Adults in Scotland are consuming 23% more alcohol than adults in England and Wales, official figures have revealed.
The NHS Health Scotland report said that percentage represented the biggest difference recorded during the 17 years of measuring the gap.
Wine accounted for the largest rise in consumption, with sales more than doubling since the mid 1990s.
The other growth area was found to be in the sale of alcopops and ready-mixed drinks.
The briefing paper also said that sales of beer, cider and fortified wine had fallen and spirit sales had remained constant.
Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Nicola Sturgeon said: “For too long Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol has gone unaddressed.
“These shock statistics show that the difference between alcohol consumption in Scotland and England and Wales is now at its highest rate for 17 years.
“This is a situation that must be tackled head on.
“The impact of excessive consumption is estimated to cost Scots £3.56bn each year. That’s £900 for every adult.
“We have already taken bold action against this most pressing of problems. Our Alcohol Framework outlines a package of over 40 measures to reduce alcohol related harm.”
The NHS produced an update of alcohol sales and price band analysis as part of its Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS).
Its methodology involved The Nielsen Company and CGA Strategy looking at pure alcohol sales data derived from electronic sales records and retail outlet sampling.
In light of the figures Ms Sturgeon reiterated the Scottish government’s hopes of bringing in a minimum pricing policy.
A bill is likely to come before the Scottish Parliament in the autumn.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Minimum pricing can and will help us to redress the balance when it comes to our unhealthy relationship with alcohol.”
Dr Laurence Gruer, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland, said the report showed clearly that in Scotland “we drink on average over a fifth more alcohol per adult than in England and Wales”.
He added: “The findings underline the need to take action to tackle low price off-sales if we are going to limit the damage alcohol is doing across Scotland.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the report confirmed that now was the time to increase the price of alcohol to help cut consumption.
He added: “Too many people drink too much alcohol too often. That’s why Liberal Democrats will support the SNP government’s efforts to tackle the booze culture.”
Labour’s health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said: “The decline in Scots consumption of alcohol at both off-sales and the on-trade last year is to be welcomed, but with consumption levels still higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK it shows we still have some way to go.
“Given alcohol prices are broadly similar across the UK, the difference in consumption levels cannot be explained away solely by price. Any measure to tackle unhealthy levels of alcohol consumption needs to be evidence-based and effective.”
“Scottish Labour looks forward to debating these issues with the Scottish government when they bring forward their proposals as part of the Alcohol Bill.”
Scottish health spokesman Murdo Fraser said the report eroded the SNP’s case for blanket minimum unit pricing.
He added: “Despite an increase in the cost of living and with the relative cost of alcohol being higher north of the border, alcohol consumption in Scotland has continued to increase whilst sales and consumption remain higher in Scotland than in England and Wales.
“In fact, whilst overall consumption did increase the proportion of cheaper off-trade alcohol declined, with the biggest reduction being amongst the cheapest products.
“We need to target action against problem drinks using tax and duty and to improve alcohol education to better tackle the cultural and social reasons for higher alcohol consumption in Scotland.”
Source : BBC