Alcohol deaths have reached a record high in the UK, but the increase has been significantly slower in Scotland

There were 10,048 alcohol-specific deaths in the UK in 2022 - up 33% from 7,565 in 2019. 

The rise was 37% for women and 31% for men. 

The Office for National Statistics, which released the figures, noted that deaths specifically caused by alcohol misuse had been "stable" from 2012 to 2019. 

In Scotland, over the same three-year period, there was a 25% increase in deaths from 1,020 in 2019 to 1,276 in 2022. 


Professor Ewan Forrest, a consultant liver specialist and member of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) steering group, said the rising death toll reflected "sustained changes in drinking-related behaviours which have occurred as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic".

He added that the difference between Scotland and the UK as a whole pointed to the effects of minimum unit pricing. 

Prof Forrest said: "When compared with the pre-coronavirus data, England and Wales have experienced a higher increase in alcohol-specific death rates than Scotland – indicating that Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) in Scotland has mitigated some of the negative effects of the pandemic on alcohol consumption.

“That being said, Scotland continues to experience an unacceptable level of harm, especially when compared to our neighbouring countries, and a package of measures which tackle the pricing, marketing and availability of alcohol on a population-wide scale are required to address this.

"This should be coupled with an increased investment in treatment and recovery services.

“Governments across all four nations must take action to save lives, and must put the health of the public before industry interests.” 

The Herald:

On Wednesday, MSPs voted to increase the MUP levy from 50 to 65 pence. 

The new rate will take effect from the end of September this year. 

David Mais, ONS health statistician, said: "Research has suggested that people who were already drinking at high levels before the pandemic were the most likely to have increased their drinking during this period.

"This is likely a factor in the increase in alcohol-specific deaths registrations we have seen in 2022.

"Alcoholic liver disease was the leading cause of these deaths, and as with previous years, rates are much higher among men."

Alcohol-specific deaths only include those health conditions where the death is a direct consequence of alcohol, such as alcoholic liver disease.

The figures do not include all deaths that can be attributed to alcohol, such as heart disease or various types of cancer.

The new figures also show that:

  • The rate of alcohol-specific deaths for men in 2022 remained around double that in women.
  • Scotland and Northern Ireland had the highest rates of alcohol-specific deaths in 2022.
  • The North East had the highest rate of alcohol-specific deaths of any English region in 2022 while the East of England had the lowest rate.

The Herald: Alcohol deaths in Scotland have risen by 25 per cent since 2019Alcohol deaths in Scotland have risen by 25 per cent since 2019 (Image: NRS)

Commenting on the figures, Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: "Each one of those deaths is a tragedy, representing a person who has had their life cut short and has left behind people who are grieving and miss them every day.

"We send our deepest sympathies to all those families and friends who have lost a loved one.

"Years of inaction on alcohol harm has led to this, and the heartbreaking thing is these deaths were totally avoidable.

"Our Government has the responsibility and the power to put preventative measures in place, including proper regulation of alcohol marketing, clearer alcohol labelling, and a minimum price for a unit of alcohol.

"As part of a clear, long-term strategy to improve our health, these measures can prevent alcohol harm, protecting individuals, family members, communities and society - and crucially save lives in the future."

Clare Taylor, chief operating officer at Turning Point, said: "It is saddening to see the figures released by ONS, behind every number is a person, and our thoughts go out to anyone who has lost someone from alcohol use.

"Increasing awareness of safe drinking levels and the long-term harms of alcohol use has a key role to play in reducing further harm from alcohol."

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "These new figures confirm that despite the lifesaving impact of minimum unit pricing, Scotland remains in the grip of an alcohol emergency.

"Changes to drinking patterns during the Covid-19 pandemic have sadly become embedded and represent a ticking time bomb of alcohol-related illness and deaths for our already overstretched NHS.

"Every life lost due to alcohol is a preventable tragedy for individuals, families, friends and communities."