AFFLUENT Scots are far more likely than any other group to have hazardous or harmful drinking patterns, according to the latest research on the nation’s health.

More than one in four (27 per cent) Scots living in the wealthiest postcodes exceed the 14 unit-a-week alcohol limits compared to 18% in the poorest, with the well-off also the least likely in the population to be non-drinkers.

Women in the least deprived areas were also twice as likely as those in the most deprived areas to have hazardous or harmful alcohol consumption - 20% compared to 10%.

The figures, detailed in the latest annual Scottish Health Survey for 2018, appear at odds with data showing that alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions are substantially more common among the poorest Scots.

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However, Dr Eric Carlin, director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), said research has repeatedly shown that wealthier people tend to be the heaviest drinkers but are partially insulated by factors such as security, better diet and lower smoking rates.

Dr Carlin said: “If you are in the poorest section of society then you are likely to have a whole load of other stressors and health conditions that make you more vulnerable. If you then drink to a hazardous level, you’re more likely to have your health affected.

“If you’re affluent, the likelihood is that you have better general health. You probably have better access to healthcare, or better housing, better employment, less stress, and fewer long-term health conditions.

As a result, they are more able to sustain, in effect, an ‘unhealthy’ lifestyle.”

The household survey questioned around 4800 adults, splitting them into five categories - or quintiles - according to the socioeconomic rating for their address.

It found that 24% of the poorest Scots did not drink compared to 12% of the wealthiest.

Dr Joanne McLean, director of research at the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen), said it was unclear why.

She said: “It could be a financial thing, or that people in the most deprived areas use coping mechanisms other than alcohol.”

When all ‘harmful’ male drinkers were compared, however, men in the most deprived postcodes consumed the most on average - 47 units a week.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “This coupled with compounding health issues is why we see rates of alcohol-specific deaths and alcohol-related hospital stays eight times higher in our poorest areas than in our least deprived areas.

“The introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) will go some way to narrowing this inequality gap – the modelling showed around 46% of the lives that will be saved by MUP will be amongst heavy drinkers living in poverty - but more still needs to be done.

"Robust action needs be taken to reduce the availability of alcohol and significantly reduce the amount of alcohol marketing that we are all exposed to daily.”

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Despite reports of young people shunning alcohol, the survey shows that 30% of over-75s are non-drinkers compared to around 15% of 16-24-year-olds.

Older Scots who do drink are more likely than any other age group to have consumed alcohol in five of the previous seven days, however.

Dr McLean said: “Older adults, particularly those over 75 or over 65, are more likely to drink on more days of the week and to drink less when they do drink.

“They are drinking much more within government guidelines, which are not just about how much you drink but how you drink it.”

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There is evidence that attitudes to binge drinking have changed. For men it is classed as exceeding eight units in a single session - equivalent to four pints of normal strength beer. 

For women, it is six units, equivalent to three 175ml glasses of wine.

Between 2003 and 2018, the percentage of drinkers who ‘binged’ in the previous week fell from 45% to 36% among men and from 37% to 28% for women.

Dr McLean said: “We are seeing a decline in how much people are drinking on their heaviest drinking day. There’s been quite a significant fall since 2003.

"But the drops happening year to year now are quite gradual.”