Background: Rates of mortality due to cirrhosis of the liver are an important indicator of population levels of alcohol harm. Total recorded alcohol consumption in Britain doubled between 1960 and 2002, giving rise to a need to examine and assess cirrhosis mortality trends.
Methods: Mortality rates were calculated for all ages and for specific age-groups (15-44 years and 45-64 years) for cirrhosis of the liver. Rates were directly age-standardised to the European standard population and compared with rates from 12 western European countries for the period 1955-2001.
Findings: Cirrhosis mortality rates increased steeply in Britain during the 1990s. Between the periods 1987-1991, and 1997-2001, cirrhosis mortality in men in Scotland more than doubled (104% increase) and in England and Wales rose by over two-thirds (69%). Mortality in women increased by almost half (46% in Scotland and 44% in England and Wales). These relative increases are the steepest in western Europe, and contrast with the declines apparent in most other countries examined, particularly those of southern Europe. Cirrhosis mortality rates in Scotland are now one of the highest in western Europe, in 2002 being 45.2 per 100,000 in men and 19.9 in women.
Interpretation: Current alcohol policies in Britain should be assessed by the extent to which they can successfully halt the adverse trends in liver cirrhosis mortality. The situation in Scotland warrants particular attention.