Figures published today by National Records of Scotland show that there were 1,190 alcohol-specific deaths registered in Scotland in 2020, 17% more than the previous year, when the lowest figure since 2013 was recorded.

Alcohol continues to be a leading cause of illness and early death in Scotland, and significant inequalities persist in the health harms alcohol causes and in the rates of mortality related to it. Alcohol-specific mortality rates for those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland were more than four times the rate for those in the least deprived in 2020.

As lead for the Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) programme, Public Health Scotland (PHS) analyse key alcohol statistics, to help understand what drives sustained changes in indicators such as alcohol-specific deaths.

In 2020 measures to control the spread of COVID-19 included restrictions on some licenced premises, such as pubs, clubs and restaurants. Earlier this year Public Health Scotland reported that it is likely that the pandemic and associated restrictions contributed to lower overall alcohol consumption across the Scottish population in 2020. However, different population groups may have responded to the pandemic differently, with some people drinking more and others drinking less. Further robust assessment is required to understand the impact of the pandemic on the number of alcohol specific deaths seen last year.

Meanwhile, as part of the on-going evaluation of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP), PHS will assess the impact of MUP on hospital admissions and deaths due to alcohol, with this study due to report in early 2023.

Dr Tara Shivaji, Consultant in Public Health at PHS, said:

“Excessive consumption of alcohol can result in a wide range of health problems, such as damage to the liver and brain, and ultimately death. Today’s figures remind us that this harm is still experienced by too many people in Scotland, and by people in our most deprived areas most of all. Like all harm caused by alcohol, this is preventable.

“PHS will continue to monitor and evaluate Scotland’s alcohol strategy, including the impact of Minimum Unit Pricing. We are undertaking additional analysis of the on-going impact of the COVID-19 and the measures taken to control the spread of the virus, against key indicators including alcohol-specific mortality.

“However, alongside production of this intelligence, we are also helping to implement evidence-based actions to reduce the harms associated with alcohol. This includes collaborating on a four nations basis to develop UK-wide clinical guidelines for alcohol treatment – the first time that such guidance has been developed.

“These guidelines will provide a clear consensus on good practice to help treatment services in Scotland implement National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended interventions. The aim is to improve the consistency and quality of service provision, resulting in more effective alcohol treatment and better health outcomes which make a difference to people’s lives”.   

View the National Records of Scotland – Alcohol-specific deaths report (external website)

See findings from PHS’s studies of alcohol sales and consumption in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic

Find out more about the development of UK alcohol clinical guidelines (external website)

Last updated: 06 October 2022