THE number of deaths attributed to alcohol in Scotland has reached a 12-year high, official figures reveal.

There were 1190 deaths caused by alcohol registered in Scotland in 2020, an increase of 17% from 2019, where there were 1020 deaths.

The figures represent a rate of 21.5 deaths per 100,000 people in Scotland, and men accounted for two-thirds (69%) of the deaths.

The statistics, published by the National Records of Scotland, also show that after adjusting for age, death rates in the most deprived areas were 4.1 times more than in the least deprived areas.

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This is the highest yearly total since 2008, and campaigners have called the figures “devastating”.

It comes as Scotland also had a record number of drug deaths, which rose by 5% in 2020 to 1339.

Alcohol Focus Scotland said that the pandemic meant many people had increased their drinking in the past 18 months.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Last year we saw a positive reduction in the number of deaths caused by alcohol.

“This sudden increase of 17% is devastating to see and a tragedy for everyone affected. It is a stark reminder that we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball where alcohol harm is concerned.

“Scotland has made good progress in addressing the problems we have with alcohol by introducing policies like minimum unit pricing which is showing promising results. Yet the impact of the pandemic threatens to undermine this progress.

The National:

Campaigners say the pandemic has had an effect on the amount people are drinking

“Many people, particularly heavier drinkers, have reported that they have increased their drinking during the last 18 months. The effects are felt most by those living in our poorest communities, who are eight times more likely to die due to alcohol."

Douglas called for reducing the availability of alcohol, increasing the minimum unit price and making support available for those who need it.

The statistics also show that most alcohol related deaths were for people in their 50s and 60s (60%) with 711 deaths.

Over the last five years, the age group between 55-59 was the age group with the largest number of alcohol specific deaths, with an average of 185 per year.

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The figures also show a difference in alcohol death rates in urban areas compares to rural areas.

The councils with the highest death rates per 100,000 population were Inverclyde (31.6), Glasgow City (31.3) and North Lanarkshire (29.8).

Meanwhile the three council areas with the lowest death rates were the Shetland Islands (10.0), Aberdeenshire (10.3) and Scottish Borders (11.1).

Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs said the figures come as “little surprise” as their helpline during the pandemic showing “an escalating picture of risk, harm and service failure”.

Justina Murray, CEO of Scottish Families, said: “Since March 2020 our Helpline has been inundated with calls from individuals concerned about their own drinking during lockdown, and from those concerned about a loved one’s alcohol use.

The National:

There have also been calls for the minimum unit price to be increased

“A common theme has been how impossible it is to reach alcohol treatment and support when you need it, with phones ringing out, messages not returned, and few options offered when you do actually reach help.

“Individuals and families need immediate access to high quality alcohol treatment and support when they need it and where they need it. Then we might just start saving lives rather than counting deaths.”

Public Health Minister Maree Todd said that lockdown had led to people who were drinking heavily consuming even more alcohol.

She said: “I’m deeply saddened to see an increase in alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland and my heart goes out to all those affected.

“We have been making progress in this area in recent years as shown by the 10% drop in the number of deaths caused by alcohol last year.

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“Unfortunately, there has been an increase across Great Britain in 2020, reflected in the provisional figures for England and Wales published earlier in the year, and today’s figures for Scotland.”

She added: “Although alcohol consumption in Scotland dropped in 2020, evidence from various surveys has shown those who were drinking heavily before the pandemic were more likely to increase their drinking during lockdown, thereby increasing their risk of harm.

“In the last year we have worked with alcohol organisations to get services back to pre-pandemic levels as quickly as possible.

“This includes additional funding to extend outreach initiatives which identify people at risk, address their immediate health concerns, and get them the support they need.”

If you are concerned about someone elses alcohol or drug use, Scottish Families run a helpine and can be contacted on 08080 10 10 11 or