Key stats: UK drug use in numbers

Key stats: UK drug use in numbers

How many people use drugs? What are the most common drugs? And what is the real cost of drug use in the UK? Read on to find out.

£9.4 billion

This staggering figure is the estimated size of the illicit drugs market. It is projected that people from England & Wales spend around £9.4 billion annually on illegal drugs. For perspective, the UK’s agriculture industry comes in at around £10.4 billion.

£19 billion

If you thought the amount spent on buying illegal drugs was huge, it’s nothing compared to the cost of the drugs market. A report by The Home Office says: “Taking the health harms, costs of crime and wider impacts on society together, we estimate the total costs of drugs to society are over £19 billion, which is more than twice the value of the market itself.”

3.2 million

A 2020 government report suggested that around 9% of adults (3.2 million people) in England & Wales had taken an illicit drug in the last year. This number increased among the younger population, with around 21% of 16 to 24-year-olds having experimented with illicit drugs in the past year.


This is the number of people in prison for drug-related crime. For context, 82,000 is around a third of the prison population. Many of these prisoners serve very short sentences, have limited opportunity for treatment in prison, and are highly likely to re-offend. The maximum prison sentence for possession of Class A drugs such as heroin, cocaine or MDMA is currently seven years. However, if you intend to supply Class A drugs, the sentence could increase to life in prison.


Around 15% of prisoners test positive to random drug tests. Drugs are widely available in prisons, with most issues found in male local and Category C prisons. In recent years, new psychoactive substances have become increasingly problematic for prisoners.


According to DrugWise, 18.7% is the percentage of 16 to 24-year-olds who have used cannabis in the last year. Cannabis continues to be the most commonly used drug in the country, with 7.8% of 16 to 59-year-olds having taken it during the last year.


A recent Crime Survey for England & Wales (CSEW) bulletin reported an estimated 976,000 cocaine users, the highest number in 10 years. It is the most common Class A drug in the country, with more users than any other country in Europe. It is also the second most prevalent drug overall, after cannabis. The government believes that the powder cocaine market is worth around £2 billion.

14 years

That’s how many years’ experience AlphaBiolabs have in drug testing. We provide legal drug testing for family law firms and local authorities, as well as workplace drug testing and drug tests for home use. To learn more, contact our Customer Services team on 0333 300 1600 or email