Drug Abuse in the Global Village

Drug Abuse in Western Europe

                                                ABUSER CHARACTERISTICS

Male drug addicts make up approximately 80 per cent of the drug abusers in treatment. Most drug abusers are between 25 and 30 years old. Many are unemployed, partly due to poor education (school or vocational training). Cocaine and heroin abuse is more prevalent among older abusers (Austria 1991).


Medical preparation abuse is more frequent among the 16 to 17 age group. Ever abuse of illicit drugs increases with age with the highest proportion concentrated in the 18 to 19 year old age group (U.N. 1991).

            Three surveys conducted in 1988, 1990 and 1991 in two regions (East Flanders and West Flanders) and one town (Anvers) have assessed the prevalence of illicit drug use in the 14 to 19 years old age group. The surveys found that illicit drug consumption is more common among males (5 per cent) than females (2.1 per cent) and among older youth (18 to 19 years of age). Consumption of medical preparations, however, is more common among female respondents (approximately 29 per cent compared to 16.4 per cent males) (see table 2).

            The prevalence of illicit drug abuse is related to the type of education: those undergoing technical education among the highest (18.3 per cent), followed by those in professional education (14.3 per cent) and general education (10.3 per cent) (U.N. 1991).

Table 2. Percentage of youth (14 to 19 year olds) consuming illicit drugs (1988, 1990 and 1991).

West         Anvers         East
                        Flanders                       Flanders
Non users
 Total               95.6          86                95.7
 Male               94.5          -                  93.7
 Female            96.9          -                  97.9
Ex users
 Total               2.3            8.1               1.5
 Male               2.8            -                  1.9
 Female            1.8            -                  1.0
Current users
 Total               2.1            5.7               2.8
 Male               2.8            7.7               4.4
 Female            1.3            4.2               1.0
Non users
 Age 14-15      97.2          -                  99.5
        16            96.7          -                  97.8
        17            94.9          -                  95.4
        18-19       88             -                  88.9
Ex users
 Age 14-15      1.4            -                  0.3
        16            1.5            -                  0.8
        17            3.1            -                  1.6
        18-19       5.6            -                  3.3
Current users
 Age 14-15      1.3            2                  0.3
        16            1.9            5.2               1.4
        17            2.2            6.2               2.9
        18-19       5.6            8.6               7.8
Source: Reply to the UNDCP Annual Reports Questionnaire for the year 1991.


Abuse of drugs is more prevalent among men. About a third of the estimated drug abusers are women. Among convicted drug abusers, men constitute the largest proportion (89 per cent). Since 1972, this proportion has steadily been increasing (France 1991).

            The average age of drug abusers is increasing according to police arrest data, with the greatest proportion between 21 and 25 years old (36 per cent in 1990 compared to 38 per cent in 1983) followed by the 16 to 20 years old (33 per cent in 1990 compared to 41 per cent in 1983). In 1990 an increase in the number of under 16 years old abusers was observed (1.3 per cent in 1990 compared to 0.76 per cent in 1989). About 47 per cent of all those charged with drug related offences in 1990 were without profession (Statistiques 1990).


For the former FRG, the above survey found that 19.7 per cent of the men compared to 12.8 per cent of the women had ever abused drugs. People older than 24 years old experienced with drugs more than younger people (18.6 per cent compared with 13.8 per cent). These age differences were very clear for stimulants and hallucinogens which were abused by 2.5 per cent of the older age group but only 1 per cent of the younger subjects. A higher frequency of consumption of opiates for the older ones (1.2 per cent) than the younger ones (0.5 per cent) was also found (National Programme on Drug Abuse Control 1990).


Males exceed female abusers (80 per cent of 1071 convicts in 1991 and 67 per cent of abusers in treatment) (U.N. 1992). Among those convicted of drug related offences, 61 per cent are between 20 and 29 years old. The majority are unemployed or manual workers (Luxembourg 1991).

            The age of drug abusers in treatment is increasing and the number of abusers under 18 years of age convicted of drug related offences has increased (Luxembourg 1991).


Drug addicts tend to be 25 to 35 years of age (Ministry of Welfare et al. 1991). The average age of addicts appears to be on the rise. According to treatment data, most hard drug abusers are males (75 per cent) (WHO 1985-1990).

            Abuse of illicit drugs among students is highest in those 17 years of age and older, although this is subject to some variation according to the drug. Lifetime prevalence of cannabis abuse is highest among males 17 or older (21 per cent) and among 13 per cent of the females of the same age; heroin lifetime abuse is higher in the 15 to 16 age group and inhalants ever abuse is highest among children 10 years of age or younger. Cocaine abuse is negligible among students according to the same survey (Ministry of Welfare et al. 1991).

            Lifetime, annual and thirty days measures of drug abuse indicate that male students abuse drugs more often than female students. Male students tend to abuse medical preparations without prescription while female students abuse prescribed medicines more frequently (Ministry of Welfare et al. 1991).

            A study in Amsterdam revealed that the average age of cocaine abusers is 30 years and the age of first abuse is 22 (Ministry of Welfare et al. 1991).

            High socio-economic status of the breadwinner is reported to be positively associated to cannabis abuse among students. The association of education with drug abuse is reported to be weak (Ministry of Welfare et al. 1991).


Of the registered drug addicts, the majority (19) were male and all males and females were between 20 and 34 years old. Cannabis is abused by the younger age group (20 to 24 years old), whereas, heroin is abused by the 25 to 34 age group (U.N. 1992).


More men than women abuse drugs according to survey results (see table 1). For both men and women, cannabis abuse is more prevalent among those 21 to 25 of age (37 per cent for men and 21 per cent for women). The male to female ratio of opiate and cocaine abuse is 2 to 1. Opiate use is found more in the 26 to 30 year old group for both sexes (IUMSP/ISPO 1990).

            Survey data shows that cannabis consumption appears more prevalent with increased degrees of education (26 per cent to 29 per cent for those educated at school level compared to 34 per cent for those with university education). No significant differences were found in the correlation of education with abuse of opiates and cocaine (29 per cent for schools and 31 per cent for universities) (Office fיdיral de la santי publique 1990).


Table 1. Life prevalence of drug use in the 17 to 30 year old age group (1987-1989)
and the 31 to 45 age group (1989) by age and sex in percentages.

Age range                     17-20   21-25   26-30               31-45#
Cannabis only               28         37        32                    14
Opiates, cocaine           2.0       4.8       6.4                   2.8

Cannabis only               17         21        17                    7
Opiates, cocaine           1.5       2.2       1.7                   0.7

Cannabis only               22         29        25                    11
Opiate, cocaine            1.8       3.5       4.0                   1.8
Source: Le problטme de la drogue - en particulier en Suisse - considיrי sous son aspect social et prיventif. Rapport יtabli א la demande de l'Office fיdיral de la santי publique. Lausanne, aot 1990.
# Supplementary sample in 1989 of 31 to 45 year olds.