Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Scottish Executive Health Department (DIS 8)


  1.  Government policy in Scotland in the 1990s acknowledged problems with alcohol as a public health issue and targets were set in 1999 to reduce drinking over weekly limits by 2005.[5] Independent Scottish Advisory Committee on Alcohol Misuse was set up to advise government on alcohol issues.

  2.  The Scottish Executive committed itself last year to produce a national alcohol problems strategy in the form of a Plan for Action by the end of 2001. The Executive ran a consultation exercise from February to June 2001. Views were gathered from the alcohol industry and related business organisations, those who provide services that respond to alcohol problems, people who have problems with alcohol and their families and friends, children and young people, equality and community groups, organisations with an interest in the broader issues for society and the general public. Specific studies have also been commissioned on trends and costs of alcohol misuse, effective measures to address alcohol problems, and international experience of relevance to Scotland.

  3.  An analysis of the health aspects of alcohol consumption is set out in the Annex. The Plan will say that action to address these issues is the responsibility of a range of agencies, guided by evidence of best practice and effectiveness. It will acknowledge the social responsibility efforts of the industry, including initiatives by The Portman Group and others.


  4.  The Executive has set up an independent Committee to review all aspects of liquor licensing law and practice in Scotland. The committee met for the first time on 1 August. The full remit of the committee is:

        "To review all aspects of liquor licensing law and practice in Scotland, with particular reference to the implications for health and public order; to recommend changes in the public interest; and to report accordingly."

  5.  The licensing review, which is expected to take about 18 months will complement the overall strategic approach in the Plan for Action on alcohol problems.

Scottish Executive Health Department

November 2001


Health Matters Relating to Alcohol Consumption

  1.  The majority of people in Scotland drink alcohol. The most recent survey of the Scottish adult population found that 93 per cent of men and 87 per cent of women aged 16-74 drink alcohol with 74 per cent of men and 53 per cent of women having had a drink in the last week.[6]


  2.  The proportion of men aged 16-64 drinking over weekly recommended limits fell slightly from 1995 and 1998 (34 per cent to 33 per cent).[7] In contrast, the proportion of women increased from 13 per cent to 15 per cent. For both sexes, it was people in the youngest age group (16-24) that were the most likely to exceed recommended limits. 26 per cent of all women and 44 per cent of all men surveyed reported drinking more than twice the recommended daily benchmarks on their heaviest drinking day (ie >six units for women and >eight units for men).

  3.  Scottish men and women are more likely to have drunk more than twice the recommended daily benchmarks than those in England. Men living in Scotland were more likely than those living in England to have consumed more than eight units of alcohol on at least one day the previous week (24 per cent compared with 20 per cent). Similarly, women in Scotland were more likely to have consumed more than six units on any one day during the previous week (12 per cent compared with 8 per cent). Of people aged 16-74, 15 per cent of men drank more than 35 units per week and 6 per cent of women drank more than 21 units per week.[8]

Women and alcohol

  4.  Scottish women are drinking more. Mean weekly consumption of women aged 16-64 in Scotland has risen from 6.3 to 7.4 units from 1995 to 1998. Furthermore, a higher proportion of Scottish women are drinking excessively. The proportion of women aged 16-64 drinking more than weekly recommended limits increased from 13 per cent to 15 per cent from 1995 to 1998. In 1998, one in four women in Scotland drank more than twice the recommended daily benchmarks on their heaviest drinking day. 24 per cent of young women aged 16-24 were drinking over weekly recommended limits in 1998, a rise from 18 per cent in 1995.[9] Alcohol related death rates for women have doubled in the last decade.[10]


  5.  Not only are more children in Scotland drinking, they are drinking more. The proportion of Scottish pupils aged 12-15 who had had an alcoholic drink in the previous week has risen in the last decade from 14 per cent in 1990 to 21 per cent in 2000. The average weekly consumption of those who had drunk in the last seven days has increased from 8.4 units to 11.1 units.[11]

  6.  Young people aged 16-24 in Scotland are drinking more and are the most likely group to exceed weekly recommended limits. Average weekly consumption in young people aged 16-24 has risen from 1995 to 1998 for both sexes (20.8 to 23.4 units for men and 8.4 to 10.0 units for women).[12]

  7.  In 2000, there were 1,428 emergency admissions of young people aged 10-19 with a diagnosis of acute intoxication. Admissions were highest (1,036) in the 15-19 year age group.[13]


GP consultations

  8.  There were an estimated 107,685 GP consultations in Scotland for alcohol related diagnoses in 2000, representing 0.7 per cent of all GP consultations. Of these, 69 per cent were due to alcohol dependency; 21 per cent to acute intoxication; 5 per cent due to physical/organ damage (including alcohol liver disease); 3 per cent due to alcohol psychosis and 2 per cent due to problem drinking/excess consumption.[14]

  9.  One in 10 men in the UK report having discussions about drinking in the last year with their GP or someone else at the surgery or with a doctor or medical person elsewhere.[15]

Accident and emergency attendances

  10.  Although not quantifiable from Scottish routine statistics, from UK studies, alcohol misuse is probably responsible for at least 10 per cent of A&E attendances.[16]

Acute hospital inpatient admissions

  11.  In 2000, there were 32,925 admissions to acute hospitals in Scotland with an alcohol-related diagnosis representing 3.1 per cent of all acute admissions. Of these admissions, 28.5 per cent had a diagnosis of acute intoxication, 26.2 per cent had a diagnosis of alcohol dependence, 24.7 per cent of alcohol problems, 17.1 per cent of organ damage (including liver), 11 per cent of alcohol poisoning (many of which are linked to overdoses) and 1 per cent of alcoholic psychosis. Admissions for men were twice as frequent as for women.[17]

Mental health and alcohol

  12.  There were 4,432 admissions to psychiatric hospitals in Scotland with an alcohol related diagnosis in 2000, 15 per cent of all psychiatric admissions. Over two thirds of these admissions had a diagnosis of alcohol dependence. Again, admissions for men were twice as frequent as for women.[18]

Drug misuse

  13.  In 1999-2000, one in 10 of those attending drug services reported use of alcohol as a problem in addition to their drug problem.[19]


  14.  In 1990, alcohol related deaths accounted for one in 100 deaths in Scotland. By 1999, this had risen to one in 40.[20] 73 per cent of alcohol related deaths were in men. The majority of alcohol related deaths have diagnoses of alcoholic liver disease and alcohol dependence. 51 per cent of these deaths had a diagnosis of alcoholic liver disease; 44 per cent alcohol dependence; 13 per cent acute intoxication and 1 per cent alcoholic psychosis.[21]

  15.  53 per cent of suicides in Scotland who had been in contact with services in the 12 months before death had a history of alcohol misuse. 17 per cent had alcohol dependence.[22]

5   Towards a Healthier Scotland: A White Paper on Health, The Scottish Office Department of Health, 1999. Back

6   Scottish Health Survey 1998. Back

7   Scottish Health Survey 1998. Back

8   General Household Survey 1998. Back

9   Scottish Health Survey 1998. Back

10   General Register Office Scotland. Back

11   Smoking, drinking and drug use among young teenagers in 1998, Office for National Statistics 1999. Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in Scotland in 2000, National Centre for Social Research, 2001. Back

12   Scottish Health Survey 1998. Back

13   SMR 1, Information and Statistics Division, NHS Scotland. Back

14   Continuous Morbidity Recording 2000, Information and Statistics Division, NHS Scotland. Back

15   Office for National Statistics Omnibus Survey 2001. Back

16   Alcohol-can the NHS afford it? Royal College of Physicians, 2001. Back

17   SMR 1, Information and Statistics Division, NHS Scotland. Back

18   SMR 4, Information and Statistics Division, NHS Scotland. Back

19   Scottish Drug Misuse Database Information and Statistics Division, NHS Scotland. Back

20   These changes over time may be due in part to improved recording although there is no specific evidence to support this. Back

21   General Register Office Scotland. Back

22   Safety First: Five Year Report of the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness, Department of Health, 2001. Back

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 November 2001