Health For Members

Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?

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Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?
Two revellers from Basel, Switzerland, wearing traditional Basel city guard uniforms. Photo: SEBASTIAN WIDMANN / AFP

Binge drinking is on the rise across the country - particularly amongst women - while the use of cocaine and ecstasy in Swiss cities is among the highest in Europe.


The figures, compiled by Addiction Switzerland, also show that while tobacco use has stabilised, the use of tobacco-related products such as e-cigarettes is on the rise - which the authors say may be because these products have been sold as healthier alternatives. 

Other addictions to prescription drugs as well as gambling and the internet are also on the increase, while the Swiss are consuming more and more new psychoactive substances which have been purchased online. 

World leaders in cocaine and ecstasy consumption

Although self-reported use of illicit drugs has been relatively stable in recent years, use of cocaine and ecstasy remains high in Switzerland - particularly in urban areas. 

This is backed up by the Wastewater Analysis Study by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which showed Swiss cities to have some of the highest use of the drugs anywhere in Europe. 

Zurich’s per capita usage was third in Europe, behind only Bristol and Amsterdam, while St Gallen (sixth), Geneva (seventh), Basel (ninth) and Bern (11th) were also high on the list. 

Image: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Alcohol Addiction

For ecstasy usage, Zurich (third), St Gallen (seventh) and Geneva (eighth) were also high up on the list. 

Cannabis consumption has also been on the rise, with four percent of those surveyed admitting to using the drug compared with 2.9 percent in 2012. Addiction Switzerland estimate between 40 and 60 tonnes of cannabis is consumed annually in Switzerland. 

Switzerland also banned 13 new substances in 2019, the majority of which were purchased online and sent into the country.

Women have a growing problem with drinking

On the whole, alcohol consumption is steady in Switzerland. The average annual consumption is 7.7 litres of pure alcohol. 

Image: Sucht Schweiz/Addiction Switzerland

But problematic drinking is on the rise, with the number of young women who get drunk regularly doubling from 12 to 24 percent in 2017. 

Alcohol poisoning is also on the rise, up by 23 percent for men and 36 percent for women (both from figures from 2003). 


Smoking down, tobacco use up

One major finding of the study was that while people in Switzerland are smoking less, the use of tobacco products is on the rise. 

E-cigarettes, tobacco heaters and mouth tobacco (snus) are on the rise, particularly among younger people. 

While Addiction Switzerland argues that these products can help reduce tobacco consumption, there is a danger that people use these products under the impression they are healthier or not addictive. 

Grégoire Vittoz, the director of Addiction Switzerland, said in a statement that it was even more problematic as these products were less regulated: “the increasing variety of products urgently requires control”. 

Newer addictions on the increase: Prescription drugs, gambling and internet usage

Regulation on strong ‘legal’ drugs - i.e. those available via prescription or over the counter - increased across the board in Switzerland. 

Unlike in other countries, Switzerland is comparatively lax when it comes to regulating strong pain killers and sedatives. 

Opioid painkiller usage increased by 18 percent, while almost one in ten said they regularly use sleeping pills or other sedatives. 


The average respondent spends 122 francs per month on online games, while half of those who gamble do so with the Swiss Lotto. Casino revenue increased by three percent on the previous year to reach 703.60 million francs. 

More than half of Swiss (55 percent) played some form of electronic gambling game, while 16.2 percent did so frequently. Three percent of respondents - approximately 192,000 people in Switzerland - did so excessively. 


Image: Sucht Schweiz/Addiction Switzerland

Around four percent of those surveyed had what Addiction Switzerland called “problematic internet usage”, while almost nine in ten respondents used the internet regularly. Young people had the highest usage, averaging four hours a day. 

A version of this article was first published in February, 2020. 


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