Page last updated at 00:28 GMT, Sunday, 1 November 2009

Heavy drinkers seek out bargains

Beer for sale in a supermarket
The heaviest drinkers in Scotland pay less for their drink than other people

A study of heavy drinkers consuming hundreds of units of alcohol a week found they were buying cheaper drink than most other people.

One study author said it was "likely" a minimum price for alcohol, as proposed by the Scottish government, would cut these problem drinkers' consumption.

A total of 377 people were interviewed as part of the research.

Respondents paid an average of 43 pence per unit of alcohol - less than the Scottish average of 72 pence.

The research, carried out by experts from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, found that the lower the price paid for alcohol, the more they consumed.

The people questioned - who are all undergoing treatment for alcohol problems - drank an average of 198 units of alcohol in a typical week, but some were drinking two or three times that amount.

'Immediate reduction'

The drinkers also bought most of their alcohol from off-sales, where they paid an average of 34 pence per unit - which is lower than the 40 pence average price paid per unit of alcohol in off-sales in 2007.

White cider is the beverage to which our patients appear to have particularly cheap access, along with whisky
Research report

And 70% of the alcohol drunk by patients in the study had been sold at or below a price of 40 pence a unit.

The study found that vodka was the most popular drink among the group of patients, but it also noted: "White cider is the beverage to which our patients appear to have particularly cheap access, along with whisky."

Dr Jonathan Chick, of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, is one of the report's authors.

He said: "Because the average unit price paid by these chronically-ill patients was considerably lower than the rest of the Scottish population, it is likely that eliminating the cheapest alcohol sales by minimum pricing will result in reduced overall consumption by this group of drinkers with a fairly immediate reduction in serious alcohol-related illnesses in our community."

'Important contribution'

He also pointed out information on how much people drink usually comes from surveys, but added those who drank the most did not usually take part in these.

And he said that meant this research provided "important information on how price changes might affect those most affected by alcohol".

Dr Bruce Ritson, chairman of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), said the new research "makes an important contribution to the debate and adds to the evidence base on the likely health benefits of minimum pricing".

Last month a study by Sheffield University academics suggested hundreds of lives could be saved every year with minimum pricing, which may also reduce crime and alcohol-related illnesses.

The study, which was commissioned by the Scottish government, said that over 10 years £950m could be saved in health spending, criminal justice and employment if a 40 pence per unit minimum price was implemented.



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'I will have one, or maybe two pints'
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22 Feb 09 |  Scotland

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