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Substance addiction and drug use in Belgium - Statistics & Facts

According to data on drug consumption in the general Belgian population, the most common addictions relate to alcohol and cannabis. In 2018, it was estimated that roughly one out of ten Belgians consumed alcohol daily. While addiction is primarily defined by a loss of control, such a consumption pattern can be directly linked to an alcohol use disorder. Unsurprisingly, over 19 thousand reports of alcohol abuse were reported by the Belgian Federal Police in 2018. Alcohol can often be overlooked as being a drug, but this substance has a high potential for addiction and is linked to various health problems and social consequences.

The second most consumed substance with an addictive potential in Belgium was cannabis. Indeed, it was estimated that over 3 percent of Belgians, aged 15 to 64 years, showed problematic consumption of cannabis in 2018. Problematic consumption is defined as a use prone to health and social issues that can affect the users or their relatives. Cannabis consumption was higher among the younger population and especially in the Brussels-Capital Region. Furthermore, according to figures by education, the higher the education, the higher the share of consumers.

Less common drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, or amphetamines were also consumed in Belgium, although to a much lesser extent. The share of Belgians who consumed cocaine during 2018 was estimated at 0.6 percent, and at 0.4 percent for ecstasy or amphetamines. However, the consumption of such substances seemed to be on the rise in recent years. While amphetamines can be considered as both a “soft” and a “hard” drug, heroin is known to be part of the latter group. The consumption of heroin was low in Belgium. It was estimated that 0.07 percent of Belgians consumed heroin in 2018.

From 2013 to 2018, the use of multiple drugs, also known as poly-consumption, increased in Belgium. As for cannabis, the use of several substances was especially high in the Brussels-Capital region and in the younger age groups. Although more in-depth data is lacking, higher shares of poly-consumption in younger Belgians could be due to experimenting.

In 2017, the most recent data available, over 10 thousand drug users received treatment in Belgium. A third of the patients were cannabis consumers. On the other hand, a high share of patients were cocaine users. During that year, a program aimed at increasing access to safe injection material distributed over 430 thousand alcohol swabs and 398 thousand syringes. The dispense of such materials is intended to limit illnesses linked to the use of contaminated material. For instance, HIV, hepatitis, or tuberculosis. Furthermore, the first “minor risk consumption room” has been opened in the Belgian city of Liège. Although officially illegal in the country, these structures provide a safe and secure environment for drug consumption, but also aid people who struggle with addiction. For instance, the injection room in Liege provided advice on risk reduction and performed a hundred nursing care acts in 6 months of existence.

Evaluating drug use is a fastidious process. To have a clear picture of drug use in the population, hospital registers need to be investigated, used water analyzed, and studies in certain environments, such as prisons, homeless shelters, nightlife areas, or therapeutic and social structures should be performed. These figures overlook the marginalized population (imprisoned, homeless, institutionalized, etc.) where drug use is not uncommon. Although these figures offer an optimistic vision of narcotic consumption, they provide a valuable picture for the “general population” living in a private household and not in an institution.

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