Most Commonly Used Drugs by youth in the UK


Youth drug use refers to the consumption of controlled substances by individuals typically aged between 12 and 25. This age group is especially prone to trying drugs and developing substance-related problems. Understanding how common drug use is among young people and its impact is crucial for healthcare professionals, educators, policymakers, and communities throughout the United Kingdom.

  • It’s incredibly important to grasp these patterns. By doing so, we can:
    Understand the risks involved
  • Identify strategies to prevent drug use
  • Ensure that support services are specifically designed for young individuals who need them

The effects of youth drug use are far-reaching. They include burdening healthcare systems, increasing crime rates, and negatively impacting education outcomes.
In this article, we will explore three key aspects related to drug use among young individuals in the UK:

  • The Most Commonly Used Drugs Among Youth in the UK: We will take an in-depth look at the substances that young people consume most frequently, including relevant statistics and trends.
  • Understanding the Reasons for Youth Drug Use: We will analyze why young individuals might turn to drugs, considering various social, psychological, and cultural factors.
  • The Link Between Youth Drug Use and Mental Health Issues: We will discuss how substance abuse often connects with mental health problems among youth.

By examining these factors, readers will gain a comprehensive understanding of the current state of drug use among young individuals in the UK. We will emphasize the importance of accessible support services and effective prevention efforts in addressing this ongoing issue.

1. The Most Commonly Used Drugs Among Youth in the UK

Substance use among young individuals in the UK is a dynamic issue, with various drugs rising and falling in popularity. Here, we delve into the most commonly used substances, examining their prevalence, reasons for use, and broader societal impacts.

Marijuana (Cannabis)

  • Prevalence: Cannabis stands as the most widely used drug by youth in the UK, with its popularity sustained over the years.
  • Trends: Despite fluctuations in overall drug use trends, marijuana consumption has remained relatively steady.
  • Reasons for Use: Young people may turn to marijuana for its perceived relaxation effects or social bonding experiences.
  • Impact: Regular cannabis use has been associated with educational underachievement and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.


  • Prevalence: Cocaine usage among youth has seen an uptick, reflecting its increased availability and cultural presence.
  • Trends: It’s often regarded as a ‘party drug’, favored during social gatherings.
  • Reasons for Use: The stimulant effects of cocaine can provide temporary energy and confidence boosts.
  • Impact: Cocaine can lead to serious health complications including heart problems and addiction.

Stimulants (Amphetamines)

  • Prevalence: Usage of amphetamines is relatively high among young people seeking an energy boost or weight loss aid.
  • Trends: The rise in prescription stimulant abuse, particularly medications for ADHD, is a concerning trend.
  • Reasons for Use: Some students misuse stimulants to enhance academic performance through increased focus.
  • Impact: Misuse can result in dependency and adverse mental health outcomes.

Painkillers & Prescription Drugs

  • Prevalence: There’s growing concern over the misuse of prescription painkillers among youth.
  • Trends: These drugs are often obtained without a prescription through diversion from legitimate sources.
  • Reasons for Use: They may be used to self-medicate physical pain or emotional distress.
  • Impact: Overuse can lead to addiction and overdose risks.

Synthetic Cannabinoids (Spice, K2)

  • Prevalence: Spice has emerged as an alternative to traditional cannabis, especially within vulnerable populations like the homeless youth.
  • Trends: Its use surged due to initial legality and difficulty in detection during drug screening.
  • Reasons for Use: It’s cheap and accessible, with effects that mimic traditional marijuana.
  • Impact: Spice can have unpredictable and severe health effects including acute kidney injury and psychosis.


  • Prevalence: Although less common than other substances, heroin use persists among young people in certain demographics.
  • Trends: Its use is often linked to progression from misuse of prescription opioids.
  • Reasons for Use: Some turn to heroin when prescription opioids become inaccessible or too expensive.
  • Impact: Heroin carries high risks of overdose and infectious diseases when shared needles are used.

Crystal Meth (Methamphetamine)

  • Prevalence: Crystal meth use remains relatively low compared to other drugs but poses significant harm to those who do use it.
  • Trends: There have been pockets of increased usage within certain communities.
  • Reasons for Use: Its powerful stimulant effect offers a prolonged high that is attractive to some users.
  • Impact: Methamphetamine is highly addictive with potential for severe psychological and physical detriments.

MDMA (Ecstasy)

  • Prevalence: MDMA maintains popularity particularly within nightlife settings among young adults.
  • Trends: High-profile music festivals and club culture help sustain its presence amongst youth culture.
  • Reasons for Use: Users often seek the heightened sensations of sociability and euphoria it provides.
  • Impact: Health risks include dehydration, overheating, and possible neurotoxicity from regular use.

Hallucinogens (LSD & Magic Mushrooms)

  • Prevalence & Trends: While not as prevalent as other substances on this list, hallucinogens hold a niche appeal largely due to curiosity about altered states of consciousness or spiritual experiences.
  • Reasons for Use: Users may seek profound insight or escapism through psychedelic experiences.
  • Impact: Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) is one potential long-term consequence of frequent use.

DXM Syrup

  • Prevalence: Dextromethorphan (DXM), found in cough syrups, is occasionally abused by young individuals due to its ready availability.
  • Trends: Abuse typically involves high doses that exceed recommended medical guidelines.
  • Reasons for Use: At high doses, DXM can produce psychoactive effects similar to dissociative anesthetics.
  • Impact: Long-term abuse can result in physical dependence and cognitive impairments.


  • Prevalence: Inhalant abuse often begins at a young age due to the accessibility of these substances.
  • Trends: Users might inhale volatile solvents from household products like glues or aerosol sprays.
  • Reasons for Use: The immediate yet short-lived high attracts those seeking quick euphoric effects.
  • Impact: Chronic inhalant abuse can lead to irreversible brain damage or even sudden sniffing death syndrome.

The landscape of drug use continues to evolve; thus statistics from authoritative sources such as the Office for National Statistics and the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System provide essential insights:

  • According to recent findings from these organizations:
  • Cannabis-related treatment admissions remain at the forefront among youth substance issues.
  • Cocaine has seen an increase in both purity levels and emergency department admissions linked to its use by young people.

These trends underscore the necessity of proactive education regarding substance misuse while tailoring intervention strategies that resonate with younger demographics. Moving forward, understanding why youth gravitate towards these substances will unlock further opportunities to mitigate harm and support wellbeing.

Understanding the Reasons for Youth Drug Use

The pressures of fitting in play a significant role in why young individuals turn to drugs. During adolescence and early adulthood, peer influence is at its strongest. Social events often become opportunities for trying out substances, with cannabis, MDMA, and cocaine being popular choices.

  • Peer Pressure: Young people may feel forced to use drugs to be part of certain social groups or to avoid being excluded.
  • Social Media Influence: Platforms act as echo chambers, sometimes glorifying substance use and creating a distorted sense of normalcy around drug use.

Self-Medication for Mental Health Issues

For many young people, drugs become a way to self-treat underlying mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Instead of seeking professional help, which may be due to stigma or lack of access to healthcare, they turn to substances that provide temporary relief.

  • Cannabis is often used for its calming effect on anxiety, while stimulants are misused by those trying to manage symptoms of ADHD.
  • Prescription drugs, particularly benzodiazepines and antidepressants, are diverted for their mood-altering effects.

Hedonistic Pursuits in Search of Happiness and Pleasure

The pursuit of pleasure is another significant reason why young individuals turn to drugs. The intense high from substances like MDMA or cocaine offers an escape from the boring aspects of everyday life.

  • Music festivals and nightclubs are common places for such experiences where drugs are part of the scene.
  • The short-term happiness can unfortunately lead to long-term addiction issues.

Academic Pressure and Performance Enhancement

In a highly competitive academic environment, some students resort to stimulant drugs, such as those prescribed for ADHD like Ritalin or Adderall, to improve focus and study more effectively.

  • These “study drugs” are often obtained without prescriptions through illegal channels.
  • Unintended side effects include increased heart rate and potential addiction.


The patterns of drug usage among the UK’s youth are not just statistics; they represent real challenges impacting individuals, families, and communities. The Most Commonly Used Drugs by youth in the UK signify a call to action for both prevention and support.

1. Prevention Efforts
It is crucial to invest in educational programs that not only raise awareness about the dangers of drug use but also foster life skills that empower young people to make healthy choices. Schools, community centers, and online platforms can serve as conduits for disseminating this vital information.

2. Accessible Support Services
Those already facing substance misuse issues require compassionate and professional help. Ensuring that treatment services are approachable and tailored to the needs of young people can make a profound difference in their recovery journey.

3. Community Involvement
Each person has a role to play. Staying informed about the trends in youth drug use and understanding the resources available are steps towards building a supportive environment. Engaging in open dialogues with young people can pave the way for preventative measures and early intervention.
By recognizing the significance of these efforts, there is hope to reduce the prevalence of drug use among young individuals. Together, fostering a proactive stance on this issue will contribute to healthier futures for the youth across the UK.

Share with:


  • gambling addiction rehab

    Gambling addiction, also known as problem gambling or compulsive gambling, is a type of impulse-control disorder where individuals have an uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on their lives. This condition can lead to severe [...]

    Seeking Help for problems with gambling Addiction

  • youth drug reasons

    Youth drug use refers to the consumption of controlled substances by individuals typically aged between 12 and 25. This age group is especially prone to trying drugs and developing substance-related problems. Understanding how common drug use is among young [...]

    Most Commonly Used Drugs by youth in the UK

  • This Mental Health Awareness Week, the theme is ‘Movement.’ And for good reason! Our Lead Therapist at Rainford Hall, Kelly, has experienced first-hand the transformative power of physical activity on mental well-being. It’s not just about getting fit; it’s about [...]

    Mental Health Awareness Week: Kelly, Lead Therapist, How Exercise Transformed My Mental Health