Original Article

International Journal of Public Health

, Volume 55, Issue 6, pp 645-653

First online:

The epidemiological profile of alcohol and other drug use in metropolitan China

  • Hui ChengAffiliated withDepartment of Epidemiology, Michigan State UniversityPeking University Institute of Mental Health Email author 
  • , Sing LeeAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • , Adley TsangAffiliated withHong Kong Mood Disorders Center, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • , Yueqin HuangAffiliated withPeking University Institute of Mental Health
  • , Zhaorui LiuAffiliated withPeking University Institute of Mental Health
  • , James C. AnthonyAffiliated withDepartment of Epidemiology, Michigan State University
  • , Ronald C. KesslerAffiliated withDepartment of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School

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There is evidence that alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use may be rising in China, but epidemiological studies that examine several drugs simultaneously and the transition from initial try to current use are limited. The present study provides an epidemiological profile of drug use in contemporary metropolitan China.


A multistage probability sampling method was used to select household-dwelling adults in Beijing and Shanghai. Standard face-to-face interviews with 5,201 participants were completed during 2002–2003.


An estimated 70–76% had used any type of drug: alcohol and tobacco were the most commonly used drugs (alcohol, 67%; tobacco, 39%). Regarding extra-medical use of internationally regulated drugs, sedatives and analgesics were most common and illegal drug use was rare. The majority of tobacco users used it recently (82.5%), especially young adults. Male–female differences were observed in lifetime tobacco use, but not for recent use. Concurrent use of alcohol and tobacco was very common.


Psychoactive drug use is common in metropolitan China. Public health policies and prevention initiatives may be needed to address associated problems that may increase following the country’s rapid socioeconomic change.


Substance use Epidemiology China Alcohol Tobacco