Interdisciplinary Alcohol Research Programme (IARP)

The Interdisciplinary Alcohol Research Programme is funded by the MRC Addiction Research Strategy and is co-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and runs from November 2010 to April 2014.

The overarching aim for this ambitious programme of research is to lead a step-change in capabilities for robust scientific appraisal of new and existing alcohol policy interventions by substantially developing and updating the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model also known as SAPM.

The team

The multidisciplinary team comprises academics and researchers from:

  • The University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group (lead)
  • University of Kent
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies
  • University of East Anglia Business School
  • University of Loughborough Business School

We are also assisted by an international advisory group of world-leading alcohol epidemiology, sociology and policy researchers as well as policy stakeholders in England and Scotland. For more information on our team members, please click here.

The project

The IARP project is divided into five main work packages and brief summaries of these are provided below:

WP1: New evidence to inform price and taxation policy appraisal and evaluation.

Here we seek to update and develop existing functionality within SAPM. In particular we aim to:

  • Analyse supermarket pricing data to identify patterns in the pass through of alcohol duty and VAT increases to prices faced by consumers;
  • Use alcohol spending diary data to develop new econometric models linking changes in price and changes in demand for different types of alcoholic beverages (see discussion paper);
  • Revise the structure of SAPM to enable enhanced analysis of alcohol pricing policies including greater flexibility for users in specifying populations subgroups for which results are available and new capabilities to appraise taxation policies;
  • Review the most recent published evidence and conduct new analyses to update risk functions linking consumption and risk of harms within SAPM, particularly around subgroup-specific risks, risks from binge drinking, time lags between consumption and harm, and evidence of beneficial affects to health and well-being from alcohol consumption (see publication on time lags);
  • Examine sources of bias in estimates of alcohol consumption from household survey and customs and excise data and develop methods for adjusting consumption data used in SAPM to account for this (see publication).

WP2: Dynamic modelling to account for trends and lags with evidence and calibration

This work package aims to transform the existing version of SAPM into a comprehensive dynamic model accounting for a range of individual- and population-level trends. We aim to:

  • Use cohort data to identify different individual trajectories of alcohol consumption across the life course;
  • Conduct age, period and cohort analyses of alcohol consumption data;
  • Use the above analyses to forecast future population-level trends in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms and incorporate these trends into SAPM so model predictions rely on fewer ceteris paribus assumptions

WP3: Enabling appraisal of availability policies and policy mix

There is uncertainty over the strength and magnitude of the relationship between availability of alcohol and consumption. We aim to make a step-change to UK availability and affordability analysis by:

  • Defining measures of spatial and temporal availability of alcohol which are theoretically, empirically and policy relevant;
  • Use UK outlet data with detailed outlet characteristics and granular spatial information to quantifying the relationship between those availability measures and measures of alcohol consumption;
  • Incorporate alcohol availability measures into SAPM’s econometric model to enable the joint impact of alcohol pricing and availability policies to be estimated.

WP4: The effect of policy context

Here we aim to conduct exploratory analyses which seek to establish the broader contextual factors which impact on the effectiveness of alcohol policies in different times and places and to explore the feasibility of methods for quantifying those impacts. We will:

  • Review literature to identify specific political and societal factors influencing effectiveness of availability and pricing policies;
  • Use a systematic review of alcohol price elasticities to investigate whether the impact of individual context factors can be quantified.

WP5: Policy analysis and validation

Developments in our methods of modelling alcohol policies have frequently come about because a policy question needed answering. IARP incorporates a 3-year programme of policy appraisal which is responsive to stakeholder needs. We aim to provide timely reports on evidence synthesis, model developments, validations and policy analyses to enable researchers and policy stakeholders in the UK and internationally to view and use developing work.

Examples of this include:

  • Updated appraisals of alcohol pricing policies for the Scottish Government
  • A public response (with appendix) to critiques of SAPM which were commissioned by the Scotch Whisky Association.
  • New analysis of income-specific impacts of minimum unit pricing for the UK Government
  • Appraisals of a ban on below cost selling for the UK Government

Further information

For further information, please email the Principal Investigator, Professor Petra Meier:


Journal articles

Meier PS, Holmes J, Angus C, Ally AK, Meng Y and Brennan A. (2016) 'Estimated effects of different alcohol taxation and price policies on health inequalities: A mathematical modelling study', PLOS Medicine, 13 (2), e1001963.

Baumberg Geiger B and MacKerron G (2016) 'Can alcohol make you happy? A subjective wellbeing approach', Social Science and Medicine', 156, pp.184-91

Brennan, A., Meier, P., Purshouse, R., Rafia, R., Meng, Y., and Hill-McManus, D. (2016) 'Developing policy analytics for public health strategy and decisions - the Sheffield alcohol policy model framework', Annals of Operational Research, 236 (1), pp.149-76.

Brennan, A., Meier, P., Purshouse, R., Rafia, R., Meng, Y., Hill-McManus, D., Angus, C. and Holmes, J. (2015) 'The Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model: A Mathematical Description', Health Economics, 24 (10), pp.1368-88.

Brennan, A., Meng, Y., Holmes, J., Hill-McManus, D. and Meier, P. (2014) 'Potential benefits of minimum unit pricing for alcohol versus a ban on below cost selling in England 2014: modelling study', BMJ, doi:  See accompanying editorial.

Holmes, J., Meier, PS., Booth, A. and Brennan, A. (2014) 'Reporting the characteristics of the policy context for population-level alcohol interventions: A proposed 'Transparent Reporting of Alcohol Intervention ContExts' (TRAICE) checklist', Drug and Alcohol Review, 33 (6), 596-603.

Holmes, J., Guo, Y., Maheswaran, R., Nicholls, J., Meier, PS. and Brennan, A. (2014) 'The impact of spatial and temporal availability of alcohol on its consumption and related harms: A critical review in the context of UK licensing policies', Drug and Alcohol Review, 33 (5), pp.515-25

Ally, A., Meng, Y., Chakraborty, R., Dobson, PW., Seaton, JS., Holmes, J., Angus, C., Guo, Y., Hill-McManus, D., Brennan, A. and Meier, PS. (2014) 'Alcohol tax pass-through across the product and price range: do retailers treat cheap alcohol differently?', Addiction, 109 (12), 1994-2002. See accompanying commentary

Holmes, J., Meng, Y., Meier, PS., Brennan, A., Angus, C., Campbell-Burton, A., Guo, Y., Hill-McManus, D., and Purshouse, RC. (2014) 'Effects of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on different income and socioeconomic groups: a modelling study', The Lancet, 383 (9929), 1655-64.  See accompanying commentary.

Meng, Y., Brennan, A., Purshouse, R., Hill-McManus, D., Angus, C., Holmes, J. and Meier, PS. (2014) 'Estimation of own and cross price elasticities of alcohol demand in the UK: A pseudo-panel approach using the Living Costs and Food Survey 2001-2009', Journal of Health Economics, 34, pp.96-103.

Hill-McManus, D., Angus, C., Meng, Y., Holmes, J., Brennan, A. and Meier, P. (2014) 'Estimation of usual occasion-based individual drinking patterns using diary data', Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 13 (1), pp.136-43

Meng, Y., Holmes, J., Hill-McManus, D., Brennan, A. and Meier, PS. (2014) 'Trend analysis and modelling of gender-specific age, period and birth cohort effects on alcohol abstention and consumption level for drinkers in Great Britain using the General Lifestyle Survey 1984-2009' Addiction, 109 (2), pp.206-15

Meier, PS., Meng, Y., Holmes, J., Baumberg, B., Purshouse, R., Hill-McManus, D. and Brennan, A. (2013) 'Adjusting for Unrecorded Consumption in Survey and Per Capita Sales Data: Quanification of Impact on Gender- and Age-specific Alcohol-attributable Fractions for Oral and Pharyngeal Cancers in Great Britain'. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 48 (2), pp.241-49

Purshouse, R., Brennan, A., Rafia, R., Latimer, N., Archer, R., Angus, C., Preston, L. and Meier, P.  (2012) 'Modelling the Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Screening and Brief Interventions in Primary Care in England'Alcohol and Alcoholism. 48 (2), pp. 180-8

Holmes, J., Meier, P., Booth, A., Guo, Y. & Brennan, A.  (2012)  'The temporal relationship between per capita alcohol consumption and harm: A systematic review of time lag specifications in aggregate time series analyses.'  Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 123 (1–3), pp.7–14

Alcohol policy modelling reports

Meng, Y. et al. (2013) 'Modelled income group-specific impacts of alcohol minimum unit pricing in England 2014/15: Policy appraisals using new developments to the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model (v2.5)', Sheffield: ScHARR - See Addendum examining the impact of a ban on 'below cost selling'

Other reports, journal contributions and publications

Purshouse, R.C et al. (2014) 'Commentary on Nakamura et al. (2014): Alcohol policy appraisal and evaluation - to understand what is happening and why, we need better data on alcohol as a commodity', Addiction, 109 (4) pp.568-9

Purshouse, R.C et al. (2013) 'Reply to Klaus Makela's Cost-of-alcohol studies as a research programme', Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 30 (5) pp.445-7

Meng, Y. et al. (2013) 'Estimation of own and cross price elasticities of alcohol demand in the UK - a pseudo-panel approach using the Living Cost and Food Survey 2001 to 2009'. HEDS Discussion paper DP 13/11. Sheffield: ScHARR

Brennan, A. et al. (2013) 'A public response to the Adam Smith Institute's critique of the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model'. Sheffield: ScHARR.  See also: 'Response to the Appendix to Duffy and Snowdon's report'

News articles and other media

June 2014, 'UK supermarkets minimise price rises for the cheapest alcohol when taxes are increased', blog post for Public Health Topics @ The University of Sheffield.

April 2014, 'Minimum unit pricing: Effective and Equitable?', Dr John Holmes at the New Directions in the Study of Alcohol Group conference (VIDEO).

March 2014 'Alcohol duty cuts make the Coalition's cheap alcohol policy even less effective', blog post for Public Health Topics @ The University of Sheffield.

March 2014, 'Is your drinking a postcode lottery?', Colin Angus at Alcohol Research UK's early career researcher conference (VIDEO). 

February 2014, 'Minimum pricing for alcohol: Reducing health inequalities without penalising responsible drinkers', blog post by Dr John Holmes for Public Health Topics @ The University of Sheffield.

January 2014, 'Computer Modelling: All about the image?', Dr Robin Purshouse at Battle of Ideas 2013 (VIDEO)

January 2014, 'Below Cost Alcohol Ban 40 Times Less Effective Than Minimum Pricing', Dr John Holmes writes for The Conversation UK

December 2012, 'The impact of minimum pricing: Evidence from the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model', Dr John Holmes at Alcohol Action Ireland's annual conference

November 2012, 'Alcohol minimum pricing 'effective in reducing consumption'', Dr John Holmes speaks to BBC News