A Glimpse Into Drug Use Around the World


The most common drugs used worldwide are cocaine, cannabis and opiates. The amount of use in each country can depend on production, laws, medicinal use, recreational use, religion, population, mental health treatment and more. Unfortunately, drug use is actually expected to rise exponentially in the next few decades, which means something just isn’t working in our international war on drug abuse, and something is fueling the increased usage.


How Trends Emerge

Drug trends emerge just like any other trend does. What drives trends is whatever is shiny and new, whatever is easiest and cheapest to get, or whatever technology and science has given us access to. Mainly, utilization and unit costs start the trend. This is how popularity dangles between products like opium and heroin; even though heroin is more addictive, the more opium that is in demand calls for more of its sister drug heroin to be made. This satisfies opium addicts and maintains addiction to the product. Therefore, the-easier-to-get and cheaper heroin is the new trend.

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The drug trade is not fully regulated, so as a result, neither is what’s exported or imported in and out of numerous countries. Drug trends can be classified by a country’s contribution to the drug trade.

    1. Productivity

Opiate use is the highest in developing nations or nations in transition. This is a direct result of an increase in opium productivity, used to boost a nation’s economy.

Cocaine production has greatly decreased in the 2000s because of armies interfering with its transportation overseas.

    1. Crops

Cannabis is the drug used mostly worldwide. The crop can be grown in almost every climate and/or indoors. The legal backlash of cannabis is also minimal, so the benefits tend to outweigh the woes for habitual users.

The coca plant on the other hand, used to make cocaine, only grows in very high and dry lands. Only a few climates support this, Columbia being the main one.

    1. Chemicals

In the ‘90s, stimulants peaked worldwide in usage. This was due to the discovery that they can be manufactured from certain chemicals found as everyday items in most countries.

    1. Accessibility

The United States does not produce the coca plant, but has easy access to South America where it is produced.

Belgium has direct access to Amsterdam’s plethora of drugs, but does not have the same liberal laws. This caused citizens of Belgium to start a black market fueled by Amsterdam’s regulated businesses.

Heroin is everywhere in Afghanistan. It is also given to imprisoned soldiers in Africa.

    1. Economy

Cocaine has never been very popular in Asia. In fact, peak interest in this drug has been in the United States and Western Europe, with more well-off or wealthier countries.

The coca plant is one of Colombia’s main source of income, but this income has been hindered since the productivity of cocaine has been localized and easier to control.

More than two-thirds of Afghanistan’s income relies on the heroin trade.

It’s not just about a country’s drug policies, but also about their neighboring ones. Countries surrounding the Netherlands, for example, where any amount of personal use of soft-core drugs is legal, have a large problem with people easily importing drugs. The United States has a similar problem with cocaine from Columbia, as well as synthetic club drugs from Canada. Trends don’t just emerge from productivity within one country, but is affected by neighbors. Also, those selling drugs in a country where it is banned tend to see higher profits.

How to End Trends

Countries with smaller populations tend to have less difficultly enforcing laws against drugs and armies with a targeted source have better luck intervening with trade. Since the United States is so large, this targeted aspect is hard to cater to.

durg addiction a criminal issue or a health issue
Some might argue that addiction is not as much of a criminal issue as it a health matter. In the DARE program, children were taught about the dangers of drugs by police officers while this may have been better suited to have health professionals present the dangers of using drugs. Ultimately, studies have shown DARE has had little to no positive effects. Understanding this, it seems honesty and genuine concern for human life and health may be a better approach.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Amsterdam, addiction is treated as a health issue and their addiction rates and crime rates are reported to be much lower than in the U.S. and many other countries. Obviously since this is a smaller population, the U.S. cannot easily adapt their exact laws, but perhaps they could use them as a reference. This includes clean needle exchange and HIV regulation for IV drug users, something Canada has successfully conducted.

Legalizing drugs is one way to regulate safety. The U.S. has been open to this with cannabis and the recent legality of cannabis in Colorado. The legalization has certainly brought in money for the economy and allowed a regulated approach vs. black market. However, more problems have arisen as well, such as marijuana DUIs and charging drugs on a credit card – problems other countries wouldn’t have as much of.

A country the United States modeled our theory of legalizing marijuana off of was Uruguay in South America. Uruguay was greatly successful in interrupting the violent black market with the legalization of cannabis. So far the pros have outweighed the cons for the United States, but it’s still early and each country will need to have its own set of stipulations when legalizing drugs.

Global Drug Addiction Rates

The World Health Organization (WHO) provides an amalgamation of statistics on worldwide drug and alcohol abuse. Some countries track their numbers, while others don’t, so the WHO figures are the best we have to look at the global epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction.

Global drug addiction statistics according to WHO include the following facts: There are 2 billion alcohol users worldwide. For comparison, the latest population estimate is approximately 7.3 billion people worldwide. This means that 25 percent of people worldwide use alcohol. Drugs, alcohol and tobacco use contributed to the deaths of 12.4 percent of people worldwide. 185 million people use illicit drugs worldwide.

The United Nations also conducts surveys on drug use worldwide. According to the U.N. report, cocaine use worldwide has decreased slightly despite a noticeable increase in use in Africa. South America, which produces and traffics much of the world’s cocaine supply, continues to be an area where many people become addicted to cocaine. It also remains popular in North America.

Heroin use and related abuse of opioid drugs worldwide is on the rise. Afghanistan produces the most opium poppies worldwide, which are used to manufacture heroin. In 2013, over 200 thousand hectares of land were used to farm opium poppies in Afghanistan. Myanmar also produces much of the global heroin supply.

Throughout the world, the trend is shifting from “natural” sources of heroin to synthetic opioids. In the United States, Oceania, the European Union and some Asian areas, people find that synthetic opioids are less expensive and easier to acquire.

Drug Use in North America

Throughout North America, drug and alcohol use continues to be problematic. In Canada, the figures for 2012 indicate an active drug problem:

  • Hallucinogens use was 1.1 percent.
  • Cocaine or crack use was 1.1 percent.

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Heroin use was not included in the report. Those numbers compare to the United States as follows:

  • 7.5 percent have used marijuana recently.
  • 0.5 percent of Americans have used hallucinogens.
  • Slightly less than 1 percent of Americans used cocaine.

Drugs Use in the European Union

The number of people using illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco varies depending on country and region. The European Drug Report 2014 rolls up country-specific figures into drug uses by country and specific substance.

Among illegal drug users in Europe:

  • 18.1 or 5.3 percent of adults smoked pot or used cannabis in the past year.
  • 3.1 million adults used cocaine in the past year.
  • 1.5 million used amphetamines in the past year.
  • 1.6 million used Ecstasy.
  • 1.3 million people are “problem opioid users.”

According to this report, opioid abuse accounts for some of the highest drug abuse statistics in the E.U.  About three-quarters of all fatal drug overdoses are due to opioids, while drug overdoses account for 3.5 percent of total deaths among young people age 15 to 45.

Heroin is among the more popular opioid drugs abused in Europe. Many European Union nations are close to countries that grow heroin poppies and produce the raw drugs needed to make heroin for the market. Some countries such as Germany have only recently seen surges in heroin use. Germany first experienced heroin addiction epidemics in the 1970s. Other countries, such as the United States, have battled heroin for far longer.

Other countries face different drug problems. Sweden and many Scandinavian nations find that amphetamines are the most-abused drugs. In Sweden, the greatest number of people seeking treatment for addiction look for help to quit amphetamine addictions. Throughout the E.U., opiates account for 59 percent of people seeking treatment for drug abuse, while in Sweden, 32 percent of people entering treatment need help for opiate abuse.


Like other countries, the European Union struggles with the influx of new, synthesized drugs. These drugs are inexpensive to make and can be created in makeshift labs that can move to avoid police detection. As a result, methamphetamine abuse is on the rise through the E.U.

Laboratories in Southeast Asia as well as the Middle East manufacture these drugs, while Asian gangs transport them through the countries of the E.U. Also troubling: reports that methamphetamines are now being smoked in countries such as Greece and Turkey. Sisa, the “cocaine of the poor,” and other synthetic drugs are fast-addicting and quickly damage or kill people.

What Makes Drug Trends Differ Per Country? Studies have shown that countries who have suffered more unexpected tragedy have an increase in drug addiction. Many cases of addiction have surrounded 9/11, the War on Terror, the Vietnam War and the Great Depression. The influx of heroin addiction in America came after the Vietnam War. Other wars in other countries have shown similar results. Afghanistan has been in such a state of oppression from the War on Terror; much of its heroin dependency has been blamed on it.

Areas in Italy where the Mafia controls drug trade have an abundance of cocaine imported from Columbia. Ninety-three percent of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan because all efforts of the impoverished people are put into producing it for money. In 2011, it was reported that opium (the raw form of heroin) contributed to about 14 percent of rehab admittances — and that number has only increased over time. The United States has the most access to prescription drugs, which causes the largest percentage of overdoses.

Less educated countries are unaware of the harms of drugs. Regions in Africa, such as Nigeria, have no awareness of what drugs do, and rebellious armies feed them to soldiers in order to cause a dependence on the hand that feeds.

Drug use is also linked to urbanization. This has to do with countries with the most population growth and younger populations having higher addiction rates.

Drug Use vs. Addiction

While urbanization increases drug use and addiction, wealthier countries are lucky enough to have access to quality treatment and education. Countries like Afghanistan, with a devastating heroin dependence, have little to no access to treatment. The drugs are so cheap in Afghanistan and using them doesn’t cost as much as treatment.

A country that has taken steps others might consider is Portugal. Over the past decade, it has decriminalized drugs and implanted harm reduction and health programs instead. The results of these program have shown vast improvements in drug use and the rate of addiction in Portugal is report dropping. There has also been a reduction in crime, HIV and overdoses as well.

Japan has some of the harshest drug laws in the world, with an absolute zero tolerance policy on almost everything, including misuse of cough medicine. It also has very little drug-abuse issues, but it cannot be assumed that this is a result from harsh laws or opposition throughout history.

Laws Governing Drug Use

Using or possessing drugs is a crime throughout the United States, Canada and the European Union countries. The punishment for use or possession varies according to the country. In the United States, punishment ranges from incarceration to fines. Individuals may be denied child custody or visitation, and they may be subjected to many other punishments.

In the United Kingdom, people caught using or possessing drugs have the option of entering treatment programs rather than doing jail time. Other countries offer a variation on this theme with punishments ranging from jail-time only to offers of leniency if users enter treatment.

Drug Addiction around the World: Treatment Programs

Drugs are pervasive worldwide. So are drug treatment programs. However, access to adequate drug treatment facilities varies widely.

The United States offers a wide range of drug treatment programs. Free 12-step programs are available in nearly every city and town across the United States. Local communities may offer outpatient programs, inpatient drug rehab, and other drug programs.

Centers for drug rehab may be Spartan and punitive — looking and feeling one step above a jail — or they may be as luxurious as a resort. Access to health insurance programs and funding for rehab programs in the United States plays a big part in what treatment programs are available to an individual. While most rehab centers offer sliding scale fees and a wide range of plans to help addicts, not everyone qualifies.

In Canada, there is a wide range of treatment programs. Many cater to women only and some offer bilingual treatment for French-speaking Canadians. Private and publicly supported rehab centers are available for drugs, alcohol and gambling addictions. Some include psychiatric centers for dual-diagnosis patients.

Treatment programs in the European Union vary according to the country. Many drug rehab centers in the U.K. are private, and patients who do not have funds or private insurance must apply to the U.K’s national health system for reimbursement. 12-step programs are also popular throughout the U.K. Local clinics and doctors in the NHS system also treat drug and alcohol addiction in the communities they serve.

The British tend to look upon any drug use as sinister, but treat addicts as sick people first and criminals second. Most people tend to think that drugs aren’t their problem, or that their children will never touch drugs. Drug abuse and addiction can remain hidden behind closed doors in this environment.

In places such as Sweden, drug and alcohol addiction are viewed as societal ills rather than individual problems. Their current healthcare system isn’t well-suited to offering individualized solutions. Much of Sweden’s drug and alcohol abuse remains under wraps.

Throughout the European Union, drugs are viewed as a mix of recreational pleasure, sinister temptation or criminal acts. Ideas about which drugs are bad and which are neutral also vary: Many people consider marijuana no worse than cigarettes, but “hard” drugs like heroin very dangerous. Much of these perceptions develop from news stories of overdoses or from movies and television shows that portray fictionalized accounts of drug abuse.

Places Where Drug Use Is Severely Punished

When examining how the world views drug and alcohol addiction, you must note that not every country believes that drug users are sick and in need of treatment. There are some places in the world where even having a few poppy seeds on your clothes after eating a bagel or getting a smidge of marijuana on your shoe after walking down a city street can land you in prison for up to four years. In other nations, being caught with even a small amount of cocaine, heroin or other drugs can be catastrophic.


Many countries throughout Asia and the Middle East have strict prohibitions against drug use. In Singapore, being caught with more than 17 ounces of marijuana or half an ounce of heroin or cocaine qualifies the accused of being a drug trafficker. The penalty for drug trafficking is hanging.

The following countries also give extreme sentences for drug use, possession or trafficking:

  • Iran
  • China
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates

In an example of these extreme sentences, up to four years of prison were given to one tourist who had a tiny amount of cannabis on his shoe. Presumably, he stepped on the remnants of a joint somewhere in his travels to Dubai, but the judge wouldn’t listen to his explanation, and he landed in a Dubai prison for four years. These countries treat any use or possession as a serious offense. In China, the death penalty is given for drug trafficking.

Treatment Differences around the World

Drug treatment programs in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States are very similar. Rehab clients are assessed by staff, who may recommend them a medically-supervised detox before they begin a rehab program. Treatment plans include support meetings, counseling and medication to wean users off of drugs or treat underlying symptoms.

Some countries have been late to accept various treatment methods for drug addiction. Germany, for example, has only recently accepted drug-substitution treatment as an acceptable practice for heroin addicts. Use of methadone and other medications to offset heroin addiction only came into widespread acceptance in Germany in the 1990s despite the known benefits of such treatment.

Throughout the world, there are striking similarities in how addiction is treated successfully. These include:

  • Voluntary treatment: The most effective treatment programs tend to be voluntary ones. When people want to get well, they will work hard to recover. If they’re forced into a treatment program, they may lack the inner conviction that they have a serious, progressive illness and relapse quickly once they return to their daily routines.
  • 12-step programs: Among various programs offered for drug and alcohol addiction treatment, 12-step programs appear to be universally effective. No matter what language the meetings are in, the 12-steps translate across cultural and linguistic lines to help addicts worldwide.
  • Support: No one gets sober alone. Even in cultures that value independence, strength and willpower, such as in the United States, successful recovery programs offer an extensive support network for people in recovery. This includes easy access to rehab programs and other treatment options, care within rehab to help people detox and recover, strong family support and aftercare methods to continue recovery work at home.


Many European countries are experimenting with controversial drug treatment options.

In Britain, clinics may begin offering heroin injection to addicts to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDs and hepatitis — the guarantee of clean needles offsets the objections to supporting addicts in their habit. The four-year trial followed successful Swiss protocols and demonstrated reduced street crime and disease transmission among those enrolled in the trial. If Britain does enact this new option, it will be the second country in the E.U. after Switzerland to offer heroin in clinics.

Drug Addiction Around the World Needs Better Treatment

It’s clear that, while one size can’t fit all when it comes to drug treatment, at least basic treatment options should be developed globally to enhance the health and well-being of people everywhere.

Drug addiction around the world remains a problem, but treatment options vary widely. We know that reducing the trafficking, possession and use of drugs decreases crime and improves health. Everyone benefits when drug use and addiction is reduced.

Even the most developed and wealthy nations in the world do not offer equitable treatment programs. A homeless veteran in New York City, addicted to heroin and alcohol, has different treatment options from a businessman in Miami with the same addictions. Each person has dignity and worth as a human being, but their treatment options differ according to their socio-economic standing as well as their geographic location.

Certain populations also suffer disproportionately from drug and alcohol addiction and lack access to adequate rehab services. Native Americans and Alaskans, for instance, have higher rates of addiction yet fewer treatment resources. Addressing this disparity may take time and resources, but it is well worth it when it comes to people’s health and wellness.

The United Kingdom is addressing the increasing need for drug addiction treatment by reconfiguring how its health service allocates funds and resources. A National Drug Monitoring Treatment Service oversees a network of public and private treatment centers. Although the United Kingdom has the oldest nationalized health service, which covers every citizen, private insurance is still purchased by a small percent of the population and used to cover some services, including addiction and recovery treatment. The new budget allocations will reimburse private clinics treating addicts who cannot afford to pay for their own treatment.

Worldwide, the number of treatment centers, detox facilities and rehab centers continues to be inadequate. Many people do find recovery with 12-step programs, which have no limits on the number of people who can participate and do not charge a set fee. Contributions to the group’s coffers are voluntary.

Such programs, however, cannot cover detox in a medical setting, which some addictions do need to rid their bodies of drugs and alcohol. In those cases, health insurance or national health systems may cover detox and psychiatric stays but not aftercare or rehab programs.

When people are ready to enter drug treatment, they need help right away, not tomorrow or next month. Next month may be too late. Adequate resources for anyone seeking help for an addiction are critical.


Get Help for Drug and Alcohol Addictions

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The 12 Keys model of recovery includes a 12-step program that has helped many people worldwide recover from drug and alcohol addiction. But it also incorporates the very best cutting-edge mental, physical and emotional treatment techniques. It’s all the best from the recovery world, rolled up into one safe place.

We know that one size doesn’t fit all, so we work with everyone individually on their recovery. When you are ready to leave us, we ensure that you leave with an aftercare plan so that you can continue your successful recovery at home with your family and friends around you.

Experience the 12 Keys difference. Whether you are from the United States or elsewhere, we welcome your call. Don’t continue suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. Contact us anytime, any day – a counselor will be happy to answer your questions.


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