Minimum Unit Pricing & Its Effects On Those With Alcohol Dependency

Among those drinking at harmful levels or people with alcohol dependence, a study has found no clear evidence of a change in consumption or severity of dependence after the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing.

Findings also showed that some economically vulnerable groups experienced increased financial strain as the price rises meant they were spending more on alcohol. This led some people who were dependent on alcohol to reduce other expenditure, such as that on food and utilities.

Evaluating the impact of Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland on people who are drinking at harmful levels conducted by The University of Sheffield, the University of Newcastle (Australia) and Figure 8 Consultancy Services has been published on the Public Health Scotland Website.

Professor John Holmes, Professor of Alcohol policy at the University of Sheffield and Director of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group at the University of Sheffield, who led the overall study said:

“We know from previous studies that MUP reduced alcohol sales, including among those who bought the most alcohol before the policy.

“Our study shows that people with alcohol dependence responded to MUP in very different ways. Some reduced their spending on other things but others switched to lower strength drinks or simply bought less alcohol. “

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol was came into force in Scotland in May 2018 and is currently set at £0.50 per unit (pu) of alcohol.

This report looked at how MUP affected people who drink at harmful levels, and particularly people with alcohol dependence.

Helen Chung Patterson, Public Health Intelligence Adviser at Public Health Scotland, said:

“People who drink at harmful levels, and particularly those with alcohol dependence, are a diverse group with complex needs who often experience multiple interacting health and social problems.

“They are therefore unlikely to respond to MUP in one single or simple way. Many are likely to drink low-cost high-strength alcohol affected by MUP and are at greatest risk from their alcohol consumption.

“This population therefore have the potential to benefit the most from MUP but may also continue to experience harms.

“This research further develops our understanding of and insights into this important population and how they have responded to MUP across a broad range of areas. It’s crucial to build the evidence base in this area as part of our overall evaluation of MUP.”

There was little evidence found of other negative consequences in this population following the introduction of MUP, such as increased crime, a shift to the use of illicit substances or acute withdrawal. People with alcohol dependence were also found to have a limited awareness and understanding of MUP and reported receiving little information or support before its introduction.

Universal Credit was rolled out after the introduction of MUP and came into effect during the study period. This meant that some people drinking at harmful levels had to adjust to a switch in the frequency of benefit payments from weekly or fortnightly to monthly intervals, compounding the difficulty of managing household budgets that were already strained by increased spending on alcohol.

Professor John Holmes said:

“It is important that alcohol treatment services and other organisations find ways to support those who do have financial problems, particularly as inflation rises.”

Archived story: Scotland’s Alcohol Minimum Unit Pricing A World First