Statistics from the Northern Ireland Substance Misuse Database: 2022/23

Date published: 31 January 2024

The Department of Health today published “Statistics from the Northern Ireland Substance Misuse Database: 2022/23 (Official statistics in development)” report and accompanying statistical tables.

The report summarises information on people presenting to services with problem drug and/ or alcohol misuse and relates to the 12-month period ending 31 March 2023.

The statistics in this report are Official statistics in development (previously called Experimental statistics); these are statistics that are published in order to involve users and stakeholders in their development and as a means to improve quality. Further detail can be found in the notes at the end of this press release.

Key Findings

  • in Northern Ireland in 2022/23, a total of 2,960 clients were recorded on the Substance Misuse Database as having presented to services for problem substance misuse.
  • around two-fifths of clients presented to services indicating alcohol misuse only (38.6%, 1,142); over one-third of clients presented to services indicating problem drug use only (34.9%, 1,033); 26.5% of clients presented to services indicating both drug and alcohol misuse (785 clients).
  • the majority of clients were male. Over a quarter of clients presenting to treatment for drugs only (29.7%) and just under a quarter for drugs & alcohol (22.8%) were female. However, around two-fifths of clients presenting to treatment for problem alcohol use only were female (42.5%).
  • around two-fifths of clients presenting to treatment were aged 26-39 years for both drug misuse only (40.2%), and for drug & alcohol misuse (44.5%); however, clients accessing services for misuse of alcohol only tended to be in older age-groups with two-thirds (67.5%) being 40 years and over.
  • cannabis was the most commonly used drug with just under three-fifths of clients who use drugs reporting taking it (57.8%), this was followed by Cocaine (46.4%); Benzodiazepines (16.9%) and Pregabalin (14.1%).
  • around one in ten drug use clients reported ever having injected (10.8%).
  • of those clients presenting to services for drug misuse, almost three-fifths indicated daily use (56.2%); of those clients attending for problem alcohol use, over two-fifths (43.5%) indicated daily consumption of alcohol.


Notes to editors: 

1. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions resulted in some disruption to services during 2020/21 and 2021/22. This should be taken into consideration when making comparisons across years. Additionally, it should be noted that due to changes in service delivery following Covid-19 restrictions, it was not possible to obtain the majority of Substance Misuse Database records for those accessing treatment within HM Prison services. This situation continues. For this reason, records for those accessing drug and alcohol services within HM Prisons have not been included in this report, and similarly, they have not been included in the statistics for previous years to allow for appropriate comparisons. Hence, the figures for previous years in the accompanying statistical tables will not match those previously published. It is hoped that we will be in a position to resume including information on people presenting for treatment in prison in future reports.

2. This bulletin summarises information on people presenting to services with problem drug and/ or alcohol misuse and relates to the 12-month period ending 31 March 2023. This is the fifth bulletin reporting on information collected through the Northern Ireland Substance Misuse Database (SMD), the previous reports covered the 2021/22, 2020/21, 2019/20 and 2016/17 time periods. Statistics covering 2017/18 and 2018/19 were not published due to concerns that information returns received by the Department of Health were not sufficiently comprehensive and that coverage was not at a level suitable for publication.

3. During this time period the Department has continued to liaise with service providers to improve the quality and coverage of the information. This process is still ongoing and the release of 2022/23 information as Official statistics in development allows users and stakeholders to be involved in the development of this statistical series. Feedback is welcome and will be utilised to improve the quality and value of the statistics in line with user requirements; any comments should be sent to

4. The Substance Misuse Database is an online data collection system that captures information on people presenting to services for treatment with problem drug and/or alcohol use. Both statutory and non-statutory organisations contribute to the database on a voluntary basis.

5. An entry in the Substance Misuse Database is completed for every client who presents at a service with a drug and / or alcohol related problem for treatment.  Only those clients attending for the very first time or those who have not attended for treatment within the previous six months are recorded on the SMD.  This means that a small number of clients may be recorded twice on the SMD within one year.  This amounted to 5 clients in 2022/23.

6. Due to the ongoing development work on these statistics, care should be taken when making comparisons between this and previous statistical releases, and when considering the implications of the data presented in an historical context.

7. It should be noted that findings in this report may differ from those presented in other reports due to the discretionary engagement of individual services in SMD collection.

8. This publication is available online our website.

9. Additional information is available from:

Public Health Information and Research Branch
Information Analysis Directorate
Department of Health
Annex 2, Castle Buildings
Belfast BT4 3SQ
Telephone:          028 9052 2340

10. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by e-mail:

11. Follow us on X  @healthdpt and LinkedIn Department of Health NI | LinkedIn

12. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours’ service for Media Enquiries Only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The Duty Press Officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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