Reducing harm caused by alcohol


New PHS Dashboard reveals true scale of alcohol harm in Scotland

Public Health Scotland (PHS) has today (26th March) published its new Alcohol Dashboard. The new dashboard includes figures on alcohol attributable deaths and hospital admissions for the first time since a Scottish Public Health Observatory Report in 2018.

Deaths and hospitalisations partially attributable to alcohol include those from any cause that can be attributed to alcohol, including those due to injuries or illnesses like cancer or cardiovascular disease. Deaths or hospitalisation data wholly attributable to alcohol refers to conditions which can only be caused by alcohol e.g. mental/behavioural disorders and alcoholic liver disease.

In addition to the 1185 deaths wholly attributable to alcohol in 2020*, reported as alcohol-specific deaths, there were 1635 deaths partially attributable to alcohol. This means that in total there were 2820 deaths due to alcohol in 2020, more than double the number reported in annual death statistics.

Commenting on the new Alcohol Dashboard figures, Alison Douglas, CEO of Alcohol Focus Scotland said:

“We welcome the launch of Public Health Scotland’s Alcohol Dashboard which can help inform policy and practice on reducing alcohol harm in Scotland both nationally and locally. It is particularly useful to have new data on alcohol attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Scotland. This provides a much clearer – but concerning  picture of the scale and breadth of alcohol health harm in Scotland and the massive burden alcohol is currently placing on our NHS. The data show that the total number of lives lost to alcohol is more than double that reported in the alcohol-specific death figures, produced annually.

“People often think it is only dependent drinkers who suffer alcohol harm but almost a quarter of adults in Scotland  that’s well over a million of us - regularly drink more than the Chief Medical Officer’s low risk guidance of no more than 14 units per week. This places us at higher risk of seven different types of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke and a variety of other health problems – it is deaths and hospitalisations from these conditions, as well as accidental injuries, that the new figures capture.

“It is encouraging that more people are choosing not to drink. Any amount of alcohol consumed increases the risk of cancer with Cancer Research UK estimating that one in ten breast cancers – now the most common cancer in the UK – are due to alcohol consumption.

“That is why it is so important that we continue to pursue population level policies to reduce the affordability, availability and visibility of alcohol in Scotland – including by uprating minimum unit pricing for alcohol, restricting alcohol marketing, and addressing where and when alcohol is sold. This will reduce the entirely avoidable loss of life and health from alcohol and will particularly benefit our poorest communities, who suffer the greatest harm.

“It is extremely pleasing that on the day these figures have been published, the Scottish Parliament’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee has voted in favour of retaining and uprating MUP to 65p – with strong cross-party support. This adds to the broad support across Scottish civil society demonstrated by our recent joint letter to the committee – and good support among the general public. We now look forward to the final vote in the Scottish Parliament which should confirm the continuation of this life saving policy. We now need to turn out attention to tackling how alcohol is marketed and how readily available it is, as well as improving access to treatment and recovery support.”


*The most recent year for which data is available