Deaths caused by alcohol reached their highest level over the past 12 years in 2020. The uptick in alcohol use and harm during the pandemic is partly thought to be the cause. While Scotland has made strides in alcohol policy to protect people, there is still more to be done.

The National Records of Scotland statistics show there were 1,190 alcohol-specific deaths registered in Scotland last year. The number amounts to 170 more alcohol deaths than in 2019, meaning a 17% increase in alcohol-specific deaths. This was the highest number of alcohol-specific deaths registered since 2008.

The records are based on causes known to be exclusively caused by alcohol consumption. Thus, it is possibly an underestimation of the actual number of deaths due to alcohol.

The NRS statistics show:

  • Men are more than twice as likely as women to die from alcohol;
  • Most alcohol-specific deaths were of people in their 50s and 60s, with the average age being 59.9 for men and 57.4 for women;
  • Deaths in the most deprived areas were four times higher than those in the least deprived areas; and
  • The number of alcohol-specific deaths increased between 2012 and 2018, before falling by 10% in 2019. The 2020 increase reverses the fall in the previous year.
Increase in alcohol deaths in Scotland in 2020 compared to 2019
The National Records of Scotland statistics show there were 1,190 alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland in 2020. This was 170 more deaths than 2019, a 17% increase.
Times more deaths in most deprived areas than in wealthiest areas
The National Records of Scotland statistics show alcohol deaths in the most deprived areas were four times higher than those in the least deprived areas.

Scotland has the highest alcohol-specific death rate in the United Kingdom (UK) nations since records began in 2008.

Although alcohol consumption in Scotland dropped in 2020, evidence from various surveys has shown those who were consuming alcohol heavily before the pandemic were more likely to increase their [alcohol use] during lockdown, thereby increasing their risk of harm,” said Maree Todd, Public Health Minister of Scotland, as per BBC.

Maree Todd, Public Health Minister, Scotland

Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Annie Wells said the rise in deaths is not only because of the pandemic. She called on the Scottish government to back her party’s plans for a Right to Recovery Bill so that more people can immediately access the alcohol and other drugs addiction treatment they need.

The lack of treatment services for alcohol and other drug problems is a serious problem in Scotland. As Movendi International previously reported, in Scotland people wait an average of eight years to obtain any form of support for their own/family alcohol or other drug use problems.

Scotland has made, however, strides in advancing alcohol policy solutions, for instance with the minimum unit pricing policy (MUP). The MUP policy is heralded for the drop in alcohol sales and use in Scotland. In 2020, overall alcohol sales in Scotland fell to a 26 year low since records began. A recent Lancet study corroborated the results showing alcohol purchases in Scotland declined since the introduction of MUP, specifically in households which purchased the most alcohol – as intended by the policy.

However as the alcohol-specific death rate shows, continued and improved action is necessary to reduce alcohol harm in the country.

It is a stark reminder that we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball where alcohol harm is concerned,” said Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, as per BBC.

Alison Douglas, chief executive, Alcohol Focus Scotland

To this end, increasing MUP – as called for by Scottish communities – is the next step to prevent and reduce alcohol harm even further.

Scottish communities backed by doctors and health advocates have called on the government to raise the minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol to 65p per unit of alcohol. This would match the alcohol floor price to the inflation rate and ensure continued public health gains from MUP. 


BBC News: “Alcohol deaths at highest level for a decade

The Scotsman: “Alcohol-related deaths reach ‘devastating’ 12-year high in Scotland as Covid-19 threatens to ‘undermine’ progress