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New Study Reveals Drinking’s Dark Toll On Life Expectancy In Russia

Behind the bright lights of the Sochi Olympics, Russia’s infamous problem with alcoholism has grown progressively worse in recent years.

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By John Lavitt

02/20/14

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Behind the clinking of vodka shot glasses in Russia in celebration of the Sochi Winter Olympics, alcoholism is ravaging the country. Though a well-accepted Russian custom, rampant drinking has actually been shortening life expectancy, a recent study has shown.

Published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, the study cited the cold climate, unemployment, and stress as three factors playing a role in heightening the culture of excessive Russian drinking. Of course, the existence of alcoholism as a problem in Russia is hardly surprising. But what is new is how much worse the problem has been getting and how it has a direct effect on mortality.

In 2002, almost 30,000 people were killed by drunk driving in Russia. The year prior, nearly 47,000 deaths related to alcohol poisoning were registered by the Russian Health Ministry. Such data is nothing compared to the figures released in 2011 that showed 500,000 Russians dying in alcohol-related incidents and from alcohol-related disease.

"Russian death rates have fluctuated wildly over the past 30 years as alcohol restrictions and social stability varied under Presidents Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin, and the main thing driving these wild fluctuations in death was vodka," said study co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto of Oxford University.

The researchers examined 51,000 Russian adults, finding that excessive alcohol consumption, particularly vodka, heavily contributed to premature mortality. Twenty-five percent of the men in the study failed to live beyond age 55. Drinking three or four bottles of vodka weekly more than doubled the risk of mortality (35 percent) compared to consuming less than one bottle (16 percent) per week.

Christopher Allen from the British Heart Foundation expressed the dark reality behind the golden lights before the start of the Sochi games. "This study graphically highlights the toll that heavy drinking has wreaked on communities in Russia," Allen said. "With the Winter Olympics...it's a timely reminder of what we already know about drinking too much alcohol."

Watch—Russian death rates from vodka as as high as wartime death rates:

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