MEMORANDUM FROM DR MARTIN PLANT, DIRECTOR,
ALCOHOL AND HEALTH RESEARCH CENTRE
ALCOHOL AND ALCOHOL PROBLEMS IN SCOTLAND:
A SELECT UPDATE
Most people in Scotland consume alcohol, if
only occasionally. Moreover, the majority of drinkers generally
consume moderate and harmless quantities of alcohol. The 1998
General Household Survey (GHS) showed that 75 per cent of British
men and 59 per cent of women had consumed alcohol in the past
week. Adults in Scotland are rather more likely than those south
of the border to concentrate their drinking. Men in Scotland were
more likely than those in England to have consumed eight units
of alcohol on at least one session in the past week (24 per cent
compared with 20 per cent). Women in Scotland were more likely
than their English counterparts to have consumed three units in
any one day (27 per cent compared with 20 per cent). The 1998
Scottish Health Survey (SHS) showed that 33 per cent of adult
males were exceeding 21 units per week and 15 per cent of women
were exceeding 14 units per week. These are generally accepted
by healthcare professionals and researchers as being the upper
boundaries of "low risk" drinking.
Several surveys have also shown that Scottish
teenagers were more likely that those in England to concentrate
their alcohol consumption into fewer, but rather heavier, sessions.
Research in the Western Isles has also shown that the drinking
habits of adolescents and teenagers in that locality were remarkably
polarised. A fifth had never consumed alcohol, while a third were
periodically drinking heavily. The 1995 and 1999 European School
Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) showed that
UK students aged 15 and 16 years were amongst those in Europe
most likely to report high levels of periodic heavy drinking and
intoxication. UK teenagers were those most likely to have begun
daily cigarette smoking by the age of 13 (20 per cent) and to
have used illicit drugs (36 per cent). Scottish teenagers had
the highest level of illicit drug experience (41 per cent had
used cannabis and 16 per cent had used other drugs) in the UK.
Most of Scotland's alcohol-related problems
are attributable to the fact that, as in several other countries
(including Ireland and Scandinavia), a substantial proportion
of the nation's drinking has traditionally occurred on Friday
and Saturday evening. Heavy session intake is associated with
a wide range of acute problems, such as accidents, injuries, crimes
and public nuisance. At the same time, more people are also spreading
their drinking throughout the week. The 1998 GHS showed that among
British non-manual workers, 8 per cent of women and 17 per cent
of men had drunk on five or more days. Among professionals the
corresponding proportions were 6 per cent and 22 per cent. It
is emphasised that the pattern of drinking strongly influences
the pattern of the adverse consequences of drinking.
Officially recorded alcohol problems reflect
not only the level of problems, but the limitations and policies
of agencies attempting to record such information. Such official
data are inevitably a partial, imperfect, representation of the
Liver Disease Deaths
These have risen dramatically between 1996 and
1999, by 29 per cent in women and 35 per cent in men.
Alcohol Dependence Syndrome
Deaths from this cause rose by 35 per cent among
women and by 82 per cent in men between 1996 and 1999.
It is conservatively calculated that the number
of deaths from alcohol-related diseases has risen from 430 in
1990 to 1,013 (302 women and 711 men) in 1999 (Scottish Council
on Alcohol 2001).
Alcohol-Related Admissions to Psychiatric and
There were 820 alcohol-related admissions to
psychiatric hospitals and 22,078 admissions to non-psychiatric
hospitals in Scotland in 1999 (a total of 22,898). Note: These
figures only relate to alcohol dependence, alcohol non-dependence
and alcoholic psychosis. They do not include alcohol-related accident/injury
victims, members of Alcoholics Anonymous or clients of councils
Drinking and Driving
1970: 8,333 males, 80 females (total 8,413).
1994: 5,989 males, 443 females (total 6,432).
1964: 10,778 males, 956 females (total 11,734).
1998: 661 males, 64 females (total 725).
Breach of the Peace
Note: In the UK as a whole there are 120,000
tobacco-related deaths, at least 33,000 alcohol-related deaths
and 1,200 deaths associated with illicit drugs each year.
Dr Martin Plant
Director, Alcohol and Health Research Centre, City Hospital, Edinburgh