Nearly one in four Scots have been found to have been problem drinking during the pandemic while nearly half have said they have consumed more alcohol than usual, a new survey has revealed.

It has raised concerns that many Scots are putting their health at risk, with some risking serious and long-term damage to their health, if increased pandemic drinking trends are not reversed.

An unweighted major study of over 5000 Scots using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test which indicates the potential risk of drinking habits found that over a quarter (26.5%) were judged to be at either increasing risk, higher risk or possible dependence.

It found that women were more likely to be placed in all three categories with 39% found to be in a risk status.

The unweighted survey providing a snapshot of Covid drinking, conducted by drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You, found 30% drank to deal with stress and anxiety.

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Andrew Horne, director in Scotland for With You, said: “These are really tough times for everyone. Uncertainty and anxiety cloud our lives while the necessary restrictions to control the virus have left lots of people socially isolated. It’s no wonder many are drinking more as a way to cope.

HeraldScotland:

“2019 saw one of the biggest year on year reductions in alcohol related deaths in the past 40 years in Scotland. Unfortunately, there’s a chance that the impact of the pandemic could undo this progress. The number of people regularly drinking 10 plus units in a single session, often as a way of dealing with mental health issues, is concerning, as is the number of people judged to be at risk."

There have been nearly 11,000 deaths caused by alcohol recorded between 2010 and 2019.

Some 23,751 people in Scotland were admitted to a general acute hospital with an alcohol-related diagnosis in 2018/19 - that remains four times higher than in the early 1980s.

But official figures also show that before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, the number of alcohol-specific deaths had dropped by 10% in the last full year from 1,136 in 2018 to 1,020 in 2019.

That was the first substantial drop in the number of alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland since 2012.

“As a treatment provider, we see every HeraldScotland: day the amazing impact support can have on people’s lives. Yet 93% of people who responded have never accessed any kind of support," added Mr Horne.

Many people fear being labelled or think you need to hit rock bottom to reach out for help. That’s not the case. Our services are warm, non-judgemental spaces where we concentrate on people as a whole, working alongside people to help them make healthier choices. People set their own goals based on what they want to achieve, it’s not always about becoming abstinent.

“As lockdown eases, it’s important people know that all our services are open and you don’t have to worry about placing extra strain on the NHS. A great start is talking anonymously to an advisor."

The study also found that nearly one in three respondents are drinking more than four times a week, with around the same number drinking more than 10 units, around five pints of lager or five large glasses of wine, on a typical day when drinking.

A third of respondents reported being concerned about their own drinking during the lockdown restrictions while over a quarter reported being concerned about the drinking of a loved one.

Rob Millen accessed support for his drinking with We Are With You’s service in Glasgow at the start of lockdown said: “Isolation and heavy drinking often go hand in hand. It’s often a way of shutting yourself off from the world, so I’m not surprised that many people have started drinking more during the pandemic.

“As we entered lockdown back last March, I felt broken. I had been drinking heavily for years and couldn’t see a way out. I couldn’t live with alcohol, but I couldn’t live without it either. I was referred to We Are With You in Glasgow. I was sceptical at first, but I just had this instant connection with Maggie, my worker. She didn’t judge me at all, just made me feel really comfortable while helping me build up my confidence and self worth. Since then I’ve thrown myself into the online support, attending groups and even running some myself.

“As lockdown eases and people start to assess some of the patterns they have fallen into, it’s important they know warm, compassionate support around alcohol is available free of charge. You don’t need to worry about being labelled or placing extra strain on the NHS.”

One charity revealed it had seen an 80% rise in people contacting its drug and alcohol abuse helpline at the end of last year.

HeraldScotland:

Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs said 1,680 people had asked for help between March and November, up from 935 in the same period last year.

Families of people with addiction problems accounted for 34% of the increase while there was a 244% jump in contacts from people using substances themselves - from 177 to 609.

The charity said this was possibly because many were struggling to access any other support services.

An SNP spokesman said: "We know that alcohol abuse has increased during the pandemic all over the world and the SNP remain committed to tackling the issue in Scotland.

"The number of people dying from alcohol in Scotland has decreased since the SNP government brought in world-leading minimum unit pricing so we are moving in the right direction but there is still more to do.

"If re-elected, the SNP will look to introduce restrictions on alcohol advertising in locations where children could be readily exposed to it and invest £250 million in tackling the drugs emergency.

"The SNP in government have worked hard to tackle alcohol misuse but it’s time Westminster took a look at reserved matters and caught up with the SNP’s progressive policies, to ensure lives are saved across Scotland and the UK.”