Scots top UK drink death rates but numbers are falling

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Scotland is the only country in the UK to have seen a significant reduction in alcohol-related deaths this century, an official report has revealed.

But the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said Scotland still has more deaths per head of population than any other nation.

In 2017, Scottish males were twice as likely to die from alcohol-related causes than those in England.

But the report said the number had fallen by 21% since 2001.

In Northern Ireland it rose by 40% over the same period.

Older people

Across the UK, there were 7,697 alcohol-specific deaths in 2017 – a rate of 12.2 deaths per 100,000 population.

The Scottish figure was 1,120, almost 300 fewer than the peak year of 2006.

The UK death toll has risen in recent years, and is now similar to those in 2008 where it was at the highest recorded.

The figures show deaths known to be direct consequences of alcohol misuse, such as alcoholic liver disease.

They do not include diseases where alcohol may by a contributing factor such as cancers of the mouth, oesophagus and liver.

Older people are more likely to die from drink-related causes. Death rates were highest among women aged 55-59 and men aged 60-64.

‘Sense of loss’

The report said: “Given that the definition of alcohol-specific deaths includes mostly chronic conditions, such as alcoholic liver disease, the increased rates in the older age groups may be a consequence of misuse of alcohol that began years, or even decades, earlier.”

Karen Tyrell, executive director of external affairs at the addiction charity Addaction, said: “We know alcohol is an issue for over 50s and we need to do a lot more to reach this group in a way that works for them.

“For older drinkers, alcohol often creeps up and gradually plays a more central role in day-to-day life.

“The people we work with frequently talk about alcohol as a way to deal with loneliness, isolation, and the sense of loss that sometimes comes with retirement and a move into a new phase of life.”

Since the beginning of the ONS time series in 2001, men have been more than twice as likely to die as women (16.8 and 8.0 deaths per 100,000 in 2017 respectively).

In 2017, 30 Scottish males died per 100,000 population – twice as high as those in England (15 per 100,000). The figure for Wales was 18 per 100.000.

‘Vulnerable communities’

Overall, alcohol-related deaths in Scotland fell by 21% since 2001 while in Northern Ireland they rose by 40% over the same period.

Public health agencies have also looked at the wider number of deaths caused by alcohol consumption, including traffic accidents.

  • Public Health England has estimated that 24,202 deaths in 2017 were caused by alcohol consumption in England;
  • there were an estimated 3,705 deaths attributable to alcohol consumption in 2015 among adults aged 16 years and over in Scotland, equating to 6.5% of the total number of deaths (57,327)
  • in Wales, it is estimated that approximately 1,500 deaths are attributable to alcohol consumption each year, representing 1 in 20 of all deaths.

The Scottish government introduced a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol in May 2018. The policy, which increased the price of some cheap, strong drinks was welcomed by alcohol campaigners.

But Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The introduction of MUP earlier this year will save hundreds of lives, but alone it is not enough.

“We see twice as many deaths from alcohol in areas with the highest availability, and more needs to be done to protect our most vulnerable communities by controlling where and when alcohol is sold.”

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