‘Covid lockdowns’ push alcohol deaths in Scotland to highest level in a decade

Those who were drinking heavily before pandemic ‘were more likely to increase their drinking during lockdown’

Tom Batchelor
Tuesday 17 August 2021 17:43
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<p>Scotland became the first country in the world to bring in minimum unit pricing for alcohol in May 2018</p>

Scotland became the first country in the world to bring in minimum unit pricing for alcohol in May 2018

Deaths in Scotland linked to alcohol rose dramatically last year as drinkers upped their intake during Covid lockdowns, a public health expert said.

The number of alcohol-specific deaths registered increased by 17 per cent in 2020 to the highest level in more than a decade.

There were a total of 1,190 alcohol-specific deaths last year, the highest figure since 2008, after a decline in the figures the previous year.

The figures do not include deaths which are partially attributed to alcohol.

Maree Todd, Scotland’s public health minister and an SNP MSP, said lockdown had led to people who were drinking heavily consuming even more alcohol.

"Although alcohol consumption in Scotland dropped in 2020, evidence from various surveys has shown those who were drinking heavily before the pandemic were more likely to increase their drinking during lockdown, thereby increasing their risk of harm,” she said.

"In the last year we have worked with alcohol organisations to get services back to pre-pandemic levels as quickly as possible.”

Glasgow city and Inverclyde had the highest rates of alcohol-specific deaths, however, these two local authority areas have also seen the biggest reduction in alcohol-specific deaths since 2004.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said the figures follow a “similar pattern to elsewhere in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic and demonstrates the urgent need to act on this parallel health crisis”.

He said: "Though the Scottish government has led the way with innovative alcohol harm prevention policies – like minimum unit pricing – there is still more to do to tackle alcohol harm including ensuring access to alcohol treatment for all who need it.

"This must be backed up by urgent action from the UK government in the form of effective alcohol taxes and alcohol advertising restrictions on TV and online to protect children. Lives depend on it."

Scotland became the first country in the world to bring in minimum unit pricing for alcohol in May 2018. In the same year, the government said Scots had bought enough alcohol for adults to drink 19 units of alcohol per week – equivalent to nearly 40 bottles of vodka or around 100 bottles of wine in one year.

It meant that on average, every adult in Scotland was drinking 36 per cent more than the UK-wide lower-risk guidelines of 14 units per week.

Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: "These statistics confirm fears that alcohol deaths in Scotland are following the same horrific trend as drug deaths.

"Scotland has a real problem with treating addiction that has grown far worse since the SNP came to power. It would be a grievous mistake to assume this increase is down to the pandemic alone."

Scottish Labour's Jackie Baillie said: "With deaths four times higher in the most deprived areas it is obvious that action is needed, not only to reduce alcohol-related harm and deaths, but to tackle the underlying causes of alcohol misuse.

"For too long the SNP has failed to properly resource alcohol support services."

Additional reporting by PA

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