University researchers are to carry out a three-year study into the impact of minimum alcohol pricing on Scotland’s heaviest drinkers.
Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh will examine whether patients with alcohol-related illnesses buy very cheap alcohol.
The Scottish government has introduced a bill to set a minimum price for a unit of alcohol in Scotland.
The study will be conducted in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Funding for the work is coming from the Chief Scientist Office and the charity Alcohol Research UK.
It will be led by Prof Jonathan Chick and Dr Jan Gill, of the Queen Margaret University’s school of health sciences, and will focus on about 500 of the “hardest to reach” group of severe drinkers.
Experts said members of this group account for many hospital admissions and deaths related to alcohol and are under-represented in other survey data.
Prof Chick said: “Pricing measures can reduce health harms from alcohol in two ways – by reducing the numbers newly recruited into heavy drinking and by helping to moderate the drinking patterns of already-established heavy drinkers.
“Our research will look at the factors which influence the habits of severe drinkers before and after the introduction of minimum unit pricing.
“In our pilot study, we established this group particularly consume cheap ciders and vodka which might be particularly damaging for brain and liver cells.
“We will also look at whether they turn to sourcing drink from outside Scotland or begin to consume illicit or substitute alcohol or other intoxicants.”
The government’s Alcohol Bill is set to become law before next summer.
A unit figure will be suggested in the new year after research by the University of Sheffield, which is re-running its minimum price modelling to produce the most up-to-date data.
The Scottish government has estimated that the country’s alcohol problems cost £3.56bn each year – or £900 for every adult.
Commenting on the study, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “We are pleased to be able to support this important piece of independent research which will provide valuable information on the impact of our proposed legislation.
“The research is timely and complementary to the Scottish government health directorates’ overall research programme which is in place to monitor and evaluate the impact of our alcohol framework.”
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “This is a confused and haphazard approach by the SNP.
“On the one hand you have Nicola Sturgeon awarding a grant to study severe drinkers while John Swinney’s cutting the alcohol treatment budget by £3m.
“The SNP also seem to only be willing to allow scrutiny, such as this study, after the measure will have been implemented.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrat Party’s Alison McInnes said gathering as much data on the issue of minimum pricing was important.
She added: “Minimum pricing is by no means the silver bullet but it is a positive and confident step towards changing the culture of drinking to excess in Scotland.”