THE number of people dying in West Dunbartonshire from conditions caused by alcohol has risen to its highest figure in more than a decade.

New figures released by the National Records of Scotland revealed that there were 40 alcohol-related deaths in the authority in 2021 – the highest since 2008.

The figure nearly doubled compared to the previous year, during which 22 people died of conditions related to alcohol.

It is also considerably higher than the country-wide year-on-year increase of five per cent.

Mags Mackenzie, chief executive of Dumbarton Area Council on Alcohol (DACA), branded the figures “tragic” and called for further investment for community services providing treatment and support. 

Ms Mackenzie said: “Every single death from alcohol is a tragic, preventable loss, and it is distressing to see the number of deaths on the rise again.

“There has been a huge focus on drug related deaths in recent years, and for good reason. But the harms of alcohol have taken a back seat, particularly when it comes to the funding available to community treatment and support providers.

“At DACA we certainly feel the impact of national funding restrictions. Although we’re a registered charity, we receive funding from government to run our core services in West Dunbartonshire, including specialist alcohol counselling and a groupwork programme.

“But funding cuts over the last decade have meant that we always find ourselves trying to do more with less. After 46 years of supporting the people of West Dunbartonshire, it’s as hard now as it’s ever been for us to meet the needs of our community.”

Ms Mackenzie said DACA support the policies implemented by the Scottish Government to tackle alcohol harms at population level, believing there is a strong will in government to do more.

She continued: “However, if we want to meaningfully reduce the impact of alcohol harms in our most disadvantaged communities right now, then there needs to be investment in the lifesaving community services providing direct treatment and support. And it needs to happen now, or else we may find ourselves looking at an even more tragic set of figures this time next year.”

Between 2017 and 2021, 140 people in West Dunbartonshire have died due to alcohol.

Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter: Jackie Baillie MSP branded the figures "heart-breaking"Jackie Baillie MSP branded the figures "heart-breaking"

Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton constituency MSP, said: “These figures are absolutely heart-breaking and again show the stark difference between deprived areas and more affluent communities.

“It is tragic that 140 people have lost their lives locally in the last five years due to alcohol. These deaths are preventable and show the human cost of the failure by the Scottish Government to put a proper action plan in place to tackle these issues.

“Already the toll of drug deaths has been well documented but these figures should be a wake-up call that the Scottish Government needs to stop cutting alcohol treatment budgets and invest in saving lives in our communities.”

Across the country, 1,245 people died in Scotland from conditions caused by alcohol in 2021, a rise of five per cent compared to the previous year.

'Truly alarming'

Dr Rebecca Lawrence, co-chair of the Addictions Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “These latest statistics are truly alarming and may only be the tip of the iceberg.

“Working on the frontline, we know alcohol-related hospital admissions remain high and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem.

“Minimum unit pricing has a good evidence base but should be part of a range of measures. It’s positive that pricing is currently being looked at again as those who are dependent, continue to drink.

“What we need now is more hospital and community addiction services, to fully support people to move forward with their recovery.

“It’s key that we give this issue the same focus and importance as the drug deaths crisis and address Scotland’s cultural relationship with alcohol.”

Of those who died from alcohol-specific causes in Scotland, two thirds were male. The average age of deaths of those who died from these causes was 58.7 years for females and 59.7 years for males.

Maree Todd, public health minister, said: “No-one should die as a result of alcohol consumption, and my thoughts go out to all family and loved ones affected.

“These figures show that Scotland continues to have a problematic relationship with alcohol, and we are determined to do all we can to address that.

“The introduction of minimum unit pricing has helped reduce alcohol sales to their lowest on record, but we are determined to do even more tackle the scale of alcohol-specific deaths.

“That is why we are working on initiatives that will support communities across Scotland to address harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption. These include the review of alcohol brief interventions in Scotland with Public Health Scotland, the managed alcohol programme pilot in Glasgow delivered by Simon Community Scotland and supporting the UK Government on reviewing and updating clinical guidelines for alcohol treatment.”