The Rising Cocaine Use Disorder


In 2020, an estimated 284a million people worldwide aged 15–64, majority of whom were men, had used a drug within the last 12 months. This corresponds to approximately 1 in every 18 people in that age group, or 5.6 per cent, and represents a 26 per cent increase on 2010, when the estimated number of people who used drugs was 226 million and prevalence was 5 per cent.

This is in part attributable to global population growth. Comparisons over time of these global estimates should take into consideration their wide uncertainty intervals.
Global cannabis and amphetamines use up in 2020, opioid use largely stable, “ecstasy” and cocaine trends altered during pandemic.

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system. It is highly addictive and can lead to a range of physical and mental health problems, including heart attack, stroke, and psychosis. Cocaine use disorder is a growing problem in many parts of the world, and there are various social causes that contribute to this trend.

Key points

  • An estimated 21.5 million people used cocaine in 2020, representing 0.4 per cent of the global population
  • North America and Europe remain the two main consumer markets for cocaine
  • Demand in Africa and Asia has risen over the past two decades, but regional demand remains uneven and lack of data prevents a clear understanding of the level of use
  • The level of cocaine manufacture reached a record high in 2020, amounting to 1,982 tons (pure cocaine)
  • Seizures are increasingly being carried out closer to production sites in South America, where the total quantity seized is now three times higher than in North America
  • Cocaine is increasingly being trafficked by sea and via a wider geography of routes, with almost 90 per cent of quantities of cocaine seized linked to maritime trafficking
  • Cocaine manufacture has a sizeable carbon footprint, significantly higher than that of the alternative crops frequently used in alternative development projects
  • The global market for cocaine is expanding: use has been increasing worldwide over the last Markets for cocaine are also expanding outside the traditional markets of North America and Large quantities of cocaine are trafficked from Latin America to Europe through West and North Africa


The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the united nations. dotted line represents approximately the line of control in jammu and kashmir agreed upon by india and pakistan. the final status of jammu and kashmir has not yet been agreed upon by the parties.

The majority of people being treated for drug use disorders in Africa and Latin America are under the age of 35.
Young people aged 15–16 have a global annual prevalence of canna- bis use of 5.8 per cent, compared with 4.1 per cent of the population aged 15–64.
Young people typically report a higher level of drug use than do adults, and in many countries drug use levels among young people are higher today than in past generations.

MAP 1 Most used stimulant drug, by country, in terms of number of users (2020 or most recent year for which data are available)

Source: UNODC, responses to the annual report questionnaire.

Note: Information presented is based primarily on the ranking of prevalence of use of stimulants drugs in the respective country (96 countries), confirmed by the reported annual prevalence of use data (17 countries), or, in case of non-availability of either, on the data on people in drug treatment (number of people or ranking of primary drugs in patients/clients entering treatment – eight countries).

The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations. Dotted line represents approximately the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir agreed upon by India and Pakistan. The final status of Jammu and Kashmir has not yet been agreed upon by the parties. The final boundary between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has not yet been determined. A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

Social Causes of Rising Cocaine Use Disorder:

Availability: The availability and accessibility of cocaine play a significant role in its rising use disorder. Cocaine is a highly lucrative drug for traffickers due to its high demand and profitability. The drug is produced primarily in South America, and it is transported globally through well-established smuggling routes. As transportation networks and globalization continue to advance, the ease of distributing cocaine has increased, making it more readily available in various regions. The rising availability contributes to higher rates of consumption and addiction.

Poverty: Poverty is another significant social cause of rising cocaine use disorder. People living in poverty are more likely to turn to drugs as a means of coping with their difficult circumstances. This can be seen in many countries where poverty is widespread, and drug use is prevalent. In some cases, people may turn to drug trafficking as a means of making money, which can further exacerbate the problem.

Social Pressure: Social pressure is another social cause of rising cocaine use disorder. Peer pressure, social norms, and media messages can all contribute to people’s decision to use cocaine. The normalization of drug use in certain social circles can make it more difficult for people to resist the temptation to try cocaine.

Stress: Stress is another social cause of rising cocaine use disorder. Many people use cocaine as a means of coping with stress, whether it is related to work, relationships, or other life circumstances. The drug’s stimulant effects can help people feel more energetic and alert, but this can quickly lead to addiction and dependence.

Trauma: Trauma is another significant social cause of rising cocaine use disorder. People who have experienced trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, may turn to drugs as a means of coping with their emotional pain. Cocaine’s euphoric effects can provide temporary relief from the symptoms of trauma, but this can lead to addiction and other health problems.

Polydrug Use: Polydrug use, the concurrent use of multiple substances, is a significant aspect of rising cocaine use disorder. Many individuals who use cocaine also use other drugs, such as alcohol, opioids, or marijuana. The use of multiple substances can amplify the risks and negative effects associated with cocaine use, leading to more severe health consequences and addiction. Polydrug use also complicates treatment efforts, as addressing multiple substance dependencies requires a comprehensive and tailored approach.



• Cannabis herb and cocaine
• Opioids and stimulants
• Hallucinogens and sedatives or tranquilizers and/or cannabis
• Frequently are also reported combinations with alcohol


• Heroin with cocaine or “crack” cocaine
• Buprenorphine with amphetamine or benzodiazepines
• Methadone and cocaine
• Heroin and benzodiazepines
• Cannabis with NPS, or with cocaine and ecstasy


• Cannabis with heroin or pharmaceutical opioids
• Khat with diazepam/valium or with codeine syrup
• NPS with sedatives/tranquilizers, heroin, illicit methadone and/or cannabis
• Heroin with non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs (flunitrazepam, benzhexol or amitripty- line) with or without cannabis


• Heroin with triazolam, midazolam or zopiclone
• Methadone or morphine with heroin/opium
• Opiates and cannabis (or opioids and cannabinoids)
• Methamphetamine or ‘captagon’ with benzodiazepines with or without cannabis herb
• Methamphetamine with ketamine
• Cannabis and pregabaline


Examples of commonly reported combinations:
• Cannabis and amphetamines
• Amphetamines and heroin
• Amphetamines and benzodiazepines

Peer Pressure and Social Influence: Peer pressure and social influence are influential factors in the rising cocaine use disorder. Individuals may be more inclined to use cocaine if they are surrounded by peers or social circles that engage in drug use. The desire to fit in, gain acceptance, or seek validation can lead individuals to experiment with drugs, including cocaine. Peer pressure can be particularly influential among young people and vulnerable populations, increasing the likelihood of developing cocaine use disorder.

Mental Health and Self-Medication: There is a strong correlation between mental health issues and substance abuse, including cocaine use disorder. Individuals experiencing mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may turn to cocaine as a form of self-medication to alleviate their symptoms temporarily. Cocaine’s stimulant effects can provide short-term relief, leading to a cycle of dependence and addiction. The lack of access to mental health services and proper treatment exacerbates the issue, as individuals may resort to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

Geographical Factors: The prevalence of cocaine use disorder varies across different regions of the world. While it affects populations globally, certain regions have higher rates of consumption. For instance, North America has historically experienced high rates of cocaine use disorder, with the United States being one of the largest consumer markets for the drug. Latin American countries, particularly those involved in cocaine production and trafficking, also face significant challenges with rising cocaine use disorder. However, it is important to note that the issue is not limited to these regions, as cocaine use disorder has been increasing in other parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, and Africa.

High-Risk Populations: Several populations are disproportionately affected by the rising cocaine use disorder:

a) Young Adults: Young adults, particularly those in the age range of 18-25, have higher rates of cocaine use compared to other age groups. Factors such as peer influence, social experimentation, and the desire for thrill-seeking contribute to their vulnerability.

b) Urban Communities: Historically, urban areas have been more heavily impacted by drug abuse, including cocaine use disorder. Factors such as higher population density, socioeconomic disparities, and exposure to drug trafficking networks contribute to higher rates of drug consumption.

c) Marginalized and Minority Communities: Marginalized and minority communities are often disproportionately affected by rising cocaine use disorder. Systemic inequalities, including poverty, limited access to healthcare, educational disparities, and social marginalization, contribute to higher rates of drug abuse within these communities. Additionally, factors such as discrimination, lack of social support, and trauma can further exacerbate the vulnerability to cocaine use disorder.

d) Individuals with Co-occurring Disorders: Individuals with co-occurring disorders, such as mental health disorders and substance use disorders, are at higher risk of developing cocaine use disorder. The interplay between mental health issues and substance abuse creates a complex cycle that requires specialized treatment approaches.

e) Individuals involved in the Criminal Justice System: The population within the criminal justice system faces a higher prevalence of cocaine use disorder. Substance abuse is often associated with criminal activities, and individuals involved in the justice system may have a history of drug-related offenses or addiction issues.

Additionally, the market has seen an increase in the production and consumption of synthetic drugs that are often mixed with or used as substitutes for cocaine. Substances like synthetic cathinones, commonly referred to as “bath salts,” and the emergence of fentanyl-laced cocaine pose additional health risks and contribute to the rising cocaine use disorder.

Role of Technology: Technology and the internet have played a significant role in the rising cocaine use disorder. The digital age has transformed the drug trade, making it easier for users to access drugs and drug-related information. Online marketplaces on the dark web have facilitated the sale and distribution of illicit drugs, including cocaine. Social media platforms and encrypted messaging applications have become channels for drug advertising, networking, and communication among users and dealers. The online environment has created new challenges for law enforcement and public health agencies in addressing the rising cocaine use disorder.

Lack of Effective Prevention and Treatment: Another aspect of the rising cocaine use disorder phenomenon is the lack of effective prevention and treatment programs. Prevention efforts often focus on educational campaigns and raising awareness of the risks associated with cocaine use. However, there is a need for more comprehensive prevention strategies that address the underlying social causes and risk factors associated with cocaine use disorder. Similarly, treatment programs must be accessible, evidence-based, and tailored to the specific needs of individuals with cocaine use disorder. Integrating behavioral therapies, pharmacological interventions, and support services is crucial for successful treatment outcomes.

Stigma and Barriers to Seeking Help: Stigma surrounding drug use and addiction remains a significant barrier to addressing the rising cocaine use disorder. Many individuals with cocaine use disorder face judgment, discrimination, and social isolation, which can deter them from seeking help. Public awareness campaigns and community initiatives that aim to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction are essential to encourage individuals to access treatment and support services.

Conclusion: The rising phenomenon of cocaine use disorder is a multifaceted issue influenced by various social, cultural, economic, and technological factors. Understanding the demographic trends, polydrug use, changing drug markets, technology’s impact, and the lack of effective prevention and treatment programs helps inform strategies to address this growing public health concern. A comprehensive approach that combines prevention, harm reduction, and evidence-based treatment interventions is necessary to tackle the rising rates of cocaine use disorder and mitigate its consequences on individuals, families, and communities

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