Reducing harm caused by alcohol

Controlling availability

Controlling the availability of alcohol is vital to reducing the harm it causes to individuals and society.

The licensing system exists because there is a consensus in society that alcohol isn't an ordinary commodity. Although widely consumed and enjoyed by many, alcohol is a substance which causes a great deal of harm to health and society.

To limit the risk of harm, local licensing boards regulate who can sell alcohol, where it can be sold, the conditions of sale, the hours and days of sale, and the number of outlets permitted to sell alcohol.

In Scotland, the steady relaxation of licensing law and practice has led to alcohol being more widely available than ever before. We now have more and bigger capacity premises open for longer and selling more alcohol. There has been a shift towards drinking at home, with 74% of alcohol now sold in shops and supermarkets.

This greater availability of alcohol has been associated with a substantial rise in alcohol consumption and harm.

Licensing boards

Licensing boards have to develop a policy statement which sets out the approach they will take when considering applications for licences. This includes how they will promote the 5 licensing objectives:

  • preventing crime and disorder
  • securing public safety
  • preventing public nuisance
  • protecting and improving public health
  • protecting children from harm

As part of their policy statement, licensing boards also have to assess whether there is 'overprovision' of licensed premises in their area. This assessment includes the number of premises, capacity of premises, type of premises and size of display areas.

If there is overprovision, this means there is a presumption against granting any new licences to sell alcohol in that area. Areas that have found overprovision to some extent include Edinburgh, Dundee and West Dunbartonshire.

Local licensing forums

If you're concerned about the impact of alcohol in your community, why not find out more about your local licensing forum? Every Council in Scotland has established a forum to review how licensing is operating in their area, make recommendations to the licensing board, and link the people affected by licensing decisions with the decision makers. Details will be on your local Council's website.

Alcohol outlet density and harm research

Alcohol Focus Scotland commissioned CRESH at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow to investigate whether alcohol-related illnesses and deaths across Scotland were related to the local availability of alcohol outlets.

The research showed that across Scotland, alcohol-related hospital stays and deaths were higher in areas with higher alcohol outlet availability.

We also wanted to find out what the relationship was like between alcohol outlet availability and harm at local level. The Scotland report and local factsheets are available in the resources section.

Regional licensing events 2016

In September 2016, Alcohol Focus Scotland held a series of regional events to share learning around licensing policy and practice.

In 2012 we came together at regional licensing events to discuss how the alcohol licensing system in Scotland could be improved.  Four years on, have the recommendations made during those discussions been realised? 

As we look ahead to newly constituted licensing boards with a fresh round of Statements of Licensing Policy in 2017/18, we invited colleagues to these free events to explore the experience and learning gained over the past four years and to identify areas of ongoing challenge.


The Glasgow event took place on Thursday 8 September in Renfield St Stephen's.

Glasgow delegate workbook

Glasgow event summary


The Aberdeen event took place on Thursday 15 September in Aberdeen Maritime Museum.

Aberdeen delegate workbook

Aberdeen event summary


The Dundee event took place on Tuesday 20 September at Tayside Deaf Hub.

Dundee delegate workbook

Dundee event summary


The Edinburgh event took place on Tuesday 27 September at Grassmarket Community Project.

Edinburgh delegate workbook

Edinburgh event summary