The Most Commonly Used Drugs in the UK

The Most Commonly Used Drugs in the UK

The most frequently used drug in the UK is Caffeine. It is found in hot drinks such as tea and coffee, and in cold drinks such as Coca-Cola and Red Bull. Many over-the-counter medicines also contain caffeine, such as Panadol and Pro Plus.

After caffeine, the next most commonly used drug in the UK is Alcohol. In third place comes nicotine, which can be found in cigarettes and other tobacco-based products.

These drugs, and many others, fall into general categories that classify them according to the effects that have on your body.


Drugs that slow down the central nervous system are known as depressants. Drugs that fall into this category include: alcohol, heroin, methadone, solvents and tranquillisers. Depressants can slow reactions, meaning that you should never drive or work machinery when under the influence of them.

Depressants, such as alcohol, lower activity in the brain and central nervous system, easing tension and lowering inhibitions. Use of such drugs in the workplace can be inappropriate and cause problems. It has been estimated by the International Labour Organisation that 40% of all workplace accidents are caused by alcohol.

Because employers in the UK have a legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment for their employees, contractors and visitors, many now test their staff for alcohol and other drugs as a matter of routine.


Drugs that fall into this category include amphetamines (‘speed’), caffeine, ecstasy, cocaine, mephedrone and tobacco. Stimulants work by raising the heart rate to give the user a heightened feeling of energy and alertness.

Stimulants can also be a concern for employers. Even when such drugs are used recreationally, outside of the workplace, they can affect the performance of staff who might feel tired or depressed at work as they ‘come down’ from the drug. Another worry for employers is that shift workers, for example, might use such drugs to help them work for longer amounts of time, often becoming dependent on the drugs that they have been taking.

Many employers now use a multi-panel drug test to detect recent use of stimulants.


These types of drugs chance the way people perceive their surroundings and feelings. Most of the time users will find this an enjoyable experience. However, sometimes these types of drugs can cause paranoia or anxiety. Some of the most commonly used hallucinogens include cannabis, ketamine and ‘magic mushrooms’, with cannabis being the most commonly used illegal drug in the UK.

The types of drugs can also be a major concern for employers. Because they can affect the user’s sense of time and perception, these drugs can again be dangerous in ‘safety critical’ jobs.

In the UK the most frequently used illegal drugs are:

  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy
  • Poppers (Amyl Nitrites)
  • Speed (Amphetamines)
  • Ketamine

The UK government’s crime survey for England and Wales reported in 2013/14 that 6.6% of adults admitted to having tried cannabis in the previous 12 months. Cocaine came out as the second most frequently used drug with 2.4% admitting to have tried it in the last year. Ecstasy use came third at 1.6%

Photo by Wells Chan on Unsplash

Zoom Testing is a leading UK drug testing company and a supplier of Drug Test Kits.

This post was originally published in December 2014.

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