National Records of Scotland

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Alcohol-specific Deaths (new National Statistics definition)

Alcohol-specific Deaths (new National Statistics definition)

Main points

In 2017, there were 1,120 alcohol-specific deaths, on the basis of the new National Statistics (NS) definition, details of which are given in the ‘Alcohol-specific Deaths - the Coverage of the Statistics’ page.  This was 19 (2%) fewer than in the previous year, but a larger number than in each of the four years from 2012 to 2015.  However, the total for 2017 was lower than in every year from 2000 to 2011, inclusive. 

The number of alcohol-specific deaths was relatively stable, at around 350-400 per year, from 1979 to 1987, and then remained between about 400 and 450 per year from 1988 to 1993. Thereafter, the general trend seems to have been rapid increases during the late 1990s and early 2000s, to a peak of 1,417 in 2006, followed by reductions to 968 in 2012 (the lowest figure since 1998, when there were 915 alcohol-specific deaths), and then rising again from 2012 to 2016, and little change in 2017. (Statistics for 1979 to 1999 were only added to this web section on 16 October 2018, as explained on the 'coverage of the statistics' page.)  

These figures may fluctuate from year to year. Chart 1 shows the number for each year, together with the 5-year moving annual average (as an indication of any overall trend) and the likely range of statistical variability around it (which is explained in the ‘Alcohol deaths - Background page’). It will be seen that almost all the year-to-year fluctuations since 1979 have been within what would be expected to be the likely range of statistical variability around the general trend described earlier.

Table 1 shows that the 1,120 alcohol-specific deaths in 2017 consisted of 789 male deaths and 331 female deaths. Over the years since 1979, there have usually been more than twice as many male deaths as female deaths, with the two figures tending to rise and fall together (their ratio has varied between 1.5:1 and 2.4:1, and has averaged about 2.2:1). 

In terms of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision (ICD-10), the main underlying causes of the alcohol-specific deaths that have been registered since 2000 are alcoholic liver disease (code ‘K70’: 738 deaths in 2017) and mental and behavioural diseases due to use of alcohol (code ‘F10’: 277 deaths in 2017): no other cause of death has accounted for 100+ deaths in any one year. Table 2 provides more details, including breakdowns of the individual causes of death within ‘alcoholic liver disease’ and ‘mental and behavioural disorders due to use of alcohol’. That table starts with the year 2000 because that is when National Records of Scotland (NRS) started to use ICD-10. Table 2A gives the corresponding figures for the years from 1979 to 1999, for which NRS used the previous version of the classification (ICD-9).

Most alcohol-specific deaths are of people in their 50s and 60s.  In 2017, there were 186 alcohol-specific deaths of people aged 55-59, 184 in the 65-69 age-group, 161 aged 60-64 and 159 of 50-54 year olds.  There were also 123 deaths of people aged 45-49, 97 deaths of 70-74 years olds, 56 who were 75-79, 53 aged 40-44, and smaller numbers in each of the other age-groups – see Table 3

The final column of the table (which was added when the figures for 2017 were published) shows the average age at death for alcohol-specific deaths: in 2017, this was 58.9 years.  It did not change much over the period from 2000 to 2010: while there have been year to year fluctuations, it remained between about 54 and 56 years (the lowest value in the period was 53.9 and the highest 56.3), but there is a slight suggestion of an increase recently, as the four largest values are in the four latest years (2014: 57.3; 2015: 57.9; 2016: 58.7; 2017: 58.9) and a 5-year moving average shows a slight upward trend (it was between 55.4 and 56.2 for the periods which were centred on the years from 2002 to 2011, but then rose fairly steadily to 57.8 for the period centred on 2015).  

Tables 3M and 3F provide breakdowns by age-group and average age for male and female alcohol-specific deaths.  In 2017, the average age at death was higher for males (59.5 years) than for females (57.4 years).  Indeed, in each year from 1999, the average age of alcohol-specific deaths was higher for males than for females, although in some years there was only a slight difference between the averages for the two sexes.

Tables 4 and Table 5 give figures for each NHS Board area and Council. As the figures for some areas can fluctuate markedly from year to year, the 5-year moving annual averages should indicate better any overall trend.

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