The warning was contained in a consultation document published by ministers on their plans to impose a 50 pence per unit minimum price on alcoholic drinks.
The document drew from research, which painted a grim picture of the impact that alcohol has on Scottish society.
According to the document, Scotland has the highest rate of alcohol related deaths in the UK with an average of 24 people losing their battle with the bottle every week.
It quoted a survey which found well over half (60 per cent) of people in Scotland believe alcohol is the drug which causes the most problems for Scotland as a whole. That compared with just 19 per cent saying heroin.
Last year Scottish drinkers bought enough drink for everyone over the age of 16 to drink 10.5 litres of pure alcohol.
Confirming that a 50 pence minimum unit price was the Government’s preferred approach, it said the policy was a “proportionate response to tackling alcohol misuse as it strikes a reasonable balance between public health and social benefits and intervention in the market”.
But it added: “For some illnesses that are associated with drinking alcohol, it will take a long time to see the full benefit of drinking less. It may take 20-years for all the benefits of the policy to be realised. After 20-years, there could be 121 fewer deaths each year and over 2,000 fewer hospital admissions each year.”
The damage done by cheap alcohol was highlighted by the document, which claimed that moderate drinkers would see “very little difference, if any” in the cost of the alcoholic drinks they buy.
The policy would, however, have an impact on those binging on cheap alcohol. At the moment it is possible to buy a three litre bottle of cider with an alcohol strength of 7.5 per cent for just £3.59.
That is the equivalent to 16 pence per unit. Under a 50 pence minimum unit price, the same bottle would cost £11.25.
The document said the policy would “target the cheap, strong alcohol that heavier drinkers tend to drink.”