Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Slight increase in alcohol-specific deaths

Today, 4 August 2022, National Records of Scotland (NRS) published figures showing that 1,245 people died from alcohol-specific causes in Scotland in 2021, an increase of 5% (55 deaths) on 2020.

The number of deaths is 5% (55) higher than 2020 and is the highest number of deaths since 2008. More detailed analysis shows the rate of mortality from alcohol-specific causes was 22.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2021. Whilst this is higher than the 21.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2020, it is not a statistically significant increase, and remains below the peak rate of deaths from alcohol in 2006.

Of those who died from alcohol-specific causes, two thirds were male. The average age of deaths of those who died from these causes was 58.7 years for females and 59.7 years for males.

Alcohol-specific death rates are 5.6 times as high in our most deprived areas compared to the least deprived.

In response to the publication, Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said, “The high number of deaths from alcohol in 2021 is devastating and comes on top of a substantial increase in 2020. Each of these 1,245 deaths is a life cut tragically short, and leaves behind family members and friends suffering their loss. These impacts are experienced unequally with many more people dying in our poorest communities. We seem to almost accept this toll as inevitable, but we should not; each death can be prevented. The Scottish Government has recognised alcohol harm as a public health emergency alongside drugs, but we have not yet seen an emergency response on the same scale; they must act now. 

“Action must include investment in support for those who already have alcohol problems. Services were inadequate before Covid, but problems have deepened as many people turned to alcohol to cope with anxiety and stress. They need easy access to support to help aid their recovery.

“But we must also redouble our efforts to prevent the next generation of drinkers developing patterns of drinking that damage their health. Increasing the price of alcohol remains a key means of reducing consumption, and of saving and improving lives.

“Minimum unit price has delivered a sustained decrease in the amount we are drinking and there are some early signs this is translating into health benefits. But the price is set too low. To counter the effects of inflation since it was set in 2012, and optimise the impact, we need to increase the minimum unit price to at least 65p.

“Obviously the price of alcohol isn’t the only driver of consumption, and on its own minimum unit pricing isn’t going to change our attitudes to alcohol. We also need to address how heavily alcohol is marketed and restrict how available it is in our communities. Only a comprehensive and sustained approach to preventing and reducing alcohol consumption and harm is likely to turn around the worrying trends we are starting to see.”

Julie Ramsay, Vital Events Statistician at NRS, said:

“Health inequalities are a feature of alcohol-specific deaths. Deaths attributed to alcohol were 5.6 times as likely in the most deprived areas of Scotland compared to the least deprived areas. This is more than the deprivation gap for all causes of death, which is 1.9. Two thirds of those who died last year were male.”

In the past five years, after adjusting for age, the rate of mortality from alcohol-specific deaths was higher than the Scottish average in Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Lanarkshire Health Board areas. Rates were also high in Western Isles Health Board, but the difference with Scotland as a whole was not statistically significant.