Scotland "in grip of alcohol emergency" as UK's booze death figures revealed

Woman alcoholic social problems concept sitting refusal of alcohol.
The list of benefits from giving up alcohol is lengthy -Credit:Getty

Scotland has topped the table for the most alcohol-related deaths in the UK. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics shows Northern Ireland was the other nation with the most people who lost their lives to drink in 2022.

Deaths as a direct consequence of alcohol misuse increased rapidly after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and experts have said the latest figures show a "continuation of that trend".

The shock figures reveal that the number of UK deaths caused by alcohol has reached a record high. Alison Douglas is the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, the national charity working to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm.

She said: "These new figures confirm that despite the lifesaving impact of minimum unit pricing, Scotland remains in the grip of an alcohol emergency.

-Credit:Guildford Titles
-Credit:Guildford Titles

"Changes to drinking patterns during the Covid-19 pandemic have sadly become embedded and represent a ticking time bomb of alcohol-related illness and deaths for our already overstretched NHS.

"Every life lost due to alcohol is a preventable tragedy for individuals, families, friends and communities." In 2022 these deaths were around a third higher compared with 2019, the year before the pandemic.

There were 10,048 deaths from alcohol-specific causes in the UK in 2022, the highest number on record, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This is 32.8% higher than in 2019 when there were 7,565 deaths and 4.2% higher than in 2021, when there were 9,641 alcohol-specific deaths. The ONS said that, between 2012 and 2019, deaths specifically attributed to alcohol were "stable".

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ONS health statistician David Mais added: "Alcohol-specific deaths rose sharply with the onset of the pandemic, and today's results show a continuation of that trend, with deaths around a third higher than in 2019.

"Research has suggested that people who were already drinking at high levels before the pandemic were the most likely to have increased their drinking during this period.

"This is likely a factor in the increase in alcohol-specific deaths registrations we have seen in 2022. Alcoholic liver disease was the leading cause of these deaths, and as with previous years, rates are much higher among men."

Alcohol-specific deaths only include those health conditions where the death is a direct consequence of alcohol, such as alcoholic liver disease.

The number of drink related deaths has been revealed.
The number of drink related deaths has been revealed. -Credit:Shutterstock

The figures - which do not include all deaths that can be attributed to alcohol, such as heart disease or various types of cancer - the rate of alcohol-specific deaths for men in 2022 remained around double that in women.

Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: "Each one of those deaths is a tragedy, representing a person who has had their life cut short and has left behind people who are grieving and miss them every day.

"We send our deepest sympathies to all those families and friends who have lost a loved one. Years of inaction on alcohol harm has led to this, and the heartbreaking thing is these deaths were totally avoidable.

"Our Government has the responsibility and the power to put preventative measures in place, including proper regulation of alcohol marketing, clearer alcohol labelling, and a minimum price for a unit of alcohol.

"As part of a clear, long-term strategy to improve our health, these measures can prevent alcohol harm, protecting individuals, family members, communities and society – and crucially save lives in the future."

Clare Taylor, chief operating officer at Turning Point, said: "It is saddening to see the figures released by ONS, behind every number is a person, and our thoughts go out to anyone who has lost someone from alcohol use.

"Increasing awareness of safe drinking levels and the long-term harms of alcohol use has a key role to play in reducing further harm from alcohol.” Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, also hit out.

He said: "We are in the midst of a public health crisis and the lack of government action to prevent the lives lost and resulting devastation for families, friends and communities is a shameful failure in public policy.

"Despite what we are often told by the alcohol industry, the evidence shows it’s a complete myth that this is a problem for only a small minority. Alcohol is cheaper, more available and more heavily marketed today than ever before.

"As the death toll reaches record levels, so do the profits of the multibillion-pound drinks industry. With the NHS already under severe pressure, we cannot continue on the current trajectory.

"The warning sirens are ringing, and whichever party forms the government at the next election must prepare to step up with a comprehensive alcohol strategy.

"This must include restrictions on marketing, availability and pricing – all of which are proven to reduce the harm caused by alcohol."

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