Brain damage from drinking too much alcohol is at a ten year high

Brain damage from drinking too much alcohol is at a 10-year high: Almost two people A DAY are hospitalised on average, reveal shocking figures (so, is booze damaging your health? Take this test to find out)

  • In Scotland 661 people were treated for alcohol-related brain damage last year
  • An average of 1.8 people per day need hospital treatment because of boozing
  • Drinking too much can cause depression, mood swings and memory problems 
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The number of people with brain damage from alcohol is the highest it has been in ten years, according to Scottish NHS figures.

Hundreds of people a week – an average of nearly two a day – are being treated in hospitals for brain damage caused by reckless boozing. 

Last year 661 people needed medical attention because they drank so much; too much alcohol can cause problems with memory, learning and thinking.

Some 22 deaths per week in Scotland are directly linked to alcohol, according to recent NHS figures, and last year there were 36,000 hospital inpatient stays because of drinking. 

Campaigners are pleading with the Scottish Government to do more to combat problem drinking, saying alcohol is too cheap and easy to buy.

And a questionnaire used by medical professionals can reveal whether you are at risk of damaging your health with alcohol – take the test at the bottom of this page. 

Some 661 people were treated by the NHS in Scotland last year because they had brain damage from drinking too much alcohol

Scotland’s public health minister, Joe FitzPatrick, revealed in response to a Parliamentary question that 661 people were treated last year for brain damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption.    

This figure is up 25 from 636 in 2015-16 and up from the 590 recorded cases in 2007.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the most admissions for brain damage caused by alcohol, with 230 people last year. 

NHS Lothian was next with 99, followed by NHS Lanarkshire with 84. 

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Campaigners urged the Scottish Government to do more, and criticised the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) for slashing funding for schemes aimed at tackling alcohol abuse.

Alison Douglas of Alcohol Focus Scotland said: ‘Increases in preventable conditions like alcohol-related brain damage are devastating consequences of the high levels of alcohol consumption we have, driven by widespread availability, low prices and heavy marketing of alcohol.

‘Minimum unit pricing will save hundreds of lives but it is not sufficient to turn the tide of alcohol harm.’ 

Alcohol destroys brain cells 

Alcohol-related brain damage, also known as ARBD, can happen because alcohol is toxic and damages brain cells, it dehydrates the body which shrinks and kills brain cells, and it makes it difficult for the body to absorb crucial vitamins.

Symptoms can include memory loss, depression, mood swings and aggressiveness, difficulty doing everyday tasks, and poor decision-making.    

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said: ‘It’s worrying that these statistics continue to rise, and means more people are having their lives badly impacted by too much alcohol.’

He added that despite the SNP’s attempts to curb excessive drinking by introducing minimum pricing, ‘it’s clear far more will be required if we are to make any meaningful difference’.

‘The Government must take full responsibility’ 

Mr Briggs said: ‘The SNP has been in power since 2007. In that time more people have been admitted to hospital with this problem. 

‘Health is a devolved issue – ministers need to take full responsibility for this worsening situation. 

‘The decision by SNP ministers to cut funding for alcohol and drug partnerships was wrong.’ 

NHS recommends a limit of six pints a week

The NHS recommends that men and women drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week – the equivalent of six pints of beer.

Drinking too much can increase the risk of cancer, liver disease, brain damage, and heart disease. 

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘We recently implemented minimum unit pricing to tackle the cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much damage to families and communities.

‘We also provide funding to NHS Boards to treat local health needs, including people with alcohol-related brain injury.’


One screening tool used widely by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tests). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the 10-question test is considered to be the gold standard in helping to determine if someone has alcohol abuse problems.

The test has been reproduced here with permission from the WHO.

To complete it, answer each question and note down the corresponding score.


0-7: You are within the sensible drinking range and have a low risk of alcohol-related problems.

Over 8: Indicate harmful or hazardous drinking.

8-15: Medium level of risk. Drinking at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting down (see below for tips).

16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own may be difficult at this level, as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counsellor.

20 and over: Possible dependence. Your drinking is already causing you problems, and you could very well be dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reduce your drinking. You should seek professional help to ascertain the level of your dependence and the safest way to withdraw from alcohol.

Severe dependence may need medically assisted withdrawal, or detox, in a hospital or a specialist clinic. This is due to the likelihood of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours needing specialist treatment.

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