Drug Abuse Rates in Europe vs. the USA

Drug Abuse Rates in Europe vs. the USA

Over the past month, we’ve been taking a look at how the United States compares to other countries in terms of drug laws, and how we compare to Europe specifically in terms of alcohol abuse.

When looking at the alcohol abuse rates, we saw that European countries with looser laws around alcohol tended to have fewer incidences of binge drinking and other risky behaviors. Here in the US, we also have pretty strict laws around drugs, just like most countries in Europe. So, with most of the drug laws being similar, how do we stack up against Europe when it comes to drug abuse?

The United States

Like always, we’ll start by looking at the drug abuse rates in the US.

The USA has the highest number of drug-related deaths among wealthy countries, with over 70,000 people dying in 2017 – that’s 21.7 per every 100,000 people in the country. Further, an estimated 9.4% of the population has tried illegal drugs at least once.


Scotland has more drug-related deaths per capita than any other European country – 1187 was the official number in 2018. This is the highest this number has ever been since records began in the mid-nineties. Many of these deaths involve overdosing on a cocktail containing opiates mixed with benzos. Deaths are most common among those in the 35-44 age range, followed by the 45-54 range.

In the UK as a whole, drug laws are quite strict and fairly similar to those of the United States.


The number of drug users in Romania is climbing, however their rates of drug abuse remain the lowest in Europe. In 2017, there were only 2.44 drug-related deaths per million people.

While the use of drugs including cannabis is illegal and can carry prison time in Romania, the country does differentiate between recreational users and addicts. A person convicted of drug possession for personal use can choose to avoid charges by undergoing an integrated assistance program.


It’s consistently ranked as one of the world’s happiest countries, so what does its drug abuse rate look like? As it turns out, the number of drug-induced deaths has been rising over the last few years, with 75 deaths per million people in 2016.

In Norway, penalties for minor possession of drugs are fairly light, carrying a 6-month prison sentence. Just like in Romania, Norway allows drug users to enter treatment as an alternative to prison time.

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