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

By John Lavitt 02/20/14

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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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'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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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.