Despite tougher restrictions on alcohol sales, including minimum pricing, hospitals in Scotland are treating thousands of patients with alcohol related conditions.
The latest figures from Public Health Scotland show over 23,000 patients were admitted to hospital with an alcohol related condition in 2019/20. That number has remained relatively stable over the last five years.
Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of the charity Alcohol Change UK, said hospital admissions related to alcohol “continue to remain far too high”.
“Many of us are finding ourselves drinking more heavily and more often than we would like as we try to cope with the many challenges thrown up this year by Covid-19 and it’s vital that those of us who need specialist support can easily access it,” he said.
“For some of us, taking an extended break from drinking, like having a Dry January can be a good way to reset our relationship with alcohol, particularly if our drinking has been creeping up.”
Andrew Horne, Executive Director for Scotland at drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You said the number of hospital patients in Scotland due to alcohol related conditions is “extremely worrying”.
"We are concerned that these figures could increase next year as a result of the pandemic as multiple studies have shown that while lighter drinkers have been drinking less, heavier drinkers are drinking more during lockdown,” he said.
“We know from our work that social isolation and a lack of a human connection is a big factor behind why some people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. The necessary coronavirus restrictions has meant many people have been unable to see their loved ones or friends, which has exacerbated these issues whilst having a big impact on mental health.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson acknowledged that Scotland experiences high levels of alcohol related harm and that the level of the minimum unit pricing at 50 pence per unit continues to remain under review.
“Scotland experiences high levels of alcohol related harm, including an average of 688 general acute hospital admissions every week,” the spokesperson said.
“Following the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) at 50 pence per unit on 1 May 2018, this has been associated with a net reduction of between 4 and 5% in off-trade alcohol sales per adult in its first year. This is very promising and shows we are clearly moving in the right direction.
“We recognise that Covid-19 is impacting on the economy and on people’s incomes and affordability. It is important to understand these factors, while continuing to keep population health at the forefront of our consideration. We continue to keep the level of the MUP under review, and will consider all relevant emerging evidence, including the impact on health harms.”
If you are concerned about the drug or alcohol use of yourself or someone you know you can talk to a trained advisor via We Are With You's online webchat service via www.wearewithyou.org.uk.
We Are With You also runs a helpline specifically for people over 50 who are concerned about their alcohol use. For free support and advice please call 08088010750.