Alcohol availability and licensing

Alcohol has become more widely available and from a greater variety of places than ever before. It can now be bought in places like cinemas and sports clubs, and even petrol stations and hairdressers. In Scotland, there are more than 16,560 places to buy alcohol.

Availability not only refers to the number of places you can buy alcohol, but the times at which it can be sold, how far you need to travel to get it, and the shelf space dedicated to it. With the expansion of online sales and deliveries, alcohol is likely more available to people in Scotland than ever before.

The more available alcohol is, the more people will drink, and the more problems we experience.

In Scotland, neighbourhoods with the highest numbers of places to buy alcohol have much higher rates of alcohol-related health harm and crime. In fact, alcohol-related death rates in neighbourhoods with the most alcohol outlets are double those in areas with the least, with crime rates four times higher.

The availability of alcohol is mainly controlled via alcohol licensing.


About licensing 

Alcohol licensing is the system for allowing the sale of alcohol in Scotland. As alcohol can cause a range of health and social problems, places that sell alcohol, like supermarkets, pubs, and restaurants, must be licensed. The people who manage the sale of alcohol in licensed premises must also have a personal licence.

There are 40 licensing boards across Scotland that decide where and when alcohol can be sold in their local area. Only elected councillors can be members of a licensing board. There are also five licensing objectives, set out in law, that underpin the licensing system. These are:

  • Preventing crime and disorder
  • Securing public safety
  • Preventing public nuisance
  • Protecting and improving public health
  • Protecting children and young persons from harm


Alcohol availability and harm in Scotland

Alcohol Focus Scotland has developed local profiles demonstrating the availability of alcohol within Scotland’s 32 local authorities – and the harms caused.


What is Alcohol Focus Scotland campaigning for?

  • The Scottish Government to review and improve public participation and accountability in the licensing system to ensure it better meets the needs of local communities.
  • The Scottish Government to review the availability and accuracy of data to inform decisions about licensing.


What action can you take?

There are a number of things you can do if you have concerns about alcohol in your community or would like to get involved with alcohol licensing in your area. You can find out more about them in our licensing guide for communities.


Find out more

The figures

Average units of alcohol a week drunk by men in Scotland