Vodka Major Cause of Death in Russians, According to Study

Vodka major cause of death in Russian adults says study According to a new study published in The Lancet, entitled Alcohol and Mortality in Russia: Prospective Observational Study of 151 000 Adults, vodka is said to be a major cause of death in Russian adults. Around one quarter of all Russian men are reported to die before they reach 55 years of age; this diminished life expectancy is thought to be attributed to cigarette smoking and consumption of alcohol.

The Study

Professor Sir Richard Peto of the Clinical Trial Service Unit, based at the University of Oxford, indicates that the death rate for Russian adults has ebbed and flowed considerably over the past 30 years. Peto links these apparent fluctuations in mortality rate to the country’s ever-changing “alcohol restrictions and social stability,” which he claims to have shifted under the control of Presidents Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin. Intriguingly, Peto claims that the main driver of these wild changes in mortality rate was vodka.

Percentage risk of death for Russian men from 1980 to 2010
Percentage risk of death for Russian men, from 1980 to 2010.

Peto was part of a team of researchers that published two separate studies that investigated the possible relationship between Russian death rate and vodka consumption. The latest study performed 151,000 interviews of adults across three Russian cities – including Barnaul, Byisk and Tomsk, between 1999 and 2008 – to determine how much vodka the participants consumed. The researchers followed these individuals, until 2010, to determine cause-specific mortality.

The researchers reported a total of 8,000 deaths, among the afore-mentioned study group. Based upon the group’s findings from the latest study, as well as a retrospective study published five years ago, the mortality risk Russian adults faced was dependent upon the amount of vodka consumed. The highest risk was associated with men who consumed three or more half-liter bottles of vodka, relative to those men who drank less than one bottle, each week.

Those individuals who consumed three or more bottles of vodka a week and smoked had a high mortality rate; the 20-year risks for individuals aged between 35 and 54, who were part of this group, was 35 percent for men. Meanwhile, male smokers from this 35 to 54 age category, who were found to imbibe in less than one bottle of vodka a week, had a 20-year death risk of 16 percent.

Although the same general trend was identified in Russian females, the impact was less pronounced. Since Russian women were found to consume less alcohol than their male counterparts, their associated mortality rate was significantly lower.

In reporting the cause of death for heavy drinkers, the study results indicated that most fatalities were caused by accidents, alcohol poisoning, suicide and violence, alongside a slew of pathologies that are linked to excessive alcohol consumption; throat and liver cancer, heart disease, pancreatitis, pneumonia, liver disease and tuberculosis were all found to have been responsible for the additional deaths.

Reforms Reduce Vodka Consumption

Mikhail Gorbachev instituted a series of anti-alcohol reforms, which commenced in 1985. The campaign was designed to curtail, what was perceived to be, widespread alcoholism throughout the Soviet Union. Alcoholic beverages – including beer, vodka and wine – underwent a price hike and their sale was more stringently regulated. Going even further, vodka production was eventually scaled back and was not permitted for sale before lunch-time. The move triggered a fall in alcohol consumption by 25 percent, causing the death rate to plummet, in turn. However, following the collapse of communism, the authors contend that a resurgence in alcohol consumption was witnessed, along with a steady rise in the mortality rate.

The researchers explain that alcohol-related death risk remains high throughout Russia. However, in light of recent policy changes, which are estimated to have cut spirit consumption by around a third, the risk of premature death has also waned.

During a recent press release, David Zaridze – the study lead, and professor from the Russian Cancer Research Centre in Moscow – explained that the risk of premature death could be vastly reduced by immediate cessation of alcohol consumption. Zaridze then went on to talk about the impact of recent reforms on dangerous drinking:

“The significant decline in Russian mortality rates following the introduction of moderate alcohol controls in 2006 demonstrates the reversibility of the health crisis from hazardous drinking.”

By James Fenner Sources:

The Lancet
University of Oxford Press Release
BBC News