Page last updated at 09:56 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 10:56 UK

Alcohol 'kills one in 20 Scots'

Man drinking pint of beer
Young men run the highest risk of dying because of their drinking

Alcohol may have caused the death of twice as many Scots as previously thought, an NHS study has found.

Researchers used a new method of calculating alcohol-related deaths which is said to more accurately reflect the damage done by drinking.

They estimated that 2,882 deaths - one in every 20 - could be attributed to alcohol in 2003.

More than a quarter of deaths in men aged between 35-44 were caused by alcohol, the study found.

The deaths of a fifth of women in the same age group were also attributable to alcohol.

The NHS Scotland research team used data compiled during the Scottish Health Survey of 2003 for their analysis.

To have one in 20 Scots dying from alcohol-related causes is a truly shocking statistic
Nicola Sturgeon
Health Secretary

They identified 53 different causes of death, ranging from stomach cancer and strokes to assaults and road deaths, in which alcohol played a part.

Jack Law, the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said: "It is particularly concerning to note that over 1000 Scots under the age of 55 died because of alcohol.

"The evidence shows that the most effective way to reduce consumption, and consequently harm, is to increase the price of alcohol.

"Introducing a minimum price per unit of alcohol would increase the price of the cheapest, most harmful drinks which appeal to heavier drinkers e.g. strong white ciders and cheap spirits.

"Minimum pricing would save lives as well as saving the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds in NHS, crime and employment costs."

Similar studies have already been carried out in countries including England, the US, Canada and Australia, but the method has never been used before in Scotland.

Previously, official figures only counted the more obvious "wholly-attributable" categories of death, such as alcoholic liver disease.

The study estimated that one in ten men and one in 20 women were admitted to hospital for alcohol-related conditions, which the researchers said placed a "considerable burden" on the health service.

Deaths caused by alcohol were proportionately higher in younger people, who tended to die from acute consequences such as injury, whereas older people were more likely to die from illness or disease.

Men were more likely than women overall to die an alcohol attributable death, while cancer accounted for just over a fifth of all alcohol attributable deaths.

However, the report also estimated that low levels of alcohol consumption actually protected nearly 1,500 people from deaths caused by conditions such as coronary heart disease.

Chronic conditions

But it warned that drinking even small amounts still increases the risk of contracting cancer and other chronic conditions.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the figures showed that alcohol was killing one Scot every three hours on average, and proved alcohol abuse was the biggest public health challenge the country faced.

She added: "This research shows that alcohol misuse is taking an even higher toll on Scotland's health than previously thought.

"To have one in 20 Scots dying from alcohol-related causes is a truly shocking statistic. Drinking alcohol is part of Scottish culture, but it's clear that many people are drinking too much and damaging their health in the process.

"The Scottish Government has made crystal clear our determination to get to grips with it."

Kate Macaulay, of nursing union RCN Scotland, said the statistics highlighted the need to take "urgent action" to reduce rates of alcohol consumption in Scotland.

"We welcome the measures that the Scottish Government is proposing to reduce excessive consumption if they result in lower levels of alcohol misuse and better public health," she added.

"All of the practical measures that are being put forward by the Scottish Government must be matched by educational and health promotional work from the earliest ages right through to older adults if we are genuinely going to tackle this growing health time bomb."

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