Dr James Nicholls

Senior Lecturer in Public Health

Health Sciences Stirling Stirling

Dr James Nicholls

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About me

About me

I specialise in alcohol and drug policy, treatment provision, harm reduction and advocacy. I am particularly interested in mechanisms of policy change and how implementation shapes outcomes. I also have an interest in regulation, especially comparing the impact of licensing regimes on consumption and harm. I am currently co-leading an independent statutory review of the alcohol licensing system in Northern Ireland which will report in 2024.

I have a background researching the history of drinking cultures and alcohol policy, for which I have received Research Fellowships from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

In 2015, I became Director of Research and Policy at Alcohol Research UK where I oversaw a national grants programme supporting alcohol research across the UK. I advised the Home Office and DHSC on alcohol policy; was a member of the Public Health England Alcohol Leadership Board and Expert Group on treatment; Chair of the PHE National Alcohol Licensing and Public Health Forum; and Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm.

More recently, I became Chief Executive Officer at Transform Drug Policy Foundation where I worked with national and international partners to advocate for public health-led drug policy. I worked closely with partners at the United Nations, where Transform held Special Consultative Status, and with MPs, MSPs, service providers and academic researchers as well as families directly impacted by drug-related harms.

I am a trustee of the social justice charity Cranstoun, and previously sat on the board of Adfam National. I am an Associate Member of the Faculty of Public Health and sit on their Drug Policy Special Interest Group.

Research (3)


Independent Review of the Alcohol Premises Licensing System in Northern Ireland
PI: Dr James Nicholls
Funded by: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Northern Ireland)

Perceptions and attitudes of strategic decision-makers and affected families across Scotland towards Drug Consumption Rooms to prevent drug-related deaths
Funded by: Scottish Government

EXILENS - Exploring the Impact of Alcohol Licensing in England and Scotland
PI: Professor Niamh Fitzgerald
Funded by: National Institute for Health Research

Outputs (37)



Parkes T, Price T, Foster R, Trayner KMA, Sumnall HR, Livingston W, Perkins A, Cairns B, Dumbrell J & Nicholls J (2022) ‘Why would we not want to keep everybody safe?’ The views of family members of people who use drugs on the implementation of drug consumption rooms in Scotland. Harm Reduction Journal, 19 (1), Art. No.: 99. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12954-022-00679-5

Book Chapter

Nicholls J & Rolles S (2022) The legal regulation of drugs in the UK. In: Drug Science and British Drug Policy: Critical Analysis of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Waterside Press.


de Vocht F, McQuire C, Ferraro C, Williams P, Henney M, Angus C, Egan M, Mohan A, Purves R, Maani N, Shortt N, Mahon L, Crompton G, O'Donnell R, Nicholls J, Bauld L & Fitzgerald N (2022) Impact of public health team engagement in alcohol licensing on health and crime outcomes in England and Scotland: A comparative timeseries study between 2012 and 2019. The Lancet Regional Health Europe, 20, Art. No.: 100450. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lanepe.2022.100450


Nicholls J (2021) Further implications of the harm to others framework for drug policy debates. Commentary on: Wilkinson C., Ritter J. Applying a ‘harm to others’ research framework to illicit drugs: political discourses and ambiguous policy implications. Addiction 2021; 116: 1941– 1946. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.15243. Addiction, 116 (8), pp. 1947-1948. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.15311

Book Chapter

Nicholls J & Berridge V (2020) Substance use, dangerous classes and spaces: a historical perspective. In: MacGregor S & Thom B (eds.) Risk and Substance Abuse: Framing Dangerous People and Dangerous Places. Routledge Studies in the Sociology of Health and Illness. London: Routledge, pp. 14-29. https://www.routledge.com/Risk-and-Substance-Use-Framing-Dangerous-People-and-Dangerous-Places/MacGregor-Thom/p/book/9781138491243


Nicholls J, Cramer S, Ryder S, Gold D, Priyadarshi S, Millar S, Hunter C, Hogg R, Jones A, Measham F, Stevens A, Hamilton I, McPhee I, Eastwood N & Powell M (2019) The UK Government must help end Scotland's drug-related death crisis. The Lancet Psychiatry, 6 (10), p. 804. https://doi.org/10.1016/s2215-0366%2819%2930301-3


Fitzgerald N, Egan M, de Vocht F, Angus C, Nicholls J, Shortt N, Nichols T, Maani Hessari N, McQuire C, Purves R, Critchlow N, Mohan A, Mahon L, Sumpter C & Bauld L (2018) Exploring the impact of public health teams on alcohol premises licensing in England and Scotland (ExILEnS): procotol for a mixed methods natural experiment evaluation. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 18 (1), Art. No.: 123. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-018-0573-z

Authored Book

Butler S, Elmand K, Thom B & Nicholls J (2017) Alcohol, Power and Public Health: A Comparative Study of Alcohol Policy. Routledge Advances in Health and Social Policy. London: Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Alcohol-Power-and-Public-Health-A-Comparative-Study-of-Alcohol-Policy/Butler-Elmeland-Thom-Nicholls/p/book/9780367224110


Fitzgerald N, Nicholls J, Winterbottom J & Katikireddi SV (2017) Implementing a Public Health Objective for Alcohol Premises Licensing in Scotland: A Qualitative Study of Strategies, Values, and Perceptions of Evidence. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14 (3), Art. No.: 221. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14030221

Book Chapter

Nicholls J (2016) Alcohol policy in global context. In: Kolind T, Thom B & Hunt G (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Drug and Alcohol Studies: Social Science Approaches. SAGE Reference. London: SAGE, pp. 164-180. https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/the-sage-handbook-of-drug-alcohol-studies-volume-1/book242981#contents


Bellis MA, Hughes K, Jones L, Morleo M, Nicholls J, McCoy E, Webster J & Sumnall H (2015) Holidays, celebrations, and commiserations: measuring drinking during feasting and fasting to improve national and individual estimates of alcohol consumption. BMC Medicine, 13 (1), Art. No.: 113. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-015-0337-0


Holmes J, Guo Y, Maheswaran R, Nicholls J, Meier PS & 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: Critical review of availability research. Drug and Alcohol Review, 33 (5), pp. 515-525. https://doi.org/10.1111/dar.12191