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Changing Scotland's relationship with alcohol: a discussion paper on our strategic approach



How much do we drink?

212. Alcohol consumption in the UK has more than doubled since 1950, with the rate of increase particularly noticeable since the early 1990s (figure 9). 19 This increase is against the backdrop of falling (or levelling) consumption trends over the last 10-15 years in most of the EU. 24 2007 sales data estimate Scots over the age of 16 drank, on average, the equivalent of almost 23 units of alcohol per week, compared to just over 19 units in England and Wales. 21

Figure 9: Litres of per alcohol consumption per capita, 1900-200619

Figure 9: Litres of per alcohol consumption per capita, 1900-2006

213. While questionnaire-based surveys are known to consistently under-record alcohol consumption as many of us under-estimate the amount of alcohol we consume, (and surveys tend to exclude some heavy-drinking groups), they provide the best indication of drinking patterns among population subgroups. 93 The Scottish Health Survey ( SHeS) 2003 found that, of those who drank in the previous week, 63% of men and 64% of women drank more than the sensible drinking guidelines on at least one occasion. In addition, 34% of men and 23% of women reported that they exceeded recommended weekly limits of 21 units of alcohol for men and 14 for women. 94

214. However, as alcohol industry Scottish sales data (and HMRC figures) indicate that the SHeS may only capture around two-thirds of total consumption. Therefore, it is estimated that up to 50% of men and 30% of women in Scotland are exceeding recommended weekly limits. 95

215. 'Binge' drinking (generally considered to be drinking twice the daily limit in one sitting) is becoming increasingly common. The SHeS found that, of those who drank in the 7 days, 40% of men and 33% of women reported binge drinking in the previous week (again this is likely to be a significant under-estimate). 94

216. The number of 13 and 15 year old children who drink alcohol has also increased since 1990. In 2006, over a third of 15 year old girls and boys drank alcohol in the previous week, often consuming above weekly adult sensible drinking guidelines. Of those 15 year old girls who drank almost a third (32%) consumed 14 units or more, while 28% of boys drank 21 units or more. 14 A recent series of audits of the impact of alcohol on Emergency Departments ( ED) found that nearly 650 children, including 15 children under twelve and one as young as eight years old, were treated for alcohol related health problems during the audit period. The report also found that an average of 13 units of alcohol was consumed by the children in the 24 hours before attendance at the ED. 23

What do we drink and how do we drink?

217. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland is still predominantly a nation of beer drinkers. However, beer's share of the UK alcohol market has been in steady decline over the last 30 years, from over 60% in 1976 to 43% in 2006. Wine (and more recently cider) have become increasingly popular, with a market share of nearly 30% in 2006 (up from just over 10% in the mid 1970s). 19 The main difference in consumption patterns between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain is the higher consumption of spirits in Scotland. While spirits constituted around 29% of all alcohol sold in Scotland in 2007, spirits made up less than a fifth of the alcohol sold in England and Wales. 21 In terms of how we drink, we know that drinking heavily in individual sessions accounts for a relatively higher proportion of drinking occasions in the UK when compared to the rest of Europe. 96

Where do we drink?

218. There has been a noticeable shift in the location of drinking in recent decades. While the pub may have long been synonymous with Scottish drinking culture, in recent years many more of us have been choosing to drink at home. Off-trade sales were estimated to account for around 51% of alcohol volume sales in Scotland in 2007, up from 24% in 1980. 21 However, as the off-trade enjoy a relatively high market share of higher strength products (almost three-quarters of spirits and 95% of fortified wine is sold through the off-trade), this sector accounts for over 60% of the pure alcohol sold in Scotland. 21

Alcohol misuse - a population-wide problem

219. Excessive daily and weekly consumption is not limited to particular sections of society but is common across different age and socio-economic groups. We know that while middle-aged men have the highest average weekly consumption, younger women tend to drink more heavily than their older counterparts. Men and women who enjoy the highest household income are significantly more likely to exceed weekly limits, while men living in the most deprived communities are most likely to drink heavily on individual occasions. Total consumption is, however, broadly similar across socio-economic groups. 22