Prevalence and patterns of use

Figure 6 Recent use (last year) of amphetamines among young adults at selected ages, 15–34 and 15–24, measured by population surveys


Data are from the most recent national surveys available in each country (see Table GPS-4 for the 15–34 age group).

Some countries use a slightly different age range to the EMCDDA standard age range for young adults. Variations in age ranges may to a small extent account for disparities between countries.

Czech Republic: 2002; 18-34 y. n=1002; 18-24 y. n= 389

Denmark: 2000; 16-34 y. n=4141; 16-24 y. n=1754

Germany: 2003; 18-34 y. n=3775; 18-24 y. n=1891

Estonia: 2003; 15-34 y. n=646; 15-24 y. n=329

Greece: 2004; 15-34 y. n=2620; 15-24 y. n=1785

Spain: 2001; 15-34 y. n=6915; 15-24 y. n=3368

France: 2002; 15-34 y. n=724; 15-24 y. n=345

Ireland: 2002/03; 15-34 y. n=n.a.; 15-24 y. n= n.a.

Italy: 2003; 15-34 y. n=5231; 15-24 y. n=2112

Cyprus: 2003; 15-34 y. n=580; 15-24 y. n=420

Latvia: 2003; 15-34 y. n=n.a.; 15-24 y. n=n.a.

Hungary: 2003; 18-34 y. n=2319; 15-24 y. n=943

Netherlands: 2000/01; 15-34 y. n=6687; 15-24 y. n= n.a.

Poland: 2002; 16-34 y. n=n.a.; 16-24 y. n=n.a.

Portugal: 2001; 15-34 y. n=6406; 15-24 y. n=3099

Slovakia: 2002; 18-34 y. n=n.a.; 18-24 y. n=n.a.

Finland: 2002; 15-34 y. n=1240; 15-24 y. n=614

UK (E&W): 2003/04; 16-34 y. n=8590; 16-24 y. n=5429

Norway: 1999; 15-34 y. n=794; 15-24 y. n=n.a.

Source: Reitox national reports (2004), taken from population surveys, reports or scientific articles. See also Table GPS-0 in the 2005 statistical bulletin.


Traditionally, population surveys have shown that, after cannabis, amphetamines are the most commonly used illegal substance, albeit overall prevalence of amphetamine use is clearly lower than that of cannabis. This pattern now appears to be changing in many countries, with ecstasy overtaking amphetamines and taking second place after cannabis in both recent general population surveys and school surveys. For example, the 2003 ESPAD school surveys (Hibell et al., 2004) found that lifetime prevalence estimates for ecstasy use exceeded those for amphetamine in 14 of the EU, Norway and candidate countries (57). However, it is worth remembering that ecstasy became popular only during the 1990s, whereas amphetamine use has a longer history. This is reflected in recent adult surveys, which have revealed higher figures for lifetime experience of amphetamine use in 11 countries and for ecstasy use in 10 countries, but higher recent (last 12 months) use of ecstasy in 15 countries and of amphetamines in only five countries (in two countries the reported figures were equal).

According to recent surveys, among all adults (15–64 years), lifetime experience of amphetamine use in EU Member States ranges from 0.1 % to 6 %, except in the United Kingdom, where the figure is as high as 12 %. Recent use is clearly lower, ranging from 0 % to 1.5 %, with Denmark, Estonia and the United Kingdom at the higher end of the scale.

A similar picture emerges among the young adults group (15–34 years) in population surveys, among which group lifetime experience of amphetamine use ranges from 0.1 % to 10 %, with the United Kingdom reporting an exceptionally high rate of 18.4 %. Recent use ranges from 0 % to 3 %, with Denmark, Estonia and the United Kingdom again at the top end of the scale (Figure 6). Although lifetime use figures for the United Kingdom are considerably higher than those found in other countries, the prevalence of recent amphetamine use (use in the last 12 months) is very similar to rates reported in other countries and overall is continuing to fall.

New data on the use of amphetamines among 15- to 16-year-old school students are reported in the 2003 ESPAD surveys (58). Lifetime prevalence of amphetamine use ranges from less than 1 % to 7 %; the highest national estimates for recent use and current (last 30 days) use of the drug are 4 % and 3 % respectively.

Ecstasy has been tried by about 0.2–6.5 % of the adult population, with figures for most countries lying in the range 1–4 %. Recent use is reported by 0–2.5 % of adults, with the Czech Republic, Spain and the United Kingdom presenting the highest prevalence figures.

Among young adults (15–34 years), 0.6–13.6 % report experience of ecstasy use. Recent use (last 12 months’ prevalence) is reported by 0.4–6 %, with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Spain and the United Kingdom presenting the highest prevalence rates (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Lifetime prevalence and recent use (last year) of ecstasy among young adults at selected ages, 15–34 and 15–24, measured by population surveys

As ecstasy use is predominantly a youth phenomenon, it is useful to analyse prevalence rates among rates 15- to 24-year olds and 15- to 16-year-old school students. Among the 15–24 age group, lifetime experience rates range from 0.4 % to 13 %, while recent use figures range from 0.3 % to 11 %. Furthermore, as rates of drug use in this age group are higher in males than in females, most countries report lifetime experience rates among 15- to 24-year-old males in the range 4–16 % and recent use rates among males of 2–8 %. Finally, figures for current use (use in the last 30 days), which would include regular use, were reported by seven countries and ranged from 2 % to 5 %, suggesting that 1 in 20–50 males aged 15–24 years use ecstasy regularly. These figures are likely to be higher in urban areas and, in particular, in people frequenting discos, clubs or dance events (Butler and Montgomery, 2004).

Estimates of prevalence of ecstasy use are considerably lower for 15- to 16-year-old school students than for 15- to 24-year-olds. Lifetime ecstasy prevalence among the school students surveyed ranges from 0 % to 8 %, with even lower rates of recent use (0–4 %) and current use (0–3 %). In most countries, estimates of current use lie between 1 % and 2 %, with little difference between the sexes (Hibell et al., 2004).

For comparison, in the 2003 United States national survey on drug use and health (SAMHSA, 2003), 4.6 % of adults (considered to be those aged 12 years and older) reported lifetime experience with ecstasy and 0.9 % reported recent use. Among 18- to 25-year olds in the same survey, 14.8 % reported lifetime experience, 3.7 % recent use and 0.7 % current use (last month) (59).

(57) See Figure EYE-2 (part iv) in the 2005 statistical bulletin.

(58) See Chapter 2 for a detailed analysis of the results of the 2003 ESPAD schools survey.

(59) Note that the age range in the US survey (12 years and over) is wider than the age range reported by the EMCDDA for EU surveys (15–64 years). On the other hand, the age range of young adults (18–25 years) is narrower than the range used in most EU surveys (15–24 years).