Aim To compare alcohol purchasing and consumption by ill drinkers in Edinburgh with wider alcohol sales in Scotland.
Setting Two hospitals in Edinburgh in 2008/09.
Participants A total of 377 patients with serious alcohol problems; two-thirds were in-patients with medical, surgical or psychiatric problems due to alcohol; one-third were out-patients.
Measurements Last week's or typical weekly consumption of alcohol: type, brand, units (1 UK unit 8 g ethanol), purchase place and price.
Findings Patients consumed mean 197.7 UK units/week. The mean price paid per unit was £0.43 (lowest £0.09/unit) (£1 = 1.6 US$ or 1.2€), which is below the mean unit price, £0.71 paid in Scotland in 2008. Of units consumed, 70.3% were sold at or below £0.40/unit (mid-range of price models proposed for minimum pricing legislation by the Scottish Government), and 83% at or below £0.50/unit proposed by the Chief Medical Officer of England. The lower the price paid per unit, the more units a patient consumed. A continuous increase in unit price from lower to higher social status, ranked according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (based on postcode), was not seen; patients residing in postcodes in the mid-quintile paid the highest price per unit. Cheapness was quoted commonly as a reason for beverage choice; ciders, especially ‘white’ cider, and vodka were, at off-sales, cheapest per unit. Stealing alcohol or drinking alcohol substitutes was only very rarely reported.
Conclusions Because patients with serious alcohol problems tend to purchase very cheap alcohol, elimination of the cheapest sales by minimum price or other legislation might reduce their consumption. It is unknown whether proposed price legislation in Scotland will encourage patients with serious alcohol problems to start stealing alcohol or drinking substitutes or will reduce the recruitment of new drinkers with serious alcohol problems and produce predicted longer-term gains in health and social wellbeing.