Alcohol: introduction

Alcohol problems are a major concern for public health in Scotland. Although drinking in moderation can have beneficial effects for some groups of people, such as protection against coronary heart disease in middle-aged men, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a range of health and social problems. 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. In 2006/07, alcohol problems were estimated to cost Scotland over £2.25 billion (Scottish Government 2008).

The UK government have produced sensible drinking guidelines based on units of alcohol. Concern about certain patterns of drinking, such as drinking excessively on one occasion, led to a change from weekly limits to daily benchmarks. Current daily benchmarks are 3-4 units for men and 2-3 units for women, with two alcohol free days per week.

Section updates:

  • The last major update of this section was completed in June 2014.
  • The next major update is due to be carried out by end December 2014.