Deaths caused by alcohol at highest level for more than a decade
The number of deaths caused by alcohol increased to 1,190 last year, the highest level for more than a decade, new figures have shown.
The latest toll marks a 17 per cent increase from 1,020 in 2019, according to statistics published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) today.
The data shows a return to the recent upward trend in the number of alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland, following a decline the previous year.
The total is the largest number of deaths due to alcohol recorded since 2008.
Alcohol deaths in the most deprived areas were around four times more than those in the least deprived areas.
Pete Whitehouse, NRS director of statistical services said: "NRS figures released today show a marked increase in the number of deaths due to alcohol, reversing the fall seen in 2019.
"Monthly analysis shows that alcohol-specific deaths were higher than average in 10 months of 2020. From August to November deaths were similar to or substantially higher than the highest numbers seen during these months over the last five years."
Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said: “Last year we saw a positive reduction in the number of deaths caused by alcohol.
"This sudden increase of 17 per cent is devastating to see and a tragedy for everyone affected. It is a stark reminder that we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball where alcohol harm is concerned.
"Scotland has made good progress in addressing the problems we have with alcohol by introducing policies like minimum unit pricing which is showing promising results. Yet the impact of the pandemic threatens to undermine this progress. Many people, particularly heavier drinkers, have reported that they have increased their drinking during the last 18 months.
"If we are to prevent more people losing their lives to alcohol and to reduce health inequalities we need to redouble our efforts by reducing the availability of alcohol, restricting its marketing and by uprating minimum unit price. Importantly, we also need to make sure that support is available to those who need it now."
Opposition political parties have called for action from the Scottish Government following the rise in alcohol-specific deaths.
Annie Wells, Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman, said: "These statistics confirm fears that alcohol deaths in Scotland are following the same horrific trend as drug deaths.
"Scotland has a real problem with treating addiction that has grown far worse since the SNP came to power. It would be a grievous mistake to assume this increase is down to the pandemic alone.
"The Scottish Conservatives are developing plans for a Right to Recovery Bill alongside frontline experts, so that more people can immediately access the drug or alcohol addiction treatment they need. We urge the SNP Government to take the decisive action that is necessary and back our bill."
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour health spokeswoman, said: "The sharp rise in alcohol-specific deaths is deeply concerning.
"It’s clear that the pandemic has caused the number of alcohol-related deaths to rise and everything possible must be done to get treatment and rehabilitation services back on track.
"With deaths four times higher in the most deprived areas it is obvious that action is needed, not only to reduce alcohol-related harm and deaths, but to tackle the underlying causes of alcohol misuse."
Gillian Mackay, Scottish Greens health spokeswoman, added: "Every one of these deaths is a devastating loss to a family left behind. While there was clear evidence that minimum unit pricing was working, these figures show how the pandemic changed behaviours.
"We need to recognise the role that poverty and mental health plays in this, providing earlier treatment and support where it is needed. There also still needs to be action on the marketing and promotion of alcohol and a reassessment of the minimum unit price."
NRS has also published figures on probable suicide deaths, which decreased by three per cent from 833 to 805.
Data on accidental deaths was made available, showing there were 2,759 in Scotland in 2020 - a 1.2 per cent increase when compared with 2019.
The death rate from all causes for people in the most deprived areas is 1.9 times that of those in the least deprived.