The total number of deaths (1,245 people) caused by alcohol in 2021 was 5 per cent up on the previous year and the highest number since 2008.
Two-thirds of those who died were men in figures that have been described as “desperately sad” by the Scottish Tories.
The figures were released just a week after it was confirmed 1,330 people had lost their lives to drug misuse in Scotland last year – only a slight 1 per cent dip on a record 2020 for drug deaths.
Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, urged the Scottish Government to use an emergency response to alcohol harm in the same manner as drugs.
“Action must include investment in support for those who already have alcohol problems,” she said.
“But we must also redouble our efforts to prevent the next generation of drinkers developing patterns of drinking that damage their health.”
Ms Douglas added: “These impacts are experienced unequally, with many more people dying in our poorest communities. We seem to almost accept this toll as inevitable, but we should not; each death can be prevented.”
The average age of those who died from alcohol-linked causes last year was 58.7 years for women and 59.7 years for men.
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “As with the drug-deaths epidemic, the crisis has only got worse on Nicola Sturgeon’s watch – and it’s those from our most deprived areas who are suffering the most.
“Again, the SNP Government have been found wanting. They wrongly saw minimum unit pricing (MUP) as the panacea, when, in reality, it’s a blunt instrument to tackle a very complex problem.”
A report released last month by medical journal BMJ Open had suggested the MUP scheme brought in to protect heavy drinkers may not be curbing the habit for the more vulnerable consumers.
Julie Ramsay, vital events statistician at NRS, pointed out: “Health inequalities are a feature of alcohol-specific deaths. Deaths attributed to alcohol were 5.6 times as likely in the most deprived areas of Scotland compared to the least deprived areas. This is more than the deprivation gap for all causes of death, which is 1.9. Two thirds of those who died last year were male.”
The rate of mortality from alcohol-specific deaths over the past five years was higher than the Scottish average in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Lanarkshire health board areas, once adjusted for age.
Elinor Jayne, director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), said: “This is the second year in a row that the number of people dying directly because of alcohol has increased, and the impact that the pandemic has had on drinking patterns is now a real worry.
“And it’s a stark reminder that if you live in one of our most disadvantaged communities, you are much more likely to die as a result of alcohol than someone in one of Scotland’s more wealthy communities.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: “The number of alcohol deaths has increased sharply across the UK since the Covid-19 pandemic and research suggests many more lives will be cut short if urgent action is not taken.
“As it stands, there is no plan in place from the UK Government to use their reserved powers to curb this mounting crisis. Without a UK-wide alcohol strategy to ensure that evidence-based, life-saving policies are introduced to reduce our alcohol consumption and urgent investment is poured into treatment services, there is no hope for turning this tragic trend around.”
Scottish public health minister Maree Todd said: “The introduction of minimum unit pricing has helped reduce alcohol sales to their lowest on record, but we are determined to do even more tackle the scale of alcohol-specific deaths.
“That is why we are working on initiatives that will support communities across Scotland to address harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption. These include the review of alcohol brief interventions in Scotland with Public Health Scotland, the managed alcohol programme pilot in Glasgow delivered by Simon Community Scotland and supporting the UK Government on reviewing and updating clinical guidelines for alcohol treatment.”