The latest drug use figures and what they tell us about changing habits

Cannabis remains Britain’s favourite illegal drug. Credit: Shutterstock

Every year, the UK Home Office invites a sample of 50,000 people to tell them whether they have used any illicit drugs. Although you might wonder why anyone would willingly share this type of information, most people agree to take part. The survey helps us to understand the trends in UK drug use and informs policy and service planning.

So what does this year’s survey reveal about Britons’ use of drugs?

Overall, drug use at a population level remains stable. Cannabis continues to be the UK’s favourite illegal drug with 2.2m people using it in the last year. Although this seems like a large number, it’s worth remembering that 29m people drink alcohol every week and 9m continue to smoke.

Heroin (27,000 users) and cocaine (760,000 users) use remains stable generally although there was a slight increase in the proportion of young people using cocaine over the last year.

Who is on what?

There are signs that more young people aged between 16 and 24 are using drugs – 19.2 percent (1.2m) reporting using a drug in the last year – although this is still a lower proportion than a decade ago, when 24.2 percent reported using drugs.

But a significant increase in anabolic steroid use is concerning, with 19,000 more young people using these type of drugs, reversing the previous trend of declining use. This increase reflects concerns about their use in sports of all types and levels.

Demonstrating how varied drug use can be by age, those aged between 55 and 59 have doubled their use of drugs over the last 20 years. Most of this is driven by an increase in cannabis use.

Cannabis use. Credit: ONS

In 2016,…

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