Alcohol in Scotland

Three reports have been published giving statistics for alcohol consumption and health consequences in Scotland. 

The first of these, “How much are people in Scotland
really drinking?” is an examination of the validity of the national
surveys of drinking behaviour. Four such surveys are addressed by the
report: the Scottish Health Survey (SHeS), the Health Education
Population Survey (HEPS), the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children
study (HBSC), and the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and
Substance Use Survey (SALSUS). Recently, these have been reorganised so
that there are just two surveys, SHeS for adults and SALSUS for children
and young people. As the report’s authors point out, relying on just
one survey for each age group increases the importance of sound

To assess the validity, consumption estimates from these
surveys were compared with sales figures per head of UK population.
Although this is not perfect, it is the best available estimate of total
alcohol consumption. The sales figures indicate that 22 units of
alcohol were sold per week for every adult in the UK, in 2003. In
contrast, the SHeS indicates an average consumption of just 12 units per
adult, per week in the same year (the most recent year that survey was
conducted). This suggests that survey data underestimate consumption by
almost 50%.

In spite of underestimating to this degree, survey data
might still give reliable information about trends in consumption, if
the degree of error does not change over time. However, the report found
a widening gap between sales figures and survey data, suggesting that
the degree of underestimation has got worse. Therefore, trends based on
survey data should be treated with caution.

In response to the findings of this review, NHS Health
Scotland and the Scottish Government have worked together to recalculate
drinking figures from the most recent Scottish Health Survey (2003)
taking account of recent increases in drink strength. The first of these
revised alcohol consumption estimates have now been published. 

Consumption was recalculated using new estimates of the number of units in each drink, as calculated by the ONS,  [link to ias news story
]. This revision increased the estimate of the average weekly
consumption for men from 17.2 units to 20.3 units. For women, the
corresponding increase was greater, from 6.5 units per week to 9.1 units
per week. The reason that the revision had a greater effect on women is
that the estimates changed most for wine, and women tend to drink more
wine than men.

Using the previous unit conversion factors 27% of men
reported their usual alcohol consumption as being more than the
recommended limit of 21 units per week. Using the new conversion factors
shows this to be 34%. The proportion of women who reported drinking
more than the recommended limit of 14 units per week was 14% using the
previous factors and 23% with the updated factors.

The third report is an overview of Community Health and
Wellbeing Profiles for Scotland. These profiles provide information
about health indicators at a local level, by Community Health
Partnership (CHP) and in more detail. The report covers a wide range of
indicators, including alcohol-related and alcohol-attributable hospital
admissions. These are combined into a single measure, being the total
number of admissions for conditions directly caused by alcohol and a
proportion of admissions for conditions where alcohol contributes to the
number of cases.

The numbers of hospital admissions are expressed as
standardised admission rates, that is, the number of admissions per
100,000 population, per year. Figures ranged from 521 admissions per
100,000 for the best CHP, East Dunbartonshire, to 1,505 per 100,000 for
the worst CHP, East Glasgow. For Scotland as a whole, rates have been
increasing over time, though for some areas, including East
Dunbartonshire, rates have declined.

All three reports are available from the news archive at the Scottish Public Health Observatory:

The Revised Alcohol Consumption Estimates from the 2003
Scottish Health Survey may be accessed via the information on How much
are people in Scotland really drinking?

For Community Health and Wellbeing Profiles, profiles for Glasgow are covered in a separate report:

Download the the two pages relating to alcohol here. (pdf 558kb)