New research exploring the links between alcohol availability and harm in Scotland

Alcohol Focus Scotland has worked with the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH) at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, to provide further evidence of the links between alcohol availability and harm in Scotland. 

Previous research carried out by CRESH in 2014 found a positive relationship between alcohol availability and harm across Scotland.  An updated analysis was published in April 2018; profiles containing the updated findings, at both a national and individual local authority level, can be accessed via the links below.  Detailed local information on availaiblity at neighbourhood level can be found using the CRESH WebMap.

How was the research conducted?

Information was gathered on the number of places selling alcohol, health harms and crime rates within neighbourhoods across the whole of Scotland and for each local authority area. Researchers compared data zones (small areas representing neighbourhoods that have between 500 and 1000 residents) to see if there was a relationship between the number of alcohol outlets in a neighbourhood and the rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalisations.  The profiles also consider, for the first time, the relationships between alcohol outlet availability and crime and deprivation rates.

What did the research find?

Across the whole of Scotland, neighbourhoods with the highest alcohol outlet availability had significantly higher rates of alcohol-related health harm and crime.

  • Alcohol-related death rates in neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets were double those in neighbourhoods with the least.
  • Alcohol-related hospitalisation rates in neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets were almost double those in neighbourhoods with the least.
  • Crime rates were more than four times higher in neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets as compared to the least.
  • Alcohol outlet availability was found to be related to health and crime outcomes for both on-sales and off-sales premises, and in both urban and rural local authorities.
  • The relationships between availability and harm were found even when other factors were discounted (such as age and sex of the population, levels of income deprivation or urban/rural status).
  • There were 40% more alcohol outlets in the most deprived neighbourhoods than in the least deprived neighbourhoods.
  • From 2012 to 2016, the total number of alcohol outlets in Scotland increased by 472 to 16,629 (11,522 on-sales outlets and 5,107 off-sales outlets).  This increase was driven by an increase in off-sales outlets.

The profiles are available for download from Alcohol Focus Scotland’s website.

Alcohol Brief Interventions In Primary Care

Two new reports emphasise important role of primary care in reducing alcohol-related harms in Scotland. 

The reports were launched at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh on 22 June 2017 and the research was carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling and the University of Newcastle. They highlight the important role that GPs have in raising the issue of alcohol use in GP consultations.

You can access the full reports by clicking on the titles below:

‘Practice and attitudes of General Practitioners in the delivery of Alcohol Brief Interventions in Scotland’

‘Financial incentives for Alcohol Brief Interventions in Primary Care in Scotland’ 

The reports precede the imminent publication of the Scottish Government’s ‘refresh’ of its 2009 strategy, Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol: A Framework for Action. Scotland continues to have the highest level of alcohol consumption and harm in the UK. One million Scots drink above the recommended guidelines, and 22 Scots die because of alcohol every single week – twice the rate of the 1980s.

Professor Aisha Holloway, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Delivering Alcohol Brief Interventions (ABIs) is not just about the operational mechanisms associated with the national ABI programme i.e. funding, training and IT systems. It is also about GPs having the time to provide person-centred care to understand the complexities of external social and personal issues that people are facing that can trigger harmful/hazardous consumption.”

Dr Niamh Fitzgerald, Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling said:

“Whilst Scotland’s national programme of Alcohol Brief Interventions is amongst the most extensive of any country, it has contributed little in terms of research on how best to incentivise practitioners to talk to patients about alcohol. As Scotland rolls out its new national strategy, there is also an opportunity for Scotland to lead not only in terms of practice, but in developing globally innovative research on how to optimise such conversations to benefit patients.”

Dr Peter Rice, Chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), who funded both investigations, said:

“SHAAP has advocated for Alcohol Brief Interventions (ABIs) since our foundation in 2006 and Scotland has been a world leader in the implementation of ABIs. ABIs are strongly supported by the World Health Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) as a key tool in reducing alcohol related harm.  It is vital that, as it refreshes its Alcohol Strategy, the Scottish Government draws on important sources of data, such as these two new reports, to understand how to enhance and develop the national ABI programme, for the benefit of patients.”

Dr Richard Watson, who represents the Royal College of General Practitioners on SHAAP’s Steering Group, and who works in a busy GP practice in Cambuslang, said:

“GPs in Scotland see patients with hazardous drinking not just every working day but every working hour. Both reports show in different ways that brief interventions can and should be delivered in primary care.  I hope that when the new GP contract is finalised, it finds a place for them.”

The information has been issued by the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), Institute for Social Marketing – University of Stirling, University of Newcastle, and University of Edinburgh.

15 June 2017: New Minimum Unit Pricing Evaluation Webpage

***Thank you to Clare Beeston & the MESAS Project Team for the following information***

As many of you will already know, In 2012, the Scottish Government passed the Alcohol (Minimum Unit Pricing) (Scotland) 2012 Act (the Act) to create a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol. The legislation contains what is known as a ‘sunset clause’. This means that it will expire after the sixth year of implementation unless the Scottish Parliament votes for it to continue. To inform this decision there is a ‘review clause’ requiring that the Minister presents a review report to parliament on the impact of MUP as soon as possible after the fifth year of implementation.

The Scottish Government has tasked NHS Health Scotland, under the Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) work programme, with leading the evaluation of MUP and producing the review report.

The MUP legislation has been subject to a legal challenge led by the Scotch Whisky Association in partnership with European wine and spirits producers. However, the judicial process is now nearing its close, with an appeal to the UK Supreme Court being heard in July 2017. While the outcome cannot be presumed, in order that a robust and comprehensive evaluation be completed, the MESAS team have developed a proposed portfolio of studies with which to evaluate the impact of MUP.

An overview of the plans to evaluate MUP (including details on the governance of these plans) is now available to view on the new MUP evaluation webpage at:



New Video from Glasgow Caledonian’s Substance Use and Misuse Team

The Substance Use and Misuse Research Group at Glasgow Caledonian University has recently released a video to highlight some of  the current research interests of the group.

The research group, led by Dr. Carol Emslie, aims to understand the social context of substance use and develop interventions to reduce harm. Areas of interest include but are not limited to: gender and alcohol consumption across the lifecourse, alcohol-related violence, smoking cessation, substance dependence and stigma, exploring and reducing inequalities in substance use, and substance use, media and subculture.

If you would like further information about the research being undertaken by members of the Substance Use and Misuse group please have a look at their website and/or twitter feed. Alternatively, you can contact

University College London Release APP to Reduce Alcohol Consumption

University College London have released an APP to help Iphone users curb their alcohol consumption. The Drink Less APP allows people to keep track of how much they drink, set goals to drink less, get feedback, and access unique and fun ways of changing attitudes towards alcohol.

The APP allows you to:
– Keep track of your drinking and see how it changes over time
– Set goals for the targets that matter to you and get feedback on your progress towards them
– Complete a daily mood diary so you can better understand the effects of your hangover
– Play games designed to strengthen your resolve to drink less alcohol
– Create plans for dealing with situations when you may be tempted to drink excessively
– Take part in exercises designed to change your relationship with alcohol

The Drink Less APP has been created by a team of psychologists at University College London who are researching what techniques help people reduce their consumption of alcohol. The app can be used fully without taking part in their study and there is an option to opt-out of it at any time.

If you are 18> and have access to an Iphone then please consider downloading the APP. Participation will help the researchers to understand what works to reduce alcohol consumption.

You can get more information or download the APP here.