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Alcohol: introduction

Alcohol problems are a major concern for public health in Scotland.

Short-term problems such as intoxication can lead to risk of injury and is associated with violence and social disorder. Over the longer term, excessive consumption can cause irreversible damage to parts of the body such as the liver and brain. Alcohol can also lead to mental health problems, for example, alcohol dependency and increased risk of suicide. In addition, alcohol is recognised as a contributory factor in many other diseases including cancer, stroke and heart disease. Wider social problems include family disruption, absenteeism from work and financial difficulties. Alcohol problems are estimated to cost Scotland over £3.6 billion(Scottish Government 2016).

The UK government have produced sensible drinking guidelines based on units of alcohol.  The Chief Medical Officers’ guidelinesfor both men and women is that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

The net benefits from small amounts of alcohol are less than previously thought (with substantial uncertainties around the level of protection) and are significant in only a limited part of the population - i.e.women over the age of 55, for whom the maximum benefit is gained when drinking around 5 units a week, with some beneficial effect up to around 14 units a week Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines 

Section updates:

  • The last update of this section was completed in September 2017.
  • The next update is due to be carried out by end December 2017.

Page last updated: 15 September 2017

© Scottish Public Health Observatory 2014