Chapter 5
Cocaine and crack cocaine

Prevalence of cocaine use

Figure 10 Recent use (last year) of cocaine among all young adults and among young males, measured by national surveys


Data are from the most recent national surveys available in each country (see Table GPS-4 in the 2005 statistical bulletin).

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.

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


According to recent national population surveys, between 0.5 % and 6 % of the adult population report having tried cocaine at least once (i.e. lifetime prevalence), with Italy (4.6 %), Spain (4.9 %) and the United Kingdom (6.8 %) being at the upper end of this range. Recent cocaine use (last 12 months) is, in general, reported by less than 1 % of adults; in most countries, the range is between 0.3 % and 1 %. In Spain and the United Kingdom, recent prevalence rates are higher than 2 %.

Although cocaine prevalence figures are much lower than comparable figures for cannabis, levels of use among younger adults can be higher than the population average. Lifetime experience among 15- to 34-year-olds ranges from 1 % to 11.6 %, with the highest levels again being found in Spain (7.7 %) and the United Kingdom (11.6 %). Recent use ranges between 0.2 % and 4.6 %, with Denmark, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands all having rates of about 2 %; in Spain and the United Kingdom the figure is over 4 %.

Cocaine use is higher among males. For instance, surveys from Denmark, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom found that, among males aged 15–34 years, lifetime experience was between 5 % and 13 %. In six countries, recent use was higher than 3 %, with Spain and the United Kingdom reporting rates of 6–7 % (Figure 10).

Among the general population, cocaine use either is discontinued after a period of experimentation during young adulthood or is occasional, occurring mainly at weekends and in recreational settings (bars and discos). But, in some countries, some forms of regular use may be not negligible. Current use (in the last 30 days) is reported by 1.5–4 % of young males (15–34 years old) in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. In urban areas, rates of cocaine use are likely to be substantially higher.

In a recent multicity study, the vast majority (95 %) of what were defined as socially integrated users (recruited in discos, clubs or private contacts) snorted cocaine; only a small fraction had ever smoked or injected the substance (Prinzleve et al., 2004).

A very rough estimate of recent use (last year prevalence) of cocaine, assuming an average prevalence of about 1 % of all adults, will give a figure of between 3 and 3.5 million people in Europe. Rates of current use result in a rough estimate of about 1.5 million users (89).

As a point of comparison from outside Europe, in the 2003 United States national survey on health and drug use (SAMHSA, 2003), 14.7 % of adults (12 years or older) reported lifetime experience of cocaine use and 2.5 % reported having used cocaine during the previous 12 months (90). Among 18- to 25-year-olds, the figures were 15 % (lifetime), 6.6 % (last 12 months) and 2.2 % (last month). For males aged 18–25 years, the figures were 17.4 %, 8.2 % and 2.9 % respectively. Overall, the lifetime prevalence of cocaine use is greater among the general population in the USA than in the higher prevalence countries in Europe. However, this difference is not as apparent for more recent use measures, with some European countries now reporting estimates in excess of the American figures.

(89) These very rough estimates are simply based on taking prevalence values in the middle of the range of national prevalence rates (see Table GPS-1 in the 2005 statistical bulletin). Note that several countries with large populations (Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) have comparatively high prevalence rates, in several cases higher than the range used for the computation.

(90) 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 range 18–25 years is narrower than the range used in most EU surveys (15–24 years).