Alcohol consumption in Scotland

Information on Scottish adult drinking behaviour can be found in the Scottish Health Survey.

The Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) Monitoring Reports provide information on alcohol retail sales data, which gives an estimate of population-level alcohol consumption in Scotland.

Consumption before the pandemic

Summary of Scottish Health Survey findings:

  • In 2019, prevalence of hazardous, harmful or possibly dependent drinking behaviour (AUDIT scores of 8+) was higher for men than for women
  • In 2019, the highest proportion of adult non-drinkers was in the most deprived areas and the lowest was in the least deprived areas
  • Since 2003, the mean number of units consumed per week among both men and women has decreased, with 2019's mean the lowest in the time series for men
  • The mean number of units of alcohol consumed per week by adults has decreased over the time series to its lowest so far in 2019 (although not significantly different from 2018)
  • The highest prevalence of hazardous or harmful drinking for men was among those aged 55–64 and for women among those aged 45–54
  • Following a significant decrease in prevalence of hazardous or harmful drinking between 2003 and 2013, prevalence for all adults has remained relatively stable. In 2019, the average for all adults was 17% (23% for men and 11% for women)
  • Among all children in 2017/2019 combined:
    • 17% were living with at least one parent who exhibited hazardous, harmful drinking behaviour or had a possible alcohol dependence (AUDIT score of 8+)
    • 2% of these were living with at least one parent who exhibited harmful drinking behaviour or who had a possible alcohol dependence (AUDIT score of 16+)
    • 83% did not live in a household with a parent who exhibited hazardous, harmful drinking behaviour or who had a possible alcohol dependence

Read the Scottish Health Survey 2019: summary report (see Chapter 4)

Read the Scottish Health Survey 2019 - volume 1: main report (see Chapter 4)

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In 2019, 9.9 litres of pure alcohol were sold per adult in Scotland, equivalent to 19.1 units per adult per week. This represents enough alcohol for every adult to substantially (by 36%) exceed the low risk weekly drinking guideline (of 14 units for men and women).

9.9 litres of pure alcohol per adult represents a 3% decrease from 2017 (10.2 litres) and is the lowest level seen in Scotland since 1994.

Read the MESAS Monitoring Report 2020

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Consumption during the pandemic

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the 2020 Scottish Health Survey was conducted by telephone between 5 August and 23 September 2020. Therefore there is limited information on drinking habits throughout the pandemic (the remainder of 2020, and 2021). Summary of Scottish Health Survey findings:

  • The proportion of adults who consumed alcohol on more than 5 days in the week prior to being interviewed increased with age. A similar pattern was also evident for the mean number of days on which alcohol was consumed over the past week
  • The proportion of men who drank more than 8 units on their heaviest drinking day (19%) was higher than the proportion of women who drank more than 6 units (11%)
  • Significant proportions of people reported changes to their drinking habits between the start of lockdown (23 March 2020) and the date of the interview (August/September 2020):
    • 24% said they increased the number of days on which they drank alcohol (17% said they decreased, meaning 59% said they stayed the same)
    • 12% said they increased the overall amount of alcohol they consumed (18% said they reduced consumption; 71% said they consumed the same amount)
  • Amongst people that drink, younger adults were more likely to report an increase in the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumed since the beginning of lockdown
  • Adults who drink alcohol who had been advised to shield were less likely to report an increase in the number of days on which they drank alcohol since the beginning of lockdown

Read the Scottish Health Survey – telephone survey – August/September 2020: main report (see Chapter 6)

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In 2020, population-level alcohol consumption in Scotland – estimated from alcohol retail sales – fell to its lowest level in the available time series (1994 onwards). 9.4 litres of pure alcohol were sold per adult, equivalent to an average consumption of 18 units per adult per week, which still substantially exceeds the low risk weekly drinking guideline of 14 units for men and women.

Read the MESAS Monitoring Report 2021

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