Alcohol/drug problem numbers in Scotland: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Information requested

You asked for information on the number of people who have got an alcohol problem in Scotland and the number of people who have got a drug problem in Scotland, with data covering the 5 years up to 2017-18.


The answer to your question is that estimating the prevalence of those with alcohol or drug problems is challenging, specifically around defining what a “problem” drinker/drug user is. Concepts such as “alcohol/drug dependent”, “addiction” and “problematic” are subjective terms with different interpretations. In addition, population-level surveys are known to underreport the levels of alcohol and drugs consumed and under represent people with problematic alcohol and drug use.

The most recent estimate for problem drug use was published in March 2019. It estimates the number of individuals with problem drug use in Scotland was in the range 55,800 to 58,900 during 2015/16. This represents an estimated prevalence rate of approximately 1.62%.

The previous estimate for problem drug use was published in March 2016 and estimated that (during 2012/13) there were 61,500 individuals aged between 15-64, who were engaged in problematic use of opiates and/or benzodiazepines in Scotland.

The latest national (problem drug) prevalence rate for 2015/16 is lower than was observed for 2012/13. However, due to some changes to the data included for the 2015/16 study and the margin of uncertainty that surrounds the statistical models and assumptions, it is not possible to conclude that a real reduction has occurred.

In November 2018 the Scottish Government published Rights Respect and Recovery (RRR), Scotland's strategy to improve health by preventing and reducing alcohol and drug use, harm and related deaths.

The full document is available at:

Rights Respect and Recovery states 'It is a challenge to reliably estimate the size and scale of problematic alcohol and drug use. “… is estimated that around 4% of the adult population have possible alcohol dependency. This means that it is likely that we all have someone in our life who has experienced these challenges'

The full drug prevalence report is available at

Reports from previous drug prevalence studies (2009/10 and 2012/13) are available on the Drugs and Alcohol Misuse Publications page of the ISD website

The alcohol estimate is based on data from the Scottish Household Survey including sensitivity analysis to account for non-response bias of harmful/dependent drinkers and under reporting of alcohol consumption in population surveys. The estimate is based on previous analysis by Clark and Simpson (2014), Available at

The full alcohol chapter of the Scottish health Survey is available at the following link,

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Central Enquiry Unit
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The Scottish Government
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