Miniumum unit pricing: new research on individual factors affecting people's alcohol use

Lucy Holmes | January 2021 | 8 minutes

In this blog, we consider the findings of an important new piece of research from the University of Glasgow looking at the effects of Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland on people’s behaviour.

The report helps us to understand the ways in which Minimum Unit Pricing acts on individuals and suggests possible further interventions that may be needed to support those who drink at harmful levels.


Minimum Unit Price (MUP) is a policy, enacted by governments in Scotland, Wales and around the world, that ensures that alcohol cannot be sold very cheaply. MUP sets a price floor, below which alcohol cannot be sold. In Scotland and Wales, alcohol now cannot be sold for less than 50p per unit of alcohol – that’s approximately £1.50 for a pint of regular strength lager, £1 for a single serving of gin or whisky, and at least £5 for most bottles of wine. Alcohol Change UK researched the price of drinks on sale in Wales after MUP was introduced and, while we found that it had no effect on the price of drinks sold in pubs, it has changed what’s on offer in shops and supermarkets.

It was introduced by the Scottish Government and came into effect in May 2018 and a wide-ranging programme of evaluation research is monitoring its impact. The Scottish Parliament will review the policy at the end of five years (in 2023-24) to decide whether it should continue. The evaluation will aim to discover whether MUP in Scotland contributes to reducing alcohol’s health and social harms, and whether some people and businesses are more affected (either positively or negatively) than others.

Alcohol Change UK is pleased to have supported this evaluation by funding new research into the individual-level factors that affect people’s decisions about alcohol use, and help-seeking, since MUP was introduced.


This study has focussed on behaviour changes among 25 individual current and former heavy drinkers, by repeatedly measuring the same set of factors over three months. The team included peer researchers (people affected by alcohol dependence) from the start, both to ensure the quality of the research and to amplify their voices of experience.

Participants completed daily questionnaires using a smartphone, then they were interviewed by a researcher, and some took part in a photographic element. The questionnaire asked questions like ‘how much did money influence the amount you drank’ and ‘how much did money affect the type of alcohol you drank?’. Once all the daily questionnaires were complete, researchers conducted face-to-face interviews where they invited participants to reflect on their drinking and how well supported they felt by the people around them.

Looking across all participants, the researchers found a slight trend of lower alcohol consumption after MUP. Some individuals reported no change while others reported a larger drop in consumption, although there is a bigger pattern of day-to-day variability. The factors that affected each individual’s drinking varied a great deal, as did factors relating to the participants’ wellbeing. For some, their own effort was associated with lower drinking: other factors that affected drinking included level of temptation, situational availability of alcohol, mood and motivation.

The study asked whether MUP influences some people’s drinking more than others. The researchers found that there may be some groups of alcohol-dependent people who may be less affected by MUP at its current 50 pence level. In particular, they found that those with fewer coping strategies might put themselves in debt or financial strain to obtain alcohol, while people with better coping strategies may use the increase in price as a motivating tool to help them make positive changes.

The study team recommend that further research should take place, using similar methodologies, to explore further how mood, motivation, availability or other factors affect how individuals respond differently to MUP.

Read the report

Further reading

Further analysis and the study data can be found at the public project repository at OSF, Alcohol Minimum Unit Price N of 1 study.


Kwasnicka, D., Boroujerdi, M., O’Gorman, A., Anderson, M., Craig, P., Bowman, L. and McCann, M. (2020) ‘An N-of-1 study of daily alcohol consumption following Minimum Unit Pricing implementation in Scotland’ in Addiction, doi: 10.1111/add.15382