The story behind Scotland's alcohol death statistics

Image caption According to government figures, alcohol-related deaths have decreased since 2006.

Scotland could become the first part of the UK to introduce a minimum price for alcohol if the new SNP government resurrects its plan to tackle Scotland's booze culture.

The last Alcohol Bill proposed a minimum price of 45p. This would have seen a two-litre bottle of Tesco brand cider go from £1.32 to £3.80, while Asda whisky would have risen from £9.20 to £12.60.

But what do the latest statistics tell us about Scotland's booze culture?

Official statistics from the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) suggests our drinking patterns have changed in recent years.

The Royal Statistical Society's Professor Sheila Bird said: "At older ages, Scotland's major upswing in alcohol related deaths occurred during the 1990s, when they about doubled from 643 in 1990/91 to 1,228 in 1999/00.

"This steep rise plateaued at around 1,500 in the middle of the 2000s, and alcohol-related deaths have since fallen back below 1,300."

It's important to note that in 2000 there was a change to the way these statistics were compiled which, for example, changed the way deaths were recorded for people with alcohol-related mental illness.

Although this means figures after the millennium can't be directly compared with those before, the rise in drink-related deaths continued.

Professor Jonathan Chick, of Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, said that the overall reduction could have happened for a number of reasons, including;

  • slight reductions in alcohol consumption have been reported across the population
  • there has been a recession, which has affected the levels of disposable income people have available to buy alcohol
  • there has been government investment for GPs who identify problem drinkers at an early stage and send them on for specialist treatment
  • and there has been an increase in the amount of treatment available.

From the raw GROS figures [graph one], it looks like drinking habits among the under-30's have changed little, but changing the way the figures are presented reveals a more stark appearance [graph two] with alcohol-related deaths having risen among under-30's in the 21st Century.

Graph one

Image caption Overall alcohol-related deaths have declined slightly since the mid 2000s

Graph two

Image caption The rise of alcohol-related deaths in the under 30s rose significantly in the last decade

Professor Chick said: "This is a case of young people not living long enough to die after their 30s because they've died from illnesses such as alcoholic liver disease before they get to that age."

This rise in deaths could be a reflection of how attitudes to alcohol changed in the 1980s and 1990s, the effects of which are becoming more apparent now.

However, Michelle Ballantyne from Face2face, a group that works with young people with alcohol problems across the Scottish Borders, said: "Culturally, the way people are drinking has changed and preloading, or drinking at home before you go out, has become more common.

"We mainly try to change attitudes towards alcohol in under 18s, but they find any changes in their drinking patterns hard to sustain because of social pressure for them to drink.

"What you can't step away from is that alcohol is a toxin, and if you're poisoning yourself there are going to be some consequences to that."

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