Long-term strategy needed to fight alcohol abuse
Scotland should commit to a long-term focus to combat the problem of alcohol abuse as drink sales soar during lockdown.
Alcohol Focus made the call as it marked the two year anniversary of minimum pricing in Scotland.
The charity said that despite positive signs of Scots curbing their drinking in the 12 months following the introduction of minimum unit pricing, the current rise in alcohol sales during lockdown is concerning for public health experts.
Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The initial results from the evaluation of minimum unit pricing are hugely encouraging as studies have found a significant decrease in consumption in the first year compared to England and Wales. As consumption drops the expectation is that the harms to health and society will also decrease, meaning less health damage and fewer lives lost.
“However, the recent reports of growing alcohol sales and our own research showing that one million of us in Scotland are drinking more under lockdown, highlight the ongoing issue we still have with alcohol in this country.
“It remains to be seen what impact social distancing will have and what new challenges it will throw up. But it is unlikely that Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol will be changed for the better. This could have a significant impact not just on the health and well-being of drinkers but also on their children and families.”
Douglas said this only serves to underline why, as well as ensuring people have access to services, the focus should be on longer-term preventative policies like minimum unit pricing.
The annual Monitoring and Evaluation of Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) report in 2019 showed the biggest drop in consumption in 25 years.
Further figures in 2020 from the official evaluation study looking at sales-based consumption in the first year of MUP show that Scotland bought 3.6% less alcohol from off-sales than in the previous year. While sales data from England and Wales – used as a control measure - show a 3.2% increase.
Douglas added: “We are yet to see a change in death rates or hospital admissions, and these would be expected to lag behind a reduction in consumption, however, admissions for alcoholic liver disease went down in the first year of MUP, particularly amongst lower income groups.”
Minimum unit pricing was introduced two years ago on the 1 May 2018.