A recent study of drug use worldwide found that the United States has the highest rates of illegal drug use. This is a surprise to many people because U.S. drug laws are some of the toughest anywhere. In addition to higher rates of illegal drug use, the country also leads the world in rates of alcoholism and tobacco use.
The WHO’s Comprehensive Report
The report created by the World Health Organization covered 17 countries around the world, including supposed drug hot spots such as the Netherlands. Americans were found to be the biggest consumers of marijuana and cocaine. In fact, Americans were 400 percent more likely to have tried cocaine compared to New Zealanders, the second-heaviest consumers of the drug.
Drug Use Rates Are Independent of Drug Laws
The report found that marijuana was the most commonly used drug worldwide. U.S. citizens were the highest users of the drug, with a rate of 42.4 percent compared to New Zealand’s rate of 41.9 percent. In the Netherlands, where drug policies are among the most liberal anywhere, a mere 1.9 percent of respondents said they had used cocaine. Just 19.8 percent said they had smoked marijuana.
Research showed that drug use isn’t a worldwide constant that is shaped by government drug policies. This is demonstrated by the fact that countries with strict drug laws didn’t have lower rates of use than more liberal countries.
Major Study Parameters and Finds
The study of worldwide drug use involved more than 54,000 people in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, New Zealand and the Americas. Questions on the survey concerned use of both legal drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol, and illegal drugs, including marijuana and cocaine. Participants were asked about their lifetime drug use.
Alcohol use was highest among study participants in Europe, Japan, New Zealand and the Americas. The intoxicant was found to be less common in Africa, China and the Middle East. Tobacco was most common in the United States, at 74 percent; Lebanon and Mexico were just behind the U.S. in their use of the legal stimulant.
Certain drug use trends were found consistently throughout the world. Researchers saw that men were bigger consumers of both legal and illegal substances. Meanwhile, younger study participants were more likely than their older counterparts to have tried a wide variety of drugs, both legal and illegal.
Adults who were single were more likely to report using marijuana, tobacco and cocaine than those who were married, but they were no more likely to use alcohol. Use of both legal and illegal drugs was more common among those with higher income.
Researchers stated that above all, drug use is associated with affluence. The U.S. is a prime example of this; despite the country’s instrumental position in the war against drugs, its own rates of alcohol and drug use are higher than those in the rest of the world. Therefore, the strict U.S. laws punishing drug use and limiting tobacco and alcohol intake are ineffective. The research performed by the WHO shows that the present approach to drug use is not working.
Lillian Sanders works closely with drug rehabilitation programs, helping people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
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