Research into the perceptions of service providers and service users on the potential consequences of introducing a minimum price for alcohol.

Potential for switching substances

For the majority of drinkers, the only switching or change in use is likely to be alcohol related and largely an adaptation of existing behaviour. It was felt that for many drinkers, alcohol is a clear drug of choice and crossing over to drugs, and especially towards the margins of legal/illegal activity, was just not an option.

There was a suggestion that switching between substances would be more likely to occur amongst certain groups. Street drinkers and those with prior experience of drug use were most commonly mentioned.   

If switching away from alcohol was to occur, it was predicted that this would most likely be to prescription medications. Only a few suggested a switch to cocaine or opiate use.

Awareness and understanding of minimum pricing for alcohol

Few respondents in the study had a detailed, concrete and accurate understanding of minimum pricing. Associated with this were three overt attitudes:

  • that the principle of doing something about the availability and harm of alcohol was ‘a good thing’ and was indicative of the beginning of a ‘cultural shift’ in thinking about alcohol
  • that the introduction of a Minimum Unit Price of 50p (the Welsh Government’s preferred level) would make very little overall difference to most people’s drinking
  • that the group of individuals it would affect the most are potentially the most vulnerable. 

Coping with the implementation of minimum pricing

For low-medium risk drinkers, the general feeling was that any increase in expenditure would be absorbed into existing budgets. However, a different scenario was anticipated for ‘high risk/addiction likely’ drinkers, and a range of potential coping mechanisms were predicted. There was some concern that many of these strategies could result in negative consequences for drinkers and the wider communities in which they live.

It is important to note, however, that these somewhat negative predictions may well not materialise once the legislation is implemented. Previous research in countries where the price of alcohol was increased has found that some of the suggested harmful coping strategies are relatively uncommon.

Conclusions

It is important to note that the purpose of this study was to focus largely on the views of drinkers engaged in services and staff providing support to them. The findings clearly reflect the context of those asked.

It should also be highlighted that much of the data collected are views about what might happen once the minimum price for alcohol is introduced in Wales. As such, the report suggests possible rather than actual future scenarios after the minimum price implementation.

Reports

Research into the potential for substance switching following the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol
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Research into the potential for substance switching following the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol: summary
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