Are we still a nation of BOOZERS?

There has been an increase in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland. Pic: Rob McDougall
There has been an increase in alcohol-related deaths in Scotland. Pic: Rob McDougall

The two times of the year when it’s almost mandatory to raise a glass and get a little tipsy – Christmas and New Year – has been and gone, hopefully leaving behind memories of good times.

But with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK’s chief medical officer looking set to revise the safe-drinking levels downwards, Scotland’s drinking habits have never seemed bleaker.

Dry January is no cure for those gripped by alcohol addiction, but it encourages us to think about the effect drinking has on many Scots

Dry January is no cure for those gripped by alcohol addiction, but it encourages us to think about the effect drinking has on many Scots

The latest report from MESAS (Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy), commissioned by the Scottish Government through NHS Scotland, shows that 10.7 litres of pure alcohol was sold per adult in Scotland in 2014, the equivalent of 41 bottles of vodka for every adult.

And the impact can be devastating.

Health experts and leading charities now warn that current guidelines are “almost certainly unsafe” due to the risk of damage to the liver and other organs by regular alcohol consumption up to the limit and warned that new evidence linking alcohol to cancers has been a “game changer.”

Recent research by Harvard School of Public Health in the USA has found that regular consumption of more than 15gm of alcohol a day in post-menopausal women can increase the rate of breast cancer, and Rajiv Jalan, professor of hepatology at University College London has found that damage could be caused by men drinking just three units of alcohol per day, which is within the current guidelines

Amanda McLean, director of World Cancer Research Fund UK, said: “People need to be aware that there is strong evidence that alcohol increases the risk of five different cancers including bowel, breast and liver.

“We recommend avoiding alcohol as much as possible as any amount increases your risk of cancer. If you are going to drink then there are ways you can be ‘alcohol savvy’.”

This includes having a bottle of beer instead of a pint, mixing alcohol with a mixer and having a glass of water between each alcoholic drink.

“Come January we hope that people will quit drinking alcohol and give their bodies a well-deserved break,” she added.

Jim Bett, of Fife Alcohol Support Service, one of the many alcohol advice bodies throughout Scotland, said: “The recent downward trend in the amount of alcohol sold per adult in Scotland appears to have stalled.

“With alcohol now being approximately 75 per cent cheaper than it was 30 years ago, we are now seeing an increase in deaths caused by alcohol.

“There were 1152 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland in 2014, an increase of 5% compared to 2013, and it particularly sad to see so many Scots die from alcohol-related diseases when they are only in their 40s and 50s.”

Department of Health guidelines state that women should drink no more than two to three units of alcohol per day, which is equivalent to a standard 175ml glass of wine, and that men no more than three to four units, where three units is equivalent to a pint of strong beer and four units is two cans of beer.

Jim Bett said: “It looks like the guidelines are going to be dropped by a significant level. The current guidelines have been in place since 1995 and in light of more recent research, appear to be out of date.”

The MESAS figures revealed that 72 per cent of alcohol in Scotland was sold via off-sales, the highest market share since records began 1994, and alcohol sales were 18 per cent higher than in England and Wales, mainly due to higher sales of lower-priced alcohol, particularly vodka, through supermarkets and off-licences. More than half of off-sales alcohol was sold at less than 50p per unit.

Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said that the figures were disappointing and underlined the importance of addressing the affordability of alcohol through minimum unit pricing.

But while Scotland’s track record is sobering, drinking too much is a UK-wide problem and it is not the 20-somethings who are risking their health by having a glass – or bottle – too many.

Research by international body OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) found that UK women aged 45-64 is the fastest growing group of drinkers who are putting their health at risk, with 10 per cent of women in this age group drinking five times a week compared to 2 per cent of women aged 18-24.

A survey by alcohol education charity Drinkaware found that almost a third of women with grown-up children are drinking more than their adult offspring – and nine out of 10 are not

worried about the consequences.

Furthermore, a quarter of these mums said they had drunk more since their children left home.

The findings also highlighted that 95 per cent of the mums surveyed were not worried about their level of drinking and did not believe that it was impairing their health.

However, adults aged 18-24 were nearly twice as likely to be concerned about the negative effects of drinking on their health.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, of Drinkaware, said: “While many believe it is the 20-somethings who are drinking too much, we are actually seeing an epidemic among British women aged 45-64.

“Women in this age group seem to be drinking more alcohol, more regularly – whether at home alone or out socialising. Many are unaware that a couple of glasses of wine each day can cause as much, if not more, damage than the binge drinking associated with many university students.”

Have a problem? Help’s just a call away

Advice on safe drinking levels can be confusing when it comes in terms of units.

Or perhaps you already know you have a problem with drink but can’t stop on your own.

There are many places to look for advice and information.

Drinkaware, for example, offers a free app to work out and track your alcohol units – and the calories you’re drinking.

If you have a problem with alcohol or simply want advice and support on cutting down how much you drink, there are bodies throughout Scotland just a telephone call away.

Alcohol Focus Scotland has region-by-region information on the services available – or call 0800 7314314.

If someone in your family has a problem with alcohol, you can also get support. Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs has a directory of services throughout the country that you can tap into to get both professional advice and the help of a network of others in a similar position – or call 08080 101011.