Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland increase

The number of alcohol-specific deaths has increased by 17% to 1,190 in 2020, up from 1,020 in 2019, according to statistics on deaths by various causes published today by National Records of Scotland.  

These figures show a return to the recent upward trend in the number of alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland following a decline in the previous year. This is the largest number of deaths due to alcohol recorded since 2008.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said, “Last year we saw a positive reduction in the number of deaths caused by alcohol. This sudden increase of 17% is devastating to see and a tragedy for everyone affected. It is a stark reminder that we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball where alcohol harm is concerned."

“Scotland has made good progress in addressing the problems we have with alcohol by introducing policies like minimum unit pricing which is showing promising results. Yet the impact of the pandemic threatens to undermine this progress. Many people, particularly heavier drinkers, have reported that they have increased their drinking during the last 18 months. The effects are felt most by those living in our poorest communities, who are eight times more likely to die due to alcohol. "

“If we are to prevent more people losing their lives to alcohol and to reduce health inequalities we need to redouble our efforts by reducing the availability of alcohol, restricting its marketing and by uprating minimum unit price. Importantly, we also need to make sure that support is available to those who need it now. We have recently seen a significant investment in drug treatment in response to the increasing numbers of people who are tragically losing their lives to drugs. To reduce the long-term impact of the pandemic this needs to be matched with investment in recovery-oriented alcohol services."

The number of alcohol-specific deaths among males has been consistently higher than the number of female deaths since our analysis began in 1979. In 2020 there were:

  • 826 male alcohol-specific deaths registered
  • 364 female alcohol-specific deaths registered 

In 2020, the months with the highest number of deaths were April, October and November, which each had 110 deaths.

This is a distinctive change from previous years, when the highest number of deaths were recorded in January, December and March.

Most alcohol-specific deaths were of people in their 50s and 60s (711, 60% of the total in 2020)

Alcoholic liver disease and mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol have been the leading causes of death for alcohol-specific deaths since 2000. In 2020 alcoholic liver disease was the underlying cause of death in 64% of all alcohol specific deaths (759 out of 1,190 deaths). Mental and behavioural disorders due to use of alcohol accounted for 27% of all alcohol-specific deaths (325 out of 1,190 deaths



17 August 2021