Scotland's drinking problem seemed to be on the mend a few years ago, with alcohol sales dropping significantly after the state enforced a new set of rules targeting the sale of cheap, high-alcohol drinks. Prices went up and consumption went down.
But if the ominous rise of the Buckfast Easter egg this year was any indication, it seems that Scotland's love of booze didn't go away—it just transmuted. According to National Health Services Scotland (NHS), the downward trend of yesteryear may have only been a blip on the nation's drinking radar.
The most recent data from the NHS suggests that the average adult Scot purchases 10.8 litres of pure alcohol every year. That translates to 41 bottles of vodka, 116 bottles of wine, or 477 pints of beer for every adult in Scotland; 20 percent higher than the average consumption in England and Wales. And almost three-quarters of that whopping figure—by far, the biggest market share—was sold on off-license sites like liquor stores and supermarkets.
In a recent press release, Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS), a national charity working to prevent and reduce alcohol harm, responded to the NHS study by saying that, "Scotland is now a nation of home drinkers, with more alcohol sold through supermarkets and off-licences than ever before."
Both the NHS and AFS chalk this increase in drinking up to a lack of minimum price per unit of alcohol. According to NHS, beer being sold for less than 50 pence per unit of alcohol made up for more than half of retail sales. This has led to an 11 percent increase in high-alcohol, low-priced beer sale, a number which may not sound like a lot, but in Scotland, is equivalent to over 30 million bottles of beer.
"Between 2009 and 2013, the average price of alcohol increased and consumption decreased," Dr Mark Robinson, a Senior Public Health Information Manager at NHS said in a statement. "Since 2013, average price has flattened and consumption has increased. Higher levels of alcohol consumption result in higher levels of alcohol-related harm and these present a substantial public health and economic cost to Scotland."
And Robinson is not being overly alarmist. With 35,059 alcohol-related hospital stays and 1,152 alcohol-related deaths last year, Scotland may be headed for a collective hangover if prices remain this low.