Professional optimism across public services to emphasise the ability of people to recover from drink problems is needed to help cut Scotland’s alcohol death toll, a report has found.
The Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (Shaap) report also called for action to tackle barriers to services caused by stigma.
The study examined current statistics on alcohol harm and also interviewed people with drink problems, those in recovery, professionals in the area and family members – including those who lost a relative through alcohol abuse.
Alcohol related deaths in Scotland in 2017
There were 1,235 alcohol-related deaths last year, down 2% on the previous year but higher than in England and Wales and high by international standards.
The Scottish Government-commissioned report points out the downward trend in these deaths since the mid-2000s may now have levelled off.
One in six of these deaths were due to alcohol-related liver disease with the second-largest cause mental and behavioural disorders caused by alcohol at 22%.
The study also examines a wider definition of alcohol-attributable deaths which includes a further 30 causes of death partially caused by alcohol which in 2015 stood at an estimated 3,705 in Scotland.
For people under 35 the main causes of these are people taking their own lives, road deaths and poisoning, while for those over-35 they are alcohol-related liver disease, mental and behavioural disorders and breast and throat tumours.
The report also highlighted that men are twice as likely to die from alcohol use than women and that people in Scotland’s 10% most deprived areas are six times more likely to die from drinking than those in the 10% least deprived areas.
‘Professional optimism’ in all public services should promote the idea that people can, and do, recover from alcohol-related problems, with support from their communities
Shaap director Dr Eric Carlin, who led the study, said: “The people we spoke to in this study told us that that we need to establish a continuous dialogue with those affected by alcohol problems, including drinkers and their families, to understand what social and health harms they experience.
“Their insights should inform strategies to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harms and early preventable deaths.
“‘Professional optimism’ in all public services should promote the idea that people can, and do, recover from alcohol-related problems, with support from their communities.
“All public services, including housing, welfare and employment services, should be alerted to the potential risks of harmful drinking, so that triggers for intervention are understood and support is embedded in service delivery.”
He added: “We also need to challenge stigma related to people who use alcohol harmfully, as it adds to the barriers that people face in accessing services.”
Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick welcomed the report, adding: “It is clear that we need to address Scotland’s drinking culture and tackle the clear inequalities in how alcohol affects our communities.
“As the report states strongly, Scotland needs an approach to prevention, treatment and recovery which supports individuals, their families and communities.
“Our alcohol strategy contains over 40 measures, including our world-leading minimum unit pricing policy. We are currently updating our alcohol and drugs strategies and will publish these shortly.”