SOCIETY LECTURE 2012: Alcohol Policy and its implementation in Scotland within an historical perspective

First published: 29 March 2019 | Last updated: 21 May 2019


Dr Bruce Ritson

Bruce Ritson. MD. FRCPsych. FRCP (Ed). Medical and post-graduate training at Edinburgh and Harvard.

Honorary Fellow Edinburgh University. Formerly Consultant and Senior Lecturer Royal Edinburgh Hospital and Edinburgh University.

Chairman Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems and Scottish Intercollegiate group on alcohol to 2012. Vice President Medical Council on Alcohol.

Previously Chair of Secretary of State’s DVLA advisory committee on alcohol and drugs and Chair Substance misuse faculty Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Member of the Parole Board for Scotland 2006-2010. Member Pensions Appeals Tribunals 2000 – 2006.

Elected Member business committee General Council  University of Edinburgh 2010.  Chair Academic Standing Committee University of Edinburgh 2012.

President Medico chirurgical society Edinburgh, 2012.

Main research has been evaluation of treatment efficacy and prevention of alcohol related problems in the community.

Author numerous books and articles concerning treatment and prevention of alcohol related problems. Editor of “Alcohol: our favourite drug” Royal College of Psychiatrists (1986): Author of “Alcohol and Health: A guide for healthcare professionals.” With Morgan M.  Medical Council on Alcohol, London. 5th Edition, 2010: ABC of Alcohol (Eds.  Paton and  Touquet )  BMJ publications London 2005. Editor with Raistrick D and Hodgson R “Tackling Alcohol Together (1999).

Consultant to World Health Organisation on numerous occasions and principal investigator WHO project concerning Community Response to Alcohol Related Problems, and Co-ordinator of the WHO European Community Response.

International Council on Alcohol and Addictions. Award of Honour 1999.

Glatt Memorial Lecturer 2008.


Alcohol policy and its implementation in Scotland within an historical perspective

In recent years the Scottish Government has pursued an alcohol policy framework that has accepted the need for a national strategy to reduce unacceptably high levels of alcohol consumption. Many of these measures have been introduced on the premise that society needs to adopt a population approach to reducing the level of alcohol related harm rather than one that focuses exclusively on a minority of “problem” or bout drinkers. The evidence base for this is well known but the political will to take this approach has been lacking in UK.

Scotland has been in the forefront of introducing a public health component in its Licensing Laws, innovative controls on the availability and pricing of alcohol, culminating in the adoption of Minimum pricing Legislation in 2012. This paper will briefly consider an historical perspective on alcohol use and misuse in Scotland and examine whether Scotland’s problem with alcohol is significantly different from other parts of UK. What then are the drivers of recent policy decisions including the influence of evidence based advocacy and the role of the alcohol industry? These developments also need to be set against a background of increasing political independence and the distinctive characteristics of Scottish society and its Legal and Health services.


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