Rehab 4 Addiction

In this article, we summarise some of the most recent statistics surrounding drug use, especially those related to deaths, specific drugs, deprivation and young people.

Miscellaneous statistics

  • When surveyed, 9.4% of adults had taken illegal drugs in the year 2018/19. [6]
  • Around 1 in 20 adults had taken a drug in the last month. [7]
  • Roughly a third of adults had taken a drug at some point in their life. [7]
  • 1 in 25 adults had taken a Class A drug in the year 2018/19. [7]
  • 2.4% of adults were ‘frequent’ drug users (i.e. had taken drugs more than once a month in the most recent year) [7].

Drug deaths

  • In the UK, in 2018, there were 4,359 deaths which resulted from drug poisoning. This represented a 16% rise compared to 2017. It is also the highest recorded number of deaths in a single year, since 1993, which is when the Office for National Statistics began collecting data. It comes amid a steady rise in drug deaths which has been happening since 2012. [1]
  • Of those deaths, 2,917 were caused by drug misuse. [6]
  • The majority of deaths caused by drugs are heroin-related. Heroin-caused deaths have more than doubled since 2012. Deaths are primarily among the over-40s, especially those in poor physical and mental health. [1]
  • Cocaine deaths are also on the rise. Deaths from cocaine use are more common among under-40s. Cocaine deaths have increased by 50% since 2017 and are six times higher than in 2011. Crack cocaine deaths account for a large number of these deaths. [1]
  • Drug deaths are highest in the North East and lowest in London. Among men in the North East, there were 134.2 deaths per million. As with alcohol deaths, there is a North-South divide when it comes to drug poisoning deaths. [1][2]
  • Cocaine deaths rose by 26.5% in women, and 7.7% for men. Men represented 2,968 of the total deaths in 2018, whereas women represented 1,425. [2]
  • When doctors knew the drug that led to death, heroin and morphine were present in over half of cases. [2]
  • Death by drug poisoning is most common among those aged 40-49. People are increasingly dying from drug poisoning at a later age; between 1993 and 2002, 20-29 year-olds were most likely to die from drug poisoning. [2]

Statistics specific to certain drugs

  • Cannabis is the most widely-used drug, followed by cocaine. [3]
  • According to the National Crime Agency, cocaine use has risen by 290% in the UK (not including Northern Ireland) between 2011 and 2019. That represents a rise from 25-30 tonnes to 117 tonnes consumed per year. [4]
  • Cocaine is stronger now than it has been for over a decade in the UK. [5]
  • 125 people died from NPS (new psychoactive substances) or ‘legal highs’ in 2019. The government banned most psychoactive substances that weren’t already illegal in its 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act. [2]
  • 59 people died from fentanyl poisoning in 2019. [2]
  • According to the CSEW, the proportion of young adults who had taken cannabis in the last year has been falling since 1996, although there has been a slight upward trend since 2012/13. The proportion was at its highest in 1998, with early 30% responding in the affirmative, and at its lowest in 2012/13, with around 13.5% responding ‘Yes’. [7]
  • Use of hallucinogens such as LSD has fallen compared with 1996, in contrast with powder cocaine, which has risen. [7]
  • Use of amphetamines has fallen across all age groups. [7]
  • However use of ketamine has risen, especially among young people. [7]
  • Out of all drugs, cannabis is the one used most frequently in the UK. More than a third of cannabis users were ‘frequent users’. [7]
  • People tend to take ecstasy and cocaine less frequently, often once or twice a year – 73.8% said they took ecstasy once or twice a year, and 52.0% for powder cocaine.

Drug deaths and deprivation

  • Drug deaths are more common in deprived areas. Within those deprived areas, they are more common among men aged between 40 and 49, with men aged 42 having the highest age-specific rate of drug deaths at 490.8 million. For women, those aged 44 had the highest age-specific rate of drug death at 200.6 million. [2]
  • Admissions to hospital for drug poisoning due to drug misuse were 5 times higher in the most deprived areas than in the least deprived ones. [6]

Drugs and health

  • There were 18,053 hospital admissions for poisoning by drug misuse in 2018/19. This was 6% higher than in the preceding year, and 16% higher than 2012/13. [6]

Drugs and young people

  • Roughly one-fifth of young people surveyed had taken an illicit drug in 2018/19, compared to 9.4% of adults. [6]
  • For young adults between the ages of 16 and 24, 8.7% had taken a Class A drug in the year 2018/19. [7]
  • According to the CSEW (Crime Survey for England and Wales), the proportion of young people responding ‘Yes’ when asked if they had taken a drug in the last year has been steadily falling since 1996, when the survey began. In 1996 30% answered ‘Yes’, whereas in 2018/19 that figure was just over 20%. For adults, the proportion has fallen slightly, from around 12% in 1996 to 9% in 2018/19. [7]
  • Among young adults the most commonly used drugs are cannabis, followed by nitrous oxide (laughing gas), followed by cocaine. [7]
  • The proportion of young people between the ages of 16 and 24 using powder cocaine has doubled since 2012/13, from 3% to 6%, according to the CSEW. [7]
  • The proportion of young people using ecstasy has fluctuated somewhat but remains at just under 5% in 2018/19, the same proportion as in 1998. [7]
  • Young adults were more likely to be ‘frequent’ drug users than other age groups, according to the CSEW. [7]

Drug use and sex

  • Men were about twice as likely to have taken a drug in the last year than women, according to the CSEW 2018/19. 12.6% of men had taken a drug in the last year, compared to 6.3% of women. [7]

Drug use and mental health

  • Those who reported lower levels of happiness were considerably more likely to have taken drugs in the last year, with around 1 in 5 (19.3%) saying they had taken drugs in that time period, compared to those with higher levels of happiness, among whom only 1 in 16 (6.2%) had taken drugs in the last year. [7]











Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.