Drinking too much during lockdown? You’re not alone

Scotland has the second highest rate of alcohol-specific death in the UK, finds a new report

The Office for National Statistics has today (Tuesday, 2 February) released its annual report into the rising number of alcohol-specific deaths registered in the UK in 2019 at the same time as the European Commission reports that every day, about 800 people in Europe die from alcohol-attributable causes. 

The report reveals that Scotland had the second highest rate of alcohol-specific death in the UK with 18.6 deaths per 100,000 people – just shy of Northern Ireland’s rate of 18.8 and way ahead of England’s rate of 11.8 deaths per 100,000 people and Wales rate of 10.9. 

A total of 1,020 people lost their lives to alcohol in Scotland in 2019, the vast majority of which (64%) were caused by alcoholic liver disease. 

Today’s report reveals that Scotland had the highest alcohol-specific death rate for males across the UK in 2019 at 25.2 deaths per 100,000 males compared to England’s male death rate of 15.0 per 100,000. 65% (659) of alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland were male and 361 female. 

Yet encouragingly, the report shows that in Scotland, the female alcohol-specific death rate (12.6 deaths per 100,000) in 2019 was 13.1% lower than in 2001 (14.5 per 100,000). 

Most alcohol-specific deaths are of people in their 50s and 60s. 113 people aged 60-64 died from alcohol liver disease in Scotland in 2019, up nearly 20% compared to the previous year. 

Further insight provided by Public Health England reveals that there were an estimated 3,705 deaths attributable to alcohol consumption in 2015 among adults aged 16 years and over in Scotland, equating to 6.5% of the total number of deaths (57,327).

Nuno Albuquerque, Head of Treatment at the UK Addiction Treatment Group, said: “We must remember that what we’re talking about here aren’t just figures; they’re people. They’re mums, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, colleagues and neighbours who have lost their lives to alcohol; a substance that has been so widely accepted in this country but one that is so controlling, addictive and ultimately, life-threatening. 

“Unfortunately, we expect these figures to rise even further after the difficulties we all faced in 2020. 

“We know first hand how many people have struggled with their relationship with alcohol since the Covid-19 crisis; our treatment facilities admit more clients for alcohol addiction than any other substance and all our beds are almost full. But this in itself is encouraging because these are the people who are asking for help; they want to be free from the grips of an alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, this report shows that for over 1,000 Scots, it was too late.”

Minimum unit pricing for alcohol was implemented in Scotland on 1 May 2018, with a minimum price of 50p per unit, and although the alcohol-specific death toll in Scotland has fallen slightly between 2018 and 2019 – from 1,136 to 1,020 – the National Records of Scotland highlights that this 10% fall is within the ‘maximum expected year-to year fluctuation’, and so more evidence is needed to prove a sustained shift. 

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Lynda Hamilton Parker is a Scottish PR expert and independent publisher

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