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Psychoactive Drugs Tobacco, Alcohol, and Illicit Substances

1. What are psychoactive drugs and how much are they used?

  • 1.1 How many people smoke tobacco?
  • 1.2 What are the trends in alcohol consumption?
  • 1.3 How many people use illicit drugs?

Psychoactive drugs are substances that can change the consciousness, mood, and thoughts of those who take them. They include legal drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol; as well as illicit drugs, such as cannabis, amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin.

Overall, the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other controlled drugs is growing rapidly and this is contributing significantly to the global burden of disease. More...

1.1 How many people smoke tobacco?

The percentage of smokers is growing rapidly in developing countries, particularly China, and among women. Currently, 50% of men and 9% of women in developing countries smoke, as compared with 35% of men and 22% of women in developed countries.

When comparing different regions of the world, the average consumption of cigarettes is highest in Asia and the Far East, with the Americas and Eastern Europe following closely. More...



Table 1. Prevalence of smoking among adults and youths in selected countries

1.2 What are the trends in alcohol consumption?

Like tobacco, alcohol is widely available and marketed aggressively in most parts of the world.

Alcohol consumption is increasing in developing countries – especially in Asia – and in countries of the former Soviet Union.

In the past twenty years, the consumption of alcohol has decreased in developed countries. Nonetheless, the average alcohol consumption remains highest in the developed world compared to the developing world and the former Soviet Union. More...

1.3 How many people use illicit drugs?

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug
Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug.

Worldwide, it is estimated that about 200 million people use some type of illicit drug, such as cocaine, heroin, cannabis, or amphetamines. Illicit drugs are more widely used among males than females and among young people than older people.

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug. Among people aged 15 and above, 3.9% have used cannabis at least once between 2000 and 2001.

After cannabis, the most frequently used illicit drugs are amphetamines, opioids, and cocaine. Eight percent of youths in Western Europe and more than 20% of those in the USA reported having used at least one type of illicit drug other than cannabis in their lifetimes.

The number of people who inject drugs is also increasing and this has implications for the spread of HIV. Worldwide, 5% of adults living with HIV/AIDS were infected through injecting psychoactive drugs. However, this proportion is even higher in some regions: 50-90% in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific regions, and 25-50% in North America and Western Europe. Therefore, treatment and prevention of drug injection can help to prevent the spread of HIV. More...


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