The YouGov Big Survey on Drugs: How many Britons have used recreational drugs?

Milan DinicResearch Manager
January 24, 2022, 4:11 PM GMT+0

The YouGov Big Survey on Drugs shows half of Britons (50%) say they know a lot (9%) or something (41%) about recreational drugs, while 38% say they don’t know much, and one in ten (10%) don’t know anything at all.

Men (13%) are twice as likely as women (6%) to say they ‘know a lot’ about drugs, with this being the case across all age groups.

Britons aged 60 and older are less likely to say they have at least some knowledge on the subject (41%) compared to other age groups (50-57%).

For the purposes of this study, ‘soft drugs’ refers to substances like cannabis or speed, and ‘hard drugs’ refers to substances like cocaine or heroin.

Overall, four in ten Britons (39%) say they have taken recreational drugs, with more than twice as many having taken soft drugs (38%) than hard drugs (14%). Slightly more men (42%) than women (35%) have taken drugs recreationally. Half of Britons between the ages of 25 and 59 say they have taken recreational drugs (49-52%), twice as many as those aged 16-24-year-olds (26%) and 60 or older (24%).

Six in ten Britons (58%) say they have never taken any recreational drugs.

When it comes to soft drugs (such as cannabis or speed), 15% of Britons say they have taken drugs in this category ‘many times’ and a further 23% have done so ‘once or twice’. One in five men (19%) say they have taken soft drugs many times, while this applies to 11% of women.

Among the youngest Britons (16-24), 10% say they have taken soft drugs ‘many times’ and a further 16% say they’ve done so ‘once or twice’. Among those between the ages of 25 and 59 (49-51%) say they have taken soft drugs, falling to one in four (24%) among the 60+ generation.

Six in ten Britons (58%) say they have never taken soft drugs.

When it comes to using hard drugs (such as cocaine or heroin), 14% of Britons say they have tried them, with 5% saying they have taken hard drugs ‘many times’, and 9% saying they’ve taken them ‘once or twice’. Men are twice as likely as women to have tried hard drugs: 19% vs 10%.

Among the youngest Britons (16-24) 14% say they’ve tried hard drugs, with this climbing to one in four (24%) among those aged 25-39. Significantly fewer Britons aged 40-59 (16%) or 60 and older (5%) have experimented with hard drugs.

Overall, eight in ten Britons (83%) have never tried hard drugs.

Which recreational drugs have Britons tried?

The following questions were asked only to Britons who said they have taken recreational drugs (39%).

Among Britons who have said they have tried recreational drugs, one in five (21%) say they still take them, with 5% saying they do so often and 16% occasionally. This mostly applies to Britons in the 25-39 age group (26%), falling to 16% among those in their 40s and 50s, and to one in ten (10%) among those 60 or older.

Nine out of ten (93%) Britons who say they have had experience with drugs, have tried cannabis. Cocaine is second (34%), while ecstasy comes third (27%), followed by MDMA (24%), amphetamines (23%) and hashish (23%).

There is a generational split between Britons 25-39-year-olds and the over-40s on which types of drugs they have tried: cocaine (43% vs 34%) and MDMA (37% vs 21%) are more popular among the younger group, while hashish (28% vs 20%) and LSD (24% vs 14%) are more widely experienced among those in their 40s and 50s.

Cannabis is often described as the gateway drug and is the most commonly used illegal drug. Our research shows that among Britons who say they took cannabis and at least one other drug, 83% of them report that cannabis was the first drug they tried, while 14% say they tried other drugs first, before taking cannabis.

One in five Britons (18%) say they have at some point felt pressured by their peers to take recreational drugs, including 7% who caved in and took drugs because of that pressure.

One in five (22%) 16-24-year-olds and 28% of 25-39-year-olds report they have felt pressured by their peers to take drugs. This includes 7% and 12% of each group respectively who say they have ended up taking drugs.

Eight in ten (80%) Britons say they have never felt any peer pressure to take recreational drugs.

Half of Britons (51%) say they know someone who takes recreational drugs, while four in ten (42%) say they don’t. Older Britons – those aged 60 and above – are much less likely to know a drug user than other age groups. Only 35% do so, compared to 57% of 16-24 year olds, 66% of 25-39-year-olds and 54% of 40-59-year-olds.

In the 60+ generation, men are likely than women (40% vs 31%) to know someone who takes recreational drugs.

A quarter of Britons (24%) know someone who has a serious problem with drugs. Among Britons who say they themselves have tried drugs, more than a third (36%) know someone who has a drug problem.

One in five (20%) Britons aged 16-24 know someone with a drug problem, which climbs to one in three (32%) of those aged 25-39. Among those in their 40s and 50s, 28% know someone with a drug problem, while this is the case for 17% of those aged 60 or older.

Bearing in mind that cannabis is the most commonly used drug, the YouGov Big Survey on Drugs investigated how familiar Britons are with the smell of the drug. We found that eight out of ten Britons (79%) say they can recognise the smell of cannabis, compared to one in six (16%), who say they cannot.

See full results here

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