Scottish alcohol sales fall to lowest level on record

Sales are slowing but deaths related to drink are still rising. Picture: Contributed
Sales are slowing but deaths related to drink are still rising. Picture: Contributed
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Alcohol sales in Scotland fell to the lowest level for almost quarter of a century last year, new research has found.

The total volume of pure alcohol sold per adult in 2018 was 9.9 litres – the equivalent of 19 units per person per week.

The figures from the Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) programme were the lowest since recording began in 1994.

But deaths from alcohol are still on the rise, with the NHS Health Scotland report showing 1,120 deaths in 2017 were “wholly attributable to alcohol” – the equivalent of 22 people dying each week. The rate of deaths from alcohol-specific causes has risen for both men and women since 2012 – with these “consistently higher” than in England and Wales.

In 2017, just less than a quarter (24 per cent) of adults in Scotland reported drinking fewer than 14 units of alcohol a week – the amount classed as “low risk” – down from 34 per cent in 2003.

Across the country last year, a total of 44.7 million litres of pure alcohol were purchased – with almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of sales made via supermarkets and off-sales and the remaining 27 per cent in pubs, clubs and restaurants.

Although sales fell north of the border, the volume of pure alcohol sold per adult in Scotland was still 9 per cent higher than England and Wales for 2018. It was the smallest difference since 2003, however, with sales per adult rising in England and Wales between 2017 and 2018.

A total of 23,494 people in Scotland were admitted to hospital with an alcohol related diagnosis in 2017-18.

With some people being admitted more than once, there were 35,499 alcohol-related inpatient stays.

Despite a downward trend since 2007-08, rates of alcohol-related hospital stays remained four times higher than they were in the early 1980s, the report said.

People from the most deprived areas were more than eight times more likely to need admitting to hospital because of alcohol than those in the most affluent parts of Scotland.

Meanwhile, the poorest parts of Scotland had alcohol death rates that were more than seven times higher than those in the least deprived communities.

With minimum pricing coming into effect in May 2018, less than a quarter (23 per cent) of all alcohol sold in shops and supermarkets last year cost less than 50p per unit – down from 47 per cent in 2017.

But in England and Wales more than two-fifths (42 per cent) of all alcohol sold in off-sales cost less than this price point.