Scotland's alcohol death rate provides another reason to tackle the root causes of 'deaths of despair' – Scotsman comment

Making Scotland a better place to live by tackling poverty is likely to be best way to fundamentally reduce deaths caused by alcohol and drugs

As shown by the horrific number of lives lost to illegal drugs in Scotland, this country has a particular problem with what are known as “deaths of despair”. It is, therefore, hardly unexpected that new figures showing UK deaths from alcohol have hit a record high also reveal Scotland’s death rate is even higher.

Alcohol Focus Scotland, which receives much of its funding from the Scottish Government, said the overall number of deaths had seen a “staggering increase” of 25 per cent since 2019, with chief executive Alison Douglas saying: “Despite the Scottish Government's acknowledgement that this is a public health emergency, we are still not seeing an adequate emergency response.”

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Douglas added that “Big Alcohol is the number one roadblock” to the implementation of measures designed to make alcohol less affordable, restrict marketing and reduce availability because firms “rely on heavy drinking for much of their profits”. Of course, SNP ministers’ flagship policy in this area has been minimum unit pricing, which will increase from 50p a unit to 65p in September.

Political smokescreen

However, while it may suit the Scottish Government to demonise the drinks industry, this does not explain why Scotland has such a serious problem. “Big Alcohol” exists in plenty of other countries that have a death rate far lower than ours.

The new figures showed there were 16.6 alcohol-specific deaths for every 100,000 people in the UK in 2022. In Scotland, despite the introduction of minimum unit pricing in 2018, the rate was actually higher, at 22.9 deaths per 100,000.

Alcoholism may start on a night out but it can end in an early grave (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)Alcoholism may start on a night out but it can end in an early grave (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Alcoholism may start on a night out but it can end in an early grave (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
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Alcohol Scotland: Drink-related deaths still highest in the UK, figures reveal

Minimum unit pricing may act as a brake on an individual’s descent into alcoholism, but it is unlikely to deter those already caught in its grip, who may instead forgo food and other essentials, and who need specialist help. The policy could be acting as a smokescreen that suggests ‘something is being done’ while not addressing the underlying causes of Scotland’s particular problem.

The fundamental solution, we suggest, involves tackling poverty by turning the economy around, in order to make life in Scotland less likely to prompt people to turn, in utter despair, to alcohol or drugs that will eventually kill them.