The rise in drug use in the UK

There has been a huge increase in drug use over the last few years. Both legal and illegal drug use has increased which in turn has led to higher addiction rates. Cocaine is one of the most common illegal drugs and anti-depressants are one of the highest prescribed medications in 2022.

Our director, Lester Morse, highlights in the most recent ECR podcast how drug use, especially in younger people has always been popular. Evidence from reports shows that more and more young people are choosing to opt out of alcohol or substitute alcohol for illegal substances.

There are several reasons for this change which will be discussed such as a change in society, accessibility and lack of resources. East Coast recovery have found that most enquiries for addiction treatment still involve alcohol or a combination of alcohol and drugs when relating to addiction.

Out of all drug related enquiries, Cocaine use accounts for almost 75%. The typical age range is between 25-35, 75% men and 25% women.

When is comes to assessing the rise in drug use is it useful to look at the UK statistics as ECR’s results are based on addiction not casual use.

PHE’s analysis shows that, in 2017 to 2018, 11.5 million adults in England (26% of the adult population) received, and had dispensed, one or more prescriptions for any of the medicines within the scope of the review. The totals for each medicine were:

  • antidepressants 7.3 million people (17% of the adult population)
  • opioid pain medicines 5.6 million (13%)
  • gabapentinoids 1.5 million (3%)
  • benzodiazepines 1.4 million (3%)
  • z-drugs 1.0 million (2%)

UK Cocaine use statistics show in 2017-2018, 2.6% of people aged 16-59 took powdered cocaine (as opposed to crack cocaine, the more potent variant of the drug, which was taken by 0.1% of the population in the same period), up from 2.4% in 2013-2014, according to Home Office figures.

Data from the crime survey of England and Wales showed that powdered cocaine use increased from 2.2% in 2014/15 to 3.4% in 2017/18 in households earning £50,000 a year or more. (Use among those earning less than £10,000 a year fell during this period, although researchers believe the use of crack cocaine may be on the rise in poorer communities.) But powdered cocaine now appeals to those in more modest income brackets, too.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that since 2012/13 there has been a rising trend in drug use amongst adults in England and Wales.

The latest figures show that 9.4% of adults aged 16 to 59 reported using a drug in the last year in 2019/20, and for those aged 16 to 24, prevalence was even higher at 21%.

Drug use in those aged 11 to 15 in England has also been increasing since 2014, reversing a previously declining trend in drug use amongst this age group

More prescriptions from doctors

With more people than ever suffering with mental health problems it shouldn’t be a shock that there has been an increase in medical prescriptions. A lack of NHS resources for treatments such as therapy, many medical professionals will prescribe drugs such as anti-depressants and anxiety medication more freely.

Work / life culture

Work-life balance within the UK is a current hot topic. A lot of people are grinding all week especially those in business in the capital. With work stresses many turn to substances to help cope with daily tasks. Cocaine is an extremely common drug found in multiple sectors and workplaces around the UK.

For the younger generation due to the change in nightlife culture its extremely common for youngsters to opt to take drugs rather than alcohol. With events increasing prices of entry tickets, pubs shutting earlier, drink prices skyrocketing many opt to stay at home to ‘party’. It is now cheaper to buy a gram of ketamine than a couple of alcoholic drinks at a bar or club.


Accessibility for both illegal and legal drugs in the UK has increased over the years. It is now accessible for those of any class and background. Prices are lower than they have been and purity of illegal drugs has also increased.

Don’t be worried to talk to friends or family about any concerns. The increase and arguable normalisation of illegal drugs such as cocaine and prescription drugs such as anti-depressants and Xanax mean that this is having a huge effect on individuals, people that you may not realise are using these drugs may need help and support.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please do not hesitate to contact our fully trained Treatment Advisors who are here to have a chat and explore all questions and options.