Scotland's alcohol deaths worst in UK as rates hit record high

Scotland remains the worst performing nation as alcohol-specific deaths increased across the UK.

Scotland’s alcohol deaths worst in UK as rates hit record high Getty Images

The number of alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland has skyrocketed 25% in five years.

Data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed 1,276 people north of the border died directly from alcohol in 2022.

That’s up slightly from the 1,245 cases in 2021 but represents a 25% increase from pre-pandemic figures in 2019 when 1,020 people died.

Alcohol deaths have sharply risen across Britain post-Covid with ONS figures showing the entire UK recorded its highest number on record.


The number of alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland has hit a record high after rates skyrocketed 25% in five years. #stvnews #scotland #alcohol

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There were 10,048 deaths across the UK in 2022, a 4.2% rise from the year before and a third higher than the number in 2019.

Scotland had a slower rise than the UK as a whole but remains the worst-affected country for alcohol-specific deaths.

The data shows there were 22.6 deaths per 100,000 people in Scotland in 2022, compared with 16.6 per 100,000 across Britain as a whole.

Northern Ireland had the second highest rate at 19.5 deaths per 100,000 people, while Wales was third at 15.4 and England was last at 14.5.

Alcohol-specific deaths only include those health conditions where the death is a direct consequence of alcohol, such as alcoholic liver disease.

The figures do not include all deaths that can be attributed to alcohol, such as heart disease or various types of cancer.

“These new figures confirm that despite the lifesaving impact of minimum unit pricing (MUP), Scotland remains in the grip of an alcohol emergency,” Alison Douglas, CEO of Alcohol Focus Scotland said.

“Changes to drinking patterns during the Covid-19 pandemic have sadly become embedded and represent a ticking time bomb of alcohol-related illness and deaths for our already over-stretched NHS.

“Every life lost due to alcohol is a preventable tragedy for individuals, families, friends and communities.”

Ms Douglas said she was particularly concerned about the increase in death rates for women.

Since 2019, the rate of deaths for women in Scotland has risen from 12.6 to 15.1 per 100,000. In the same time, the rate for men has gone from 25.1 to 30.9 deaths per 100,000.

Men remain twice as likely to die from alcohol than women.

Douglas continued: “Despite the Scottish Government’s acknowledgement that this is a public health emergency, we are still not seeing an adequate emergency response.

“Alcohol deaths continue to rise, yet people accessing alcohol treatment in Scotland has declined by 40% over the last ten years. This has to change.

“We must improve treatment and recovery support. But we also have to prevent the health and social harms caused by alcohol in the first place.

“We know what works: making alcohol less affordable, restricting how it is marketed, and reducing how widely available it is.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP said: “With alcohol deaths hitting their highest level since 2008 in Scotland, it is clear the SNP’s approach is not working.

“Ministers must stop seeing their flagship minimum unit pricing policy as a silver bullet, when alcohol deaths are continuing to soar.

“Last week’s further increase will only penalise responsible drinkers further during a cost-of-living crisis, while evidence also shows problem drinkers are sacrificing other essentials in order to buy alcohol.

“Rather than doubling down on MUP, SNP ministers should finally support the Right to Recovery Bill which would enshrine in a law to treatment for all those struggling with addiction.”

Drugs and alcohol policy minister Christina McKelvie said: “Research commended by internationally-renowned public health experts estimated that our world-leading Minimum Unit Pricing policy has saved hundreds of lives, likely averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions and contributed to reducing health inequalities.

“I’m pleased that Parliament agreed last week to continue MUP legislation and to raise the level it is set at to 65p – aiming to increase its public health effects.

“Despite this progress, deaths caused specifically by alcohol rose last year – and my sympathy goes out to all those who have lost a loved one. However, as a letter to The Lancet by public health experts makes clear, it is likely that without MUP there would have been an even greater number of alcohol-specific deaths.

“The Scottish Government is determined to do all it can to reduce alcohol-related harm. Alongside MUP, we will continue to invest in treatment and a wide range of other measures, including funding for Alcohol and Drug Partnerships which rose to a record £112m in 2023-24.”

“Following the consultation that concluded last year, the Scottish Government is considering targeted restrictions on alcohol marketing.”

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