It is probably the standout conundrum of the 206-page evaluation: if minimum unit pricing failed to curb consumption among the heaviest drinkers, then how can it have saved lives?

If anything, it warns that the policy may have harmed people on the lowest incomes who were in the grip of alcohol dependency by encouraging them to cut back on food.

First of all, it has to be said that this group is at the extreme end of the harmful drinking spectrum.

These are individuals whose tolerance is extremely high, who face withdrawal symptoms if they cut down or stop, and who are probably already suffering from liver cirrhosis.

READ MORE: 'Not a panacea' - but final report into minimum unit pricing says cost of alcohol must increase

MUP - which raised the price of a 700ml bottle of vodka from an average of £11 to a minimum of £13.13 - was never expected to reverse consumption in people already addicted to alcohol.

The Herald:

The goal was to prevent fewer people reaching that predicament in the first place by ramping up the cost of cheap, high-strength products that often pave the way to dependency (a three-litre bottle of 7.5% strength cider, for example, went from less than £4 to £11.25).

"Harmful" drinking is generally categorised as anything in excess of 35 units a week for women (roughly three and a half bottles of wine) or 50 units for men (around 17 pints).

READ MORE: Alcohol deaths hit highest level in more than a decade 

Anything over the recommended weekly maximum of 14 units is considered "hazardous", however, and there is no safe amount that does not increase the risk of certain cancers.

Nonetheless, this report is concerned with deaths which were "wholly-attributable" to alcohol - mainly liver disease, in other words.

The Herald: Alcohol-specific death rates, Scotland and EnglandAlcohol-specific death rates, Scotland and England (Image: PHS)

Even cutting down from 150 to 120 units a weeks would provide a health and survival benefit for a harmful drinker who may have been on the path to dependency.

It is notable that the first full year of minimum pricing - 2019 - saw liver disease deaths in Scotland reduce by around 116.

READ MORE: First year of minimum unit pricing associated with 10 per cent cut in alcohol deaths 

While it takes many years for liver cirrhosis to develop, whether or not you die from the condition largely depends on your drinking in the past year.

People can experience no symptoms before suddenly becoming very ill.

Speaking to the Herald back in 2020, then-SHAAP chair Dr Peter Rice said: "We think what minimum pricing will have done is that people who were at risk without knowing it will have been moved away from becoming ill as a result of their consumption reducing."

Then Covid and lockdowns came along and sent problematic drinkers spiralling.

The Herald: The ratio of alcohol deaths and hospital admissions in Scotland compared to England. Both measures show the gap narrowingThe ratio of alcohol deaths and hospital admissions in Scotland compared to England. Both measures show the gap narrowing (Image: PHS)

Nonetheless, the ratio of alcohol-specific deaths and hospital admissions between Scotland and England has narrowed, particularly since MUP.

Whereas Scotland's alcohol death rate was more than twice England's back in 2016, it was closer to 1.5 times higher by the end of 2020.

For researchers this is evidence that MUP worked, and that the picture without it would be much worse.