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Scotland: Alcohol-related deaths on the rise again

source: National Records Scotland

New statistics from National Records Scotland show that there were 1,265 alcohol-related deaths last year – an increase of 115 (10%) compared with 2015 – representing the highest annual total since 2010 (illustrated, see right).

It was also the third largest annual increase in numbers since records began: there were increases of 151 (18%) in 1996 and 122 (11%) in 1999. The only other years with percentage increases of 10 or more compared to the previous year were 1988 (10%), 1994 (17%) and 1995 (12%).

There were 867 male deaths and 398 female deaths in 2016; the ratio of 2 male deaths to every female death related to alcohol has remained largely constant since 1979.

The cohort with the highest number of alcohol-related deaths in 2016 was aged between 45-59 (503 deaths), 12 more than in 2015 and the fourth consecutive increase. The 45-59 age-group has had the largest number of alcohol-related deaths in almost every year since 1979.

Older age cohorts seemed to suffer increases across the board. There was an increase of 56 in deaths of 60-74 year olds, to 468: a third consecutive increase, and the highest for that age-group since 2006. The 147 deaths of people aged 75 and over was 39 more than in 2015, and was the highest number ever recorded for that age-group.

According to the National Records of Scotland website, the number of alcohol-related deaths was relatively stable, at roughly 600 per year, during the 1980s, before increasing rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s, and reaching a peak of 1,546 in 2006.

Since then, the trend had appeared to be generally downward – reaching a recent low of 1,080 in 2012 – but remaining over 1,000 deaths. However, the report’s authors say that increases in three of the past four years, a larger increase in 2016 and an increase in the 5-year moving average may suggest a change in the direction of the trend.

Commenting on the figures, Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Alison Douglas said: 

"It is tragic that 1,265 men and women in Scotland died because of alcohol last year; a 10% increase on the previous year. Behind these appalling statistics are real people - sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents, friends and colleagues – who have died too young because of a substance that’s cheap, widely available and constantly promoted.

"Alcohol-related deaths are preventable. Increasing the price of the cheapest, strongest drinks through minimum unit pricing will reduce consumption and save hundreds of people’s lives, particularly those living in our poorest communities. As well as minimum pricing, we need to see bold and proportionate action from the Scottish Government in its forthcoming alcohol strategy. This must focus on reducing the widespread availability and marketing of alcohol to make it easier for people to drink less."