Alcohol a factor in 'one in 20' deaths in Scotland

SCOTLAND'S death toll from drink is twice as bad as previously thought, figures revealed today.

Experts said one in 20 deaths in 2003 could be attributed to alcohol, twice as many as previously reported.

Alcohol is a factor in one death every three hours, it emerged.

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More than 1,000 of the 2,882 deaths were of people under 55.

And one in 10 of all deaths of people aged between 35 and 44 were due to alcoholic liver disease.

The figures were published by the NHS in what is said to be the first study of its kind in Scotland.

Statisticians went back to death figures for 2003 and recalculated them in line with what is now known about alcohol consumption in Scotland.

The calculations also took account of factors which do not normally show up in routine alcohol statistics, like the part drink plays in cancers and road deaths.

The finding that 2,882 deaths, or 5% of all deaths in Scotland, were attributed to alcohol compares with the previous estimate of just 1,525 for that year.

The new figure – which works out at 55 per week and eight a day – is double the figure for deaths from illnesses caused almost entirely by alcohol consumption alone like liver disease.

And as well as the deaths, about 41,400 people were discharged from hospital due to alcohol consumption, or more than one in 20 of all patients over 16.

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The figures also show men were more at risk of dying than women.

And there were disproportionately more deaths in younger age groups, with one in four men and one in five women aged between 35 and 44 dying an alcohol-attributable death.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "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."

She went on: "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.

"Alcohol misuse is the biggest public health challenge we face and the Scottish Government has made crystal clear our determination to get to grips with it."

The study also found that 1,493 heart disease deaths may have been prevented by low levels of alcohol consumption – although the experts said low levels of consumption also put individuals at risk of other conditions.

The figures prompted a political row over the Scottish Government's plan for a minimum price for alcohol.

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A spokesman for Public Health Minister Shona Robison said: "Week by week, there is growing support for minimum pricing of alcohol, and growing evidence of its need.

"As the chief medical officer has made clear, we must tackle Scotland's 2.25 billion alcohol misuse problem and all the human misery it causes now."

This view was backed by the British Medical Association whose Scottish chairman, Dr Peter Terry, said: "Legislation on price is the only proven way to help change behaviour and end the heavy drinking culture that is blighting our health service."

But Tory health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: "It is important in the light of these figures that the Scottish Government stops relying on minimum pricing as a single tool solution. Alcohol addiction and drink bingeing is a complex problem, requiring a co-ordinated response.

"We urgently need better education about the harm which alcohol can cause and rehabilitation programmes based on abstinence and recovery."