General population surveys of drug use

Overview of the data  |  Tables  |  Graphics  |  Supplementary downloadable tables  |  Methods and definitions

Overview of the data

Table GPS-0 provides bibliographic references to studies used in all other tables and figures.

part (i)Tables GPS-1 to GPS-6 summarise lifetime (Table GPS-1, Table GPS-1 part (ii) and Table GPS-2), last year (Table GPS-3 and Table GPS-4) and last month (Table GPS-5 and Table GPS-6) prevalence of drug use in all adults and young adults, respectively.

Table GPS-7 part (i) provides data on proportions of daily users among last month users of cannabis.

In tables GPS-8 to GPS-13, there are data from the last survey available for each country, for the lifetime, last year and last month prevalence for all adults, as well for young adults.

Tables GPS-14 to GPS-16 provide data on lifetime, last year and last month prevalence of drug use among the 15 to 24 year age group from all surveys and in tables GPS-17 to GPS-19, the same information, but only from the last survey available for each country is provided.

In the graphics section, besides bar charts providing basic information on last year prevalence, there are also graphs on trends among the 15 to 34 year age group (Figure GPS-4 for cannabis, Figure GPS-6 for amphetamines, Figure GPS-8 for ecstasy and Figure GPS-10 for cocaine) and among the 15 to 24 year age group (Figure GPS-14, Figure GPS-17 and Figure GPS-20).

Figure GPS-24, Figure GPS-28 and Figure GPS-29 provide information on continuation rates of cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy, respectively.

Figure GPS-31 and Figure GPS-32 are maps of geographical variation of last year prevalence amphetamines and ecstasy use among young adults in Europe.

Summary points

  • Almost all EU countries have conducted population surveys to assess prevalence and patterns of drug use among the general population in recent years, although only a limited number of countries have consistent series of surveys over several years. Surveys series are particularly important to track trends in prevalence and patterns of drug use.

  • Cannabis is by far the illegal substance most commonly used in Europe. Recent population surveys indicate that between 2 % to 31 % of adults (aged 15 to 64 years) have tried the substance at least once, depending on the country (see Figure GPS-11). A rough European estimate would be around 20 % of adults having ever tried cannabis, representing 65 million European adults.

  • Cannabis use is concentrated among young adults, as other illegal drugs. Between 3 % and 44 % of young Europeans aged 15 to 34 years declared that they had tried cannabis. Among 15 to 24 year old Europeans, 3 % to 45 % declared having tried cannabis, with most countries falling in the range 20 % to 40 %. See Figure GPS-11.

  • The fact that recent (last 12 months) or current (last 30 days) use is substantially lower than lifetime experience indicates that cannabis use may tend to be occasional, or to be discontinued after some time. See Figure GPS-24 for cannabis continuation rates.

  • As with other illegal drugs, rates of cannabis use are notably higher among males than among females.

  • Data on frequency of cannabis use showed that approximately a quarter (19 % to 33 %) of those who had used cannabis in the last month were doing so on a daily or almost daily basis (see Figure GPS-1), most of them young males. A rough estimation presented in 2004 EMCDDA Annual Report (based on survey data from eight countries, almost all carried out between 2000 and 2003) suggested 3 million daily or almost daily cannabis users in Europe, being probably a minimum estimate, that may have changed at present.

  • Despite methodological differences, different types of surveys (national or local household surveys, conscript and school surveys) have shown that cannabis use increased markedly during the 1990s in almost all EU countries, particularly among young people. See Figure GPS-4.

  • Traditionally, population surveys showed that after cannabis, amphetamines were the illegal substance most commonly used, albeit their overall prevalence is clearly lower than that of cannabis. But this pattern seems to be now changing with ecstasy taking second place after cannabis.

  • According to recent surveys, among all adults (15 to 64 years), lifetime experience with amphetamine ranged from 0.1 % to 5.9 % in EU Member States, except in the United Kingdom, where it was 11.2 %. A weighted average would suggest that about 3.1 % of all European adults have used amphetamines at least once. Among young adults (15 to 34 years), lifetime experience with amphetamines ranges from 0.1 % to 9.6 %, with the United Kingdom reporting 16.5 % (although in this country recent or current use figures are more in line with other European countries). See Figure GPS-15.

  • Ecstasy has been tried by about 0.3 % to 7.1 % of the adult population depending on the country, 2.6 % on average in the European Union. Among young adults (15 to 34 years), 0.5 % to 14.6 % reported experience with ecstasy (see Figure GPS-18).

  • As ecstasy use is a predominantly youth phenomenon, it is worth focussing on prevalence in the 15 to 24 years age group. Here, lifetime experience ranges from 0.4 % to 18.7 % (see Figure GPS-18), while recent use (last year) ranges from 0.3 % to 12 % (see Figure GPS-19).

  • There is evidence from new population surveys that amphetamine and ecstasy consumption, which has shown an increasing trend in recent years, may be stabilising or even decreasing in some countries (see Figure GPS-6 for amphetamine and Figure GPS-8 for ecstasy).

  • National population surveys show that between 0.4 % and 6 % of the general adult population reports have tried cocaine at least once (see Figure GPS-21) with the highest levels found in Spain, Italy and United Kingdom, representing about 10 million Europeans (3 % of all adults).

  • As with other drugs, younger adults present higher rates of cocaine use, with lifetime experience reported by between 1 % and 10 % of young people, and recent use (last year) by between 0.2 % to 4.8 % (see Figure GPS-21).

  • Current (last 30 days) cocaine use could be considered an indicator of possible regular use. A rough estimation in Europe would be about 1.5 million adult current users, but this is likely an underestimation. Among young males of Spain, Italy, United Kingdom and Bulgaria, 2 % to 4 % reported being current users.

  • There has been warning about increases in cocaine use in Europe, prompted by local reports, focused studies conducted in dance settings, increases in seizures indicators and some increases in indicators related to problems. Identification of clear-cut European trends based on population studies is still difficult due to few consistent series of surveys, but clear increases were documented in the United Kingdom and Spain during the 1990s and early 2000s (see Figure GPS-10), and trends in other countries will be clarified when results of recently conducted surveys are available, and with additional forthcoming surveys.