Heavy drinkers in Capital dying 25 years younger, study finds

More than one in six heavy drinkers who took part in study died within 30 months. Picture: Contributed
More than one in six heavy drinkers who took part in study died within 30 months. Picture: Contributed

Over one sixth of heavy drinkers in Edinburgh and Glasgow who took part in a groundbreaking study died before reaching their 52nd birthday, around 25 years younger than typical life expectancy in Scotland.

Research showed that the consumption of alcohol among the Glaswegian women who took part was significantly higher than that of their counterparts in the Capital but no different from Glasgow men.

By contrast, male drinking exceeded that of females amongst participants living in Edinburgh.

The study, carried out by researchers at Edinburgh Napier University for Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), will add support for the need for a minimum unit price (MUP) ahead of an appeal led by the alcohol industry to be heard at the UK Supreme Court next week.

The study documented 639 heavy drinkers from both cities, all over 18, who were attending NHS services. It found that 105 died within a two-and-a-half year period at an average age of just 51. The Napier study also showed significant consumption of cheap alcohol, in particular vodka and white cider, by these now deceased patients.

A striking divide was evident between the two cities when comparing the prevalence of self-reported mental health conditions – 72.9 per cent in Glasgow versus 32.6 per cent in Edinburgh. Within Glasgow but not Edinburgh, women reported significantly more mental health conditions than men.

The most common underlying
cause of death in 46 per cent of cases was linked to liver conditions, including hepatitis.

Dr Peter Rice, SHAAP’s chairman, said: “The Scottish Parliament passed legislation to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, at 50p per standard unit, in May 2012.

“We deeply regret that the implementation of MUP has been delayed by sustained legal challenge from parts of the drinks industry, led by the Scotch Whisky Association.

“The UK Supreme Court will hear the latest appeal on July 24 and 25. We hope that it will uphold the two previous findings of the Court of Session in May 2013 and October 2016 and that the Scottish Government is then able to implement this life-saving measure.”

Like their Glasgow counterparts, the deceased Edinburgh drinkers paid significantly less for their unit of alcohol than surviving patients – a unit price of 38p compared to 46p for living participants.

SHAAP was the first organisation to call for a minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotland back in 2007.

Minister for Public Health Aileen Campbell said: “This study reaffirms why we need minimum unit pricing to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that does so much damage to individuals and communities and why the policy continues to be supported by such a wide range of health professionals.

“We’re looking forward to the judgement of the Supreme Court and if it is the positive outcome we hope for, we will move as quickly as is practicable to put the policy in place.”