ALCOHOL consumption in Scotland remains too high, amid calls to increase the minimum unit price.

An average adult in Scotland drank the equivalent of around two bottles of wine per week in 2021, based on estimates from alcohol retail sales.

Consumption also appears to have stalled after previously falling to a historic low.

In 2020, purchase data indicated that 9.4 litres of pure alcohol - or 18.1 units - was sold per adult per week in Scotland, the lowest level since current records began in 1994. This remained the same in 2021.

However, adults are advised not to exceed 14 units.

In England and Wales, average intake per adult is around nine litres per week.

HeraldScotland: Source: MESAS report, Public Health ScotlandSource: MESAS report, Public Health Scotland

The latest statistics, published today in the annual Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland's Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) report, also highlight "stark inequalities" in hospital stays and mortality related to alcohol.

It comes after a study published last week revealed that there was "no clear evidence" that minimum unit pricing, introduced in Scotland in May 2018, had reduced alcohol intake amongst the most harmful drinkers, with evidence that they had cut back on food and heating instead to cope with the increased cost.

READ MORE: Push to increase minimum price of alcohol amid 'devastating' increase in deaths

The MESAS report notes that rates of alcohol-specific deaths by deprivation area were five times higher in Scotland's poorest communities in 2020, compared to the 10 per cent least deprived areas.

Alcohol-related hospital stays were nearly eight times higher between April 2020 and March 2021.

The Covid lockdown and an increase in alcohol consumption in the home have been blamed previously for contributing to the recent increase in alcohol deaths.

HeraldScotland: Alcohol-specific death rates (age-standardised per 100,000) by deprivation categoryAlcohol-specific death rates (age-standardised per 100,000) by deprivation category

Drinking habits are said to have "polarised" during the period, with moderate drinkers tending to cut back while problem drinkers spiralled.

In 2020, 1,190 people died in Scotland due a cause wholly attributable to alcohol - up from 1,020 in 2019, and the highest number since 2008.

In 2021, off-trade premises such as supermarkets and other off-licences, accounted for 85% of all the alcohol purchased in Scotland, compared to 73% in 2019 and 90% in 2020.

Vicki Ponce Hardy, public health intelligence adviser at PHS, said: “Today’s MESAS report shows that population-level alcohol consumption in Scotland has been maintained at a similar level to that seen in 2020, the lowest level observed in the available data.

"However, it also clearly highlights that significant inequalities persist in both alcohol consumption and the harm it causes.

"The most recent survey data show that almost a quarter (24%) of adults in Scotland still drink more that the recommended low risk weekly drinking guideline.

"Among those exceeding the guideline, it’s those in the lowest income group who are likely to consume the most."

READ MORE: Has minimum unit pricing failed? The picture is not black and white

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said it was "encouraging" to see the decrease in drinking from 2020 sustained, but called on ministers to "optimise" minimum pricing by increasing it "at least in line with inflation". Campaigners have pushed for a hike from 50 to 65 pence per unit.

Ms Douglas added: "Alongside this we need restrictions on the aggressive marketing of alcohol and to reduce how easily available it is in our communities.

"This should be backed by further investment in support and treatment services to ensure anyone who needs help can get it when they need it.”

Public Health Minister Maree Todd said: "Work on reviewing the level of minimum unit pricing is underway and we will be consulting on potential restrictions on alcohol advertising later this year.

"We are continuing to work with the UK Government on developing new UK-wide clinical guidelines for Alcohol Treatment.

"This guidance will look to introduce new approaches to treatment and will apply to a broad range of settings including primary care, hospital and justice."