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Please note that the information on this page is based on the EMCDDA Annual report 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe. Most statistical data relate to the year 2008 (or the last year available).

 
 

Annual report 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe
Cocaine and crack cocaine

Published: 10 November 2010

Prevalence and patterns of use

Cocaine use among the general population

Overall, cocaine remains the second most used illicit drug in Europe, after cannabis, though levels of use vary greatly between countries. It is estimated that about 14 million Europeans have used it at least once in their life, on average 4.1 % of adults aged 15–64 years (see 'Table 8: Prevalence of cocaine use in the general population — summary of the data' for a summary of the data). National figures vary from 0.1 % to 9.4 %, with 12 out of 24 countries, including most central and eastern European countries, reporting low levels of lifetime prevalence (0.5–2 %).

It is estimated that about 4 million Europeans have used the drug in the last year (1.3 % on average), although again with variation between countries. Recent national surveys report last year prevalence estimates of between zero and 3.1 %. The prevalence estimate for last month cocaine use in Europe represents about 0.5 % of the adult population or about 2 million individuals.

A small number of countries report levels of cocaine use above the European average (Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Italy, United Kingdom). In all but one of these countries, cocaine is the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug. The exception is Denmark, which reports similar prevalence for cocaine and amphetamines use.

Cocaine use among young adults

In Europe, it is estimated that about 8 million young adults (15–34 years), or an average of 5.9 %, have used cocaine at least once in their life. National figures vary from 0.1 % to 14.9 %. The European average for last year use of cocaine among this age group is estimated at 2.3 % (about 3 million) and for last month use at 0.9 % (1.5 million).

Use is particularly high among young males (15–34 years), with last year prevalence of cocaine use reported at between 4 % and 8.4 % in Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom (1). In 12 of the reporting countries, the male to female ratio for last year prevalence of cocaine use among young adults is at least 2:1 (2).

Table 8: Prevalence of cocaine use in the general population — summary of the data

Age group

Time frame of use

Lifetime

Last year

Last month

European prevalence estimates are based on weighted averages from the most recent national surveys conducted from 2001 to 2008/09 (mainly 2004–08), and therefore cannot be attached to a single year. The average prevalence for Europe was computed by a weighted average according to the population of the relevant age group in each country. In countries for which no information was available, the average EU prevalence was imputed. Populations used as basis: 15–64 (334 million) and 15–34 (133 million). The data summarised here are available under ‘General population surveys’ in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

15–64 years Estimated number of users in Europe 14 million 4 million 2 million
European average 4.1 % 1.3 % 0.5 %
Range 0.1–9.4 % 0.0–3.1 % 0.0–1.5 %
Lowest-prevalence countries Romania (0.1 %)
Malta (0.4 %) 
Lithuania (0.5 %)
Greece (0.7 %) 
Romania (0.0 %)
Greece (0.1 %) 
Hungary, Poland, Lithuania (0.2 %)
Malta (0.3 %) 
Romania, Greece (0.0 %) 
Malta, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland (0.1 %)                         
Highest-prevalence countries United Kingdom (9.4 %)
Spain (8.3 %)
Italy (7.0 %)
Ireland (5.3 %) 
Spain (3.1 %)
United Kingdom (3.0 %) 
Italy (2.1 %)
Ireland (1.7 %) 
United Kingdom (1.5 %)           
Spain (1.1 %) 
Italy (0.7 %) 
Austria (0.6 %) 
15–34 years Estimated number of users in Europe 8 million 3 million 1.5 million
European average 5.9 % 2.3 % 0.9 %
Range 0.1–14.9 % 0.1–6.2 % 0.0–2.9 %
Lowest-prevalence countries Romania (0.1 %)
Lithuania (0.7 %)
Malta (0.9 %)
Greece (1.0 %)
Romania (0.1 %)
Greece (0.2 %)
Poland, Lithuania (0.3 %)
Hungary (0.4 %) 
Romania (0.0 %) 
Greece, Poland, Lithuania (0.1 %)
Hungary, Estonia (0.2 %)
Highest-prevalence countries United Kingdom (14.9 %)
Spain (11.8 %)
Denmark (9.5 %)
Ireland (8.2 %)
United Kingdom (6.2 %)
Spain (5.5 %)
Denmark (3.4 %)
Ireland (3.1 %)
United Kingdom (2.9 %) 
Spain (1.9 %)
Italy (1.1 %)
Ireland (1.0 %)

Cross-sectional population and targeted surveys have shown that cocaine use is associated with specific lifestyles and settings. For example, an analysis of data from the 2008/9 British Crime Survey found that among 16- to 24-year-olds who made four or more visits to a nightclub in the last month, 14.2 % report last year use of cocaine, compared with 4.0 % among those who had not visited a nightclub (Hoare, 2009). Targeted surveys recently conducted in electronic dance or music settings in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Austria and the United Kingdom reported very high lifetime cocaine use, ranging from 17.6 % up to 86 %. Cocaine use can also be directly associated with these settings: in a survey of Amsterdam club-goers in 2008, 4.6 % of the 646 respondents reported having used cocaine during the evening of the survey, while an on-site survey among 323 clubbers in the United Kingdom reported that 22 % had taken or planned to take cocaine during the evening.

Data from general population surveys also reveal that the prevalence of heavy episodic drinking (3) is much higher among cocaine users than in the general population (EMCDDA 2009). The Netherlands also reports that users may take cocaine in order to sober up after excessive drinking.

Cocaine use among school students

Estimates of the prevalence of cocaine use among school students are much lower than those for cannabis use. Lifetime prevalence of cocaine use among 15- to 16-year-old school students in the 2007 ESPAD survey was between 1 % and 2 % in half of the 28 reporting countries. Most of the remaining countries reported prevalence levels of between 3 % and 4 %, while France and the United Kingdom reported 5 % and 6 % respectively. Where data are available from older school students (17–18 years old), lifetime prevalence of cocaine use is generally higher, rising to 8 % in Spain (4).

International comparisons

Overall, the estimated last year prevalence of cocaine use is lower among young adults in the European Union (2.3 %) than among their counterparts in Australia (3.4 % among 14–39 years old), Canada (4.0 %) and the United States (4.5 % among 16–34 years old). However, Denmark reports the same figure as Australia, while Spain and the United Kingdom report higher figures than Canada and the United States ('Figure 7: Last year prevalence of cocaine use among young adults (aged 15–34) in Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA').

Trends in cocaine use

Trends in cocaine use in Europe have followed different patterns. In the two countries with the highest prevalence of cocaine use (Spain, United Kingdom), the use of the drug increased dramatically in the late 1990s, before moving to a more stable, though generally upward, trend. In three other countries (Denmark, Ireland, Italy), the increase in prevalence has been less pronounced and occurred later. Nevertheless, levels of use in these countries are high by European standards. Among the other countries with repeated surveys between 1998 and 2008/09, last year prevalence among young adults (15–34 years) appears more stable, with levels remaining below 2 % during the period ('Figure 8: Trends in last year prevalence of cocaine use among young adults (aged 15–34)').

When looking at more recent trends, among the 15 countries with repeated surveys during the period 2003–08, last year prevalence among young adults (15–34 years) at least doubled but still remained below 2 % in three countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Latvia). It increased by about 50 % in two countries (Ireland, United Kingdom) and was stable or decreased in eight countries (Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Finland).

In the ESPAD school surveys carried out in 2007, lifetime prevalence of cocaine use among 15- to 16-year-old school students increased by at least two percentage points since 2003 in France, Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia and Slovakia. The Spanish school survey reported a decrease of two percentage points between 2004 and 2007. Among the five countries that conducted school surveys in 2008, no changes greater than 1 % were reported.

Patterns of cocaine use

In some European countries, a substantial number of people use cocaine experimentally only once or twice (Van der Poel et al., 2009). Among more regular or intensive cocaine users, two broad groups can be distinguished. The first group is made up of ‘socially integrated’ users who tend to use cocaine at weekends, parties or other special occasions, sometimes in large amounts (‘binges’) or frequently. Many socially integrated users report controlling their cocaine use by setting rules, for example, about the amount, frequency or context of use (Decorte, 2000). Some of these users may suffer health problems related to their use of cocaine or go on to develop compulsive patterns of use that require treatment. Studies suggest however that a substantial proportion of those with cocaine-related problems may recover without formal treatment (Cunningham, 2000).

The second group includes more ‘marginalised’ or ‘socially excluded’ users, including former or current opioid users who may use crack or inject cocaine. Also in this group are intensive cocaine and ‘crack’ users belonging to socially disadvantaged groups, such as sex workers or immigrants (Prinzleve et al., 2004).

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Footnotes

(1) See Table GPS-13 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(2) See Table GPS-5 (part iii) and (part iv) in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(3) Defined as drinking six glasses or more of an alcoholic drink on the same occasion at least once a week during the past 12 months.

(4) See Tables EYE-3 to EYE-10 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

Bibliographic references

Cunningham, J.A. (2000), ‘Remissions from drug dependence: is treatment a prerequisite?’, Drug and Alcohol Dependence 59, pp. 211–13.

Decorte, T. (2000), The taming of cocaine: cocaine use in European and American cities, University Press, Belgium.

EMCDDA (2009), Polydrug use: patterns and responses, EMCDDA Selected issue, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

Prinzleve, M., Haasen, C., Zurhold, H. et al. (2004), ‘Cocaine use in Europe: a multi-centre study: patterns of use in different groups’, European Addiction Research 10, pp. 147–55.

Hoare, J. (2009), ‘Drug misuse declared: findings from the 2008/09 British Crime Survey’, Home Office Statistical Bulletin 12/09.

Van der Poel, A., Rodenburg, G., Dijkstra, M. et al. (2009), ‘Trends, motivations and settings or recreational cocaine use by adolescents and young adults in the Netherlands’, International Journal of Drug Policy 20, pp. 143–51.

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Page last updated: Tuesday, 26 October 2010