Higher risk alcohol use and problematic drug use are significant issues in Scotland, causing damage to people’s lives, families and communities, and contributing to violence and crime.

We are committed to preventing and reducing alcohol and drugs harm in Scotland, and also to ensuring high quality, effective interventions, treatment and support services are available when required.  


 We are preventing and reducing both alcohol and drug-related harm by:

We have also: 


Scotland has a troubled relationship with both alcohol and drug use. Since the 1980s, we have seen substantially increased alcohol consumption, and consequently, high levels of alcohol-related harm. We also remain extremely concerned by the continued rise in drug-related harm and are fully committed to tackling this complex problem.

In 2018, Scots bought enough alcohol for adults to drink 19 units of alcohol per week. That is equivalent to nearly 40 bottles of vodka or around 100 bottles of wine in one year. It means that, on average, every adult in Scotland is drinking 36% more than the UK-wide lower-risk guidelines of 14 units per week. The number of people using illegal drugs is difficult to estimate however, the last study of the prevalence of problem drug use in Scotland during 2015-2016 found that it was in the range of 55,800 to 58,900. Problem drug use is defined as the problematic use of opioids (including illicit and prescribed methadone use), and/or the illicit use of benzodiazepines. It also implies routine and prolonged use as opposed to recreational and occasional use.

On average, higher-risk drinking causes around 686 hospital admissions and 22 deaths a week. In total, there were over 1,136 alcohol-specific deaths and 1,187 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2018. Three quarters of the people suffering a drug-related death were over 35 years old, demonstrating a clear trend of an ageing population for which drug use has become more harmful over time.

Alcohol and drug-related harms affect some sections of our population far more severely than others. Alcohol-specific deaths are nearly seven times higher in the most deprived decile compared to the least deprived decile whilst hospital admissions are eight times higher. The disease burden of drug use disorders is seventeen times higher in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived, whilst 54% of drug-related hospital admissions were patients living in the 20% most deprived areas.

We believe that everyone has the right to live free from the harms of alcohol and drugs and that those who need help should be fully supported with their individual recovery journey

Alcohol policy progress

In November 2018, the United Nations recognised the Scottish Government’s  contribution towards tackling non-communicable diseases with a UN Interagency Task Force Award for its work on minimum unit pricing (MUP). In 2016, Scotland was also awarded the inaugural European Reducing Alcohol Harm Award at the 7th European Alcohol Policy conference in Slovenia.

We continue to put the three World Health Organization best buys, reducing the three As – affordability, availability and attractiveness – at the heart of our bold approach.

Our new Alcohol Framework was published in November 2018 and contains 20 policy actions to tackle Scotland's alcohol-related harm, including:

  • consulting on potential restrictions to alcohol marketing to protect children and young people
  • reviewing the 50 pence minimum unit price from May 2020
  • pressing the alcohol industry to provide useful health information on alcohol product labels by September 2019

NHS Health Scotland recently published the Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) Monitoring Report 2019.  This is the first release of robust data indicating the effectiveness of MUP. The data shows a 3% decrease in the volume of pure alcohol sold per adult in Scotland. This is the lowest level of consumption per adult since current records began in 1994.

Count 14

In 2019 we launched our Count 14 campaign to raise awareness of the UK Chief Medical Officers' Low Risk Drinking Guidelines, and what 14 units mean in terms of specific alcoholic drinks. We developed a range of tools, including a drinks calculator, to help you add up your weekly units. These tools have been designed to make it easy to work out how many units you are drinking.   

Working with the alcohol industry

We will work with the alcohol industry on projects which can impact meaningfully on reducing alcohol harm; but not on health policy development, on health messaging campaigns or on provision of education in schools and beyond the school setting.

Alcohol and drug treatment

Our combined alcohol and drugs treatment strategy was published in November 2018 and is backed by £20 million a year committed through our 2017 to 2018 Programme for Government. It will help ensure alcohol and drug treatment services reach people who are currently not receiving the treatment they need, with a greater focus on responding to individual needs. The strategy focusses on:

  • prevention and early intervention
  • developing recovery oriented systems of care
  • getting it right for children, young people and families
  • taking a public health approach to justice


More information on the health risks of alcohol, lower-risk alcohol guidelines and tips on cutting down can be found on NHS Inform. 

NHS information on treatment for drug addiction is available on the NHS website

You can find more information on alcohol on the Alcohol Focus Scotland website including a directory of local treatment services. 

If you require immediate help on an alcohol-related issue please contact the Drinkline Helpline 0333 230 9472  (8am-11pm daily).

For free, confidential drugs information and advice from 8 am to 11 pm, 7-days a week, call the Know the Score helpline on 0800 587 5879

Bills and legislation

The classification and control of ‘controlled drugs’ in the United Kingdom is reserved to the UK Government.

The Alcohol (Minimum Price per Unit) (Scotland) Order 2018  came into force on 1 May 2018. The Order specifies the minimum price per unit for alcohol (50 pence).

The Alcohol Minimum Pricing Scotland Act 2012 was passed in June 2012 and paved the way for the introduction of a preferred minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol. 

The Alcohol (Scotland) Act 2010 put into law a ban on multi-buy discounts such as ‘three for two’ or ‘25 per cent off when you buy six’.

The main piece of legislation that controls the sale of alcohol is the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005.


Email: Central Enquiries Unit ceu@gov.scot

Alcohol and Drugs Team
Scottish Government
3E, St Andrews House
Regent Road

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