 2: Last-12-months prevalence (LYP) of drug use in recent nationwide surveys among the general population in the EU countries and Norway.

(6) Source: SAMHSA, Office of Applied Studies, national household survey on drug abuse, 2001. Note that the age range in the US survey (12 years and over) is wider than the age range reported by the EMCDDA for EU surveys (15–64 years). This means that the reported figures in the US survey will tend to be somewhat lower than if the EU range had been used because of the low level of drug use among 12- to 15-year-olds and, in particular, among people over 65 years.