The last ten years have seen nothing short of a revolution in the way we talk about and look after our mental health. What was once taboo and hidden away is now out in the open. A lot more people are now comfortable discussing how they feel, and society is more understanding of how to deal with mental health issues.

This is a journey we need to go on with alcohol. 

But how do we start these conversations and encourage people to talk more openly about their drinking?

A series like we have seen this week in the Herald is a big step along the way as it helps us to understand the issues and their complexity. We can also see that delivering long-term solutions and change needs the active engagement of all elements of society from government, through civil society, public health, the media, and industry.  

We believe the industry has a role to play that can often be ignored. They have a reach into consumers that we must harness.

Pubs are often important community assets, providing meeting places and helping build social cohesion. The investment they are making into growing low and no alcohol products has the potential to change the landscape of what people drink, and to support people to keep within low-risk guidelines.   

Read more in the series, Scotland & Alcohol:

At Drinkaware we carry out an annual state of the nation survey into the UK’s drinking habits and probe people’s views on alcohol. In our latest report we found that two thirds of adult drinkers in Scotland, 66 per cent, felt their country has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. This is the highest in the UK, with the figure dropping to 63 per cent in Northern Ireland, 56 per cent in England and 38 per cent in Wales. 

However, while many Scottish drinkers believe their country has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, when asked about their own or, family and friends, only one in ten felt it was unhealthy. The disconnect between people’s impressions of others drinking and their own consumption offers an interesting insight into our relationship with alcohol. If we are not the ones with the problem, then who is? 

This shows that we need to be more open and honest about our own relationship with alcohol if we are to address the harm it can cause. Almost a quarter of adults in Scotland have concerns about someone else’s drinking. Yet only nine per cent of drinkers have ever had a friend, doctor or health worker express concern.  

The Herald: Karen Tyrell is Drinkaware's Chief Executive Officer, joining the organisation in October 2022Karen Tyrell is Drinkaware's Chief Executive Officer, joining the organisation in October 2022 (Image: Drinkaware)

So, how can we make it easier for people to ask for help and reduce the stigma associated with alcohol related problems? At Drinkware we have created a free online tool to help people understand their own drinking, its impact and start opening up some of these conversations. The Drinking Check is based on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is widely used around the world by healthcare professionals to assess how much alcohol you drink and the risk of alcohol-related problems. We have designed our Drinking Check to make it easy to use, only taking a few minutes to get your results along with tailored advice.   

We know, through our research, that although adult drinkers in Scotland drink less frequently than those in the UK, when they do they drink more. Additionally, we know that while 79 per cent report they drink within the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of 14 units per week, with several drink-free days and no binge drinking, 78 per cent say they don’t know what the guidelines are. We want to resolve this type of confusion by encouraging more people to regularly check their drinking. 

Studies have shown this type of alcohol assessment not only effectively identifies people who drink at higher risk levels, it works across different groups of people and cultures. Our own initial evaluation, due to be published in the spring, shows that around half of people who completed the Drinking Check went onto take some positive actions about their own drinking. 

Over the next year, Drinkaware aims to encourage millions more people to complete the Drinking Check. We are already one of the largest providers of this type of check outside the NHS, and through this, we want to give individuals the facts about their drinking and normalise conversations around alcohol. We are keen to work with anyone who shares our vision, to open up conversations around drinking so together as a society so we can make the same shift we have seen around mental health. Why not check your drinking now at 

Karen Tyrell, CEO of the charity Drinkaware