Figures on alcohol consumption and harm show that Scotland not only remains top of the alcohol league in the UK, they also suggest Scotland has the eighth highest alcohol consumption level in the world. According to industry sales figures, Scotland drank nearly 50 million litres of pure alcohol in 2007 - equivalent to 11.8 litres per capita for every person aged over 16. This was considerably higher than England and Wales, which had an average consumption figure of 9.9 litres per capita.
For Scottish adults aged over 18, moreover, the figure was even higher at 12.2 litres of pure alcohol per person, while the figure for England and Wales was 10.3 litres.
Scotland’s pure alcohol per capita figure of 11.8 litres is equivalent to 570 pints of 4 per cent beer, nearly 500 pints of strong 5 per cent lager, 42 bottles of vodka or 125 bottles of wine - enough for every single adult to exceed the sensible drinking guidelines for men of 21 units every week of the year. And the difference between Scotland’s consumption and that of England and Wales, of 189 units per person, equates to 80-90 pints of beer or 21 bottles of wine more per head.
The figures are derived from market data analysed by the Nielsen Company for the Scottish Government, which also showed that two-thirds of alcohol in Scotland was bought in off-sales locations such as supermarkets.
Compared with the latest figures compiled by the World Health Organisation, this would place Scotland as having the eighth highest pure alcohol consumption level, behind only Luxembourg (15.6 litres per capita), Ireland (13.7 litres), Hungary (13.6 litres), Moldova (13.2 litres), Czech Republic (13.0 litres), Croatia (12.3 litres) and Germany (12.0 litres). England and Wales’ figure of 9.9 litres per capita would place it at fifteenth - equal with Lithuania.
Scotland’s figure is higher than nearly every other country in Western Europe, including Spain (11.7 litres), France (11.4 litres) and Italy (8.0 litres). It is more than double the consumption level in Scandinavian countries like Sweden (6.0 litres) and Norway (5.5 litres) where the relative price of alcohol is considerably higher and the sale of alcohol is more restricted.
Commenting on the figures, Shona Robison, Minister for Public Health, said:
“When it comes to alcohol consumption, Scotland is worryingly close to the top of the international league table. Sales data from the alcohol industry itself indicates that we’re buying and drinking much more than people in the other UK countries and most of the rest of the world.
“There can be little doubt that this is largely a consequence of the big fall in alcohol’s relative price, which has dropped 70 per cent since 1980. Significantly, we now buy two-thirds of our alcohol from supermarkets and shops, rather than in pubs and clubs. In these contexts, alcohol is frequently sold as a ‘loss leader’, with heavily discounted deals and pocket-money prices the norm. The sad knock-on of all this has been a huge rise in all types of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths, with Scotland’s liver cirrhosis rate one of the fastest-growing worldwide and double that of England and Wales. Health experts are now agreed that alcohol misuse is the most pressing public health issue facing Scotland and we have to get to grips with it. Deluding ourselves that over-consumption of alcohol across our society is consequence free, or someone else’s problem, is no longer an option.”
Scottish alcohol death rates up to six times UK average
Not surprisingly, Scotland’s high level of alcohol consumption is accompanied by a high death toll from alcohol.
Death rates in one constituency - Glasgow Shettleston - are nearly 6 times the UK level or 574% of the UK average.
In the view of Alcohol Focus, Scotland, the figures, revealed in a Parliamentary Answer by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, add to the case for the Scottish Parliament to introduce serious measures to address Scotland’s relationship with alcohol and support the proposals put forward by the Scottish National Party to crack down on cheap alcohol. “The Scottish Government is proposing radical action to tackle Scotland’s problems with alcohol, but it is also for each and every one of us to think about what we’re drinking and the effect that has on ourselves and public services. “Alcohol misuse costs Scottish society £2.25 billion a year. Recent reports estimating that 30% of ambulance journeys are alcohol-related put the cost to the ambulance service at £30 million – today’s figures show it could be much more than that. “At the start of Alcohol Awareness Week I would urge everyone to look at their relationship with alcohol, how much they drink, and the impact it is having on their lives and on their communities.” The ten constituencies with the highest number of deaths as a percentage of the UK death rate (approx 13 deaths per 100,000) are shown in the accompanying box. Of the 73 Scottish Parliament constituencies, 64 of them have alcohol-related death rates above the UK average and all but one health board has an alcohol-related death rate above the UK average. Amongst health boards, Greater Glasgow and Clyde recorded the highest number of alcohol-related deaths at 267% or nearly three times the UK average.
Jack Law, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said: “These shocking figures highlight the links between alcohol misuse and poverty. Although people from across the social spectrum are affected by personal alcohol problems, people in areas of deprivation suffer greater health and social inequalities as a result of problem drinking.
“Too many communities in Scotland are blighted by alcohol problems. We want to see action on the price of alcohol and its availability - the lure of deeply discounted alcohol comes at a huge cost to families, communities, and services.
“Introducing minimum pricing will make a real difference to alcohol-related harm in Scotland.”
Most night-time Scottish Ambulance call-outs due to alcohol
Figures from the Scottish Ambulance Service, reported on the BBC on the first day of Scotland’s Alcohol Awareness Week in October 2009, show that 68% of calls between Friday night and Sunday morning are alcohol-related. Glasgow SNP MSP Anne McLaughlin who recently joined an ambulance crew in Glasgow on a Saturday night said the figures matched what she had seen:
“Spending the night working with Glasgow’s paramedics showed me how much of their time is spent dealing with the impact of alcohol.
“Whether it is people hurting themselves in drinkrelated accidents, ending up so drunk they need hospitalization, or the end result of alcohol-induced violence, all the cases we saw on a Saturday night shift involved alcohol.
“I want our emergency services to be dealing with people who really need them, not having to spend all their time mopping up the damage caused by alcohol.
“The Scottish Government is proposing radical action to tackle Scotland’s problems with alcohol, but it is also for each and every one of us to think about what we’re drinking and the effect that has on ourselves and public services.
“Alcohol misuse costs Scottish society £2.25 billion a year. Recent reports estimating that 30% of ambulance journeys are alcohol-related put the cost to the ambulance service at £30 million – today’s figures show it could be much more than that.
“At the start of Alcohol Awareness Week I would urge everyone to look at their relationship with alcohol, how much they drink, and the impact it is having on their lives and on their communities.”