Based on research undertaken as part of the EU-funded EPPIC project, this paper aims to update and elaborate on the relationship between drug use and offending behaviours by exploring variations within a cross-national sample of drug-experienced young people in touch with criminal justice systems. Adopting a trajectory-based approach, interviews were undertaken with 198 young people aged 15–25 in six European countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Poland, and UK). Data were analysed by applying the Bennett and Holloway categorization of the drugs-crime link, with a focus on the concept of social exclusion as developed by Seddon. Three main types of mechanisms (economic, pharmaceutical, and lifestyles) are used to interpret the data, showing how the relationship between drugs and offending can vary according to type of substances and over time. Furthermore, it can be associated with very different degrees of social exclusion and needs. The results suggest that while economic inequalities still play key roles in explaining drug use and offending, both behaviours can originate from a state of relative deprivation, resulting from the contradictions inherent in ‘bulimic societies’ that raise aspirations and desires while providing young people scarce opportunities for self-realisation and social recognition.