Alcohol consumption in Russia

Pure alcohol consumption per capita by country

Alcohol consumption in Russia stays among the highest in the world. According to the WHO 2011 report, annual per capita consumption was about 15.76 litres, fourth highest volume in Europe.[1] Another dangerous trait of Russian alcohol consumption pattern was high volume of spirits compared to other consumed alcohol drinks.

Russia currently implements a variety of anti-alcoholism measures (banning spirits and beer trade at night, raising taxes, and other). According to medicine officials, these policies result in a considerable fall of alcohol consumption volumes, to 13.5 litres by 2013, and wine and beer taking over spirits as the main source of consumed alcohol.[2] These levels are more comparable with European Union averages. Alcohol producers claim falling legal drinks consumption is accompanied by growth of sales of illegally produced drinks.[3]

High volumes of alcohol consumption have serious negative effects on Russia's social fabric and in its political, economic and public health ramifications. Alcoholism has been a problem throughout the country's history because drinking is a pervasive, socially acceptable behaviour in Russian society.[4] It has also been a major source of government revenue for centuries. It has repeatedly been targeted as a major national problem,[5][6] with mixed results.


Historically, alcohol has been tolerated or even encouraged as a source of revenue.[7]

In the 1540s, Ivan IV began setting up kabaks (кабак) or taverns in his major cities to help fill his coffers;[7][8] a third of Russian men were in debt to the kabaks by 1648.[8] By 1860, vodka, the national drink, was the source of 40% of the government's revenue.[8] At the beginning of World War I, prohibition was introduced in the Russian Empire, limiting the sale of hard liquor to restaurants.

20th century

After the Bolshevik Party came to power, they made repeated attempts to reduce consumption in the Soviet Union.[7] However, by 1925, vodka had reappeared in state-run stores.[8] Joseph Stalin reestablished a state monopoly to generate revenue.[7]

Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev,[9] Leonid Brezhnev (himself a drinker),[9] Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko all tried to stem alcoholism.[7] Mikhail Gorbachev increased controls on alcohol in 1985;[10] he attempted to impose a partial prohibition, which involved a massive anti-alcohol campaign, severe penalties against public drunkenness and alcohol consumption, and restrictions on sales of liquor. The campaign was temporarily successful in reducing per capita alcohol consumption and improving quality-of-life measures such as life expectancies and crime rates, but it was deeply unpopular among the population and it ultimately failed.

21st century

In 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev nearly doubled the minimum price of a bottle of vodka in an effort to combat the problem.[11]

The Russian government has proposed reducing the state minimum price of vodka in reaction to the 2014–15 Russian financial crisis.[12]


Disability-adjusted life year for alcohol use disorders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2004.
  no data


A study by Russian, British and French researchers published in The Lancet scrutinized deaths between 1990 and 2001 of residents of three Siberian industrial towns with typical mortality rates and determined that 52% of deaths of people between the ages of 15 and 54 were the result of alcohol abuse.[13] Lead researcher Professor David Zaridze estimated that the increase in alcohol consumption since 1987 has caused an additional three million deaths nationwide.[13]

In 2007, Gennadi Onishenko, the country's chief public health official, voiced his concern over the nearly threefold rise in alcohol consumption over the past 16 years; one in eight deaths was attributed to alcohol-related diseases, playing a major role in Russia's population decline.[10] Men are particularly hit hard: according to a U.N. National Human Development Report, Russian males born in 2006 had a life expectancy of just over 60 years, or 17 years fewer than western Europeans, while Russian females could expect to live 13 years longer than their male counterparts.[14]

In June 2009, the Public Chamber of Russia reported over 500,000 alcohol-related deaths annually, noting that Russians consume about 18 litres (4.0 imp gal; 4.8 US gal) of spirits a year, more than double the 8 litres (1.8 imp gal; 2.1 US gal) that World Health Organization experts consider dangerous.[15]


In 1985, at the time of Gorbachev's campaign to reduce drinking, it was estimated that alcoholism resulted in $8 billion in lost production.[16]


In the early 1980s, an estimated "two-thirds of murders and violent crimes were committed by intoxicated persons; and drunk drivers were responsible for 14,000 traffic deaths and 60,000 serious traffic injuries".[9] In 1995, about three quarters of those arrested for homicide were under the influence of alcohol, and 29% of respondents reported that children beaten within families were the victims of drunks and alcoholics.[17]

A 1997 report published in the Journal of Family Violence, found that among male perpetrators of spousal homicide, 60–75% of offenders had been drinking prior to the incident.[17]


Further information: Suicide in Russia

In 2008, suicide claimed 38,406 lives in Russia.[18] With a rate of 27.1 suicides per 100,000 people, Russia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, although it has been steadily decreasing since it peaked at around 40 per 100,000 in the mid-late '90s,[19] including a 30% drop from 2001 to 2006.

Heavy alcohol use is a significant factor in the suicide rate, with an estimated half of all suicides a result of alcohol abuse. This is evident by the fact that Russia's suicide rate since the mid-90s has declined alongside per capita alcohol consumption, despite the economic crises since then; alcohol consumption is more of a factor than economic conditions.[20]


From the 1930s and 1940s until the mid-1980s, the main treatment for alcoholism in Russia was conditioned response therapy. This treatment has since fallen out of favour, and the modern mainstream treatment has become pharmacotherapy, which involves detailed analyses of each patient, medicinal treatment, psychotherapy, sociotherapy, and other support.[21] Although Alcoholics Anonymous exists in Russia, it lacks support from the government and so is generally dismissed by the Russian population.

One alternative therapy for alcoholism that has been used in Russia is the practice of "coding," in which therapists pretend to insert a "code" into patients' brains with the ostensible effect that drinking even small amounts of alcohol will be extremely harmful or even lethal. Despite not being recommended in Russian clinical guidelines, it has enjoyed considerable popularity. In recent years its use has lessened, due to the spread of information about its ineffectiveness.[22][23]

See also


  1. "Global status reporton alcohol and health - WHO" (PDF). 2011. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  2. "Россияне стали меньше пить". October 17, 2013. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  3. "Анализ алкогольного рынка в 2013 году - рост и падение". RosInvest. March 19, 2014. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  4. See, e.g., Korotayev A., Khaltourina D. Russian Demographic Crisis in Cross-National Perspective. Russia and Globalization: Identity, Security, and Society in an Era of Change. Ed. by D. W. Blum. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. P. 37-78; Khaltourina, D. A., & Korotayev, A. V. 'Potential for alcohol policy to decrease the mortality crisis in Russia', Evaluation & the Health Professions, vol. 31, no. 3, Sep 2008. pp. 272–281.
  5. "Russia declares war on alcoholism". RIA Novosti. January 14, 2010.
  6. "Each of 7 million Russian alcoholics drinks 27 liters of alcohol a year". Pravda. November 9, 2006.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 McKee, Martin (1999). "Alcohol in Russia". Alcohol and Alcoholism. Oxford Journals. 34 (6): 824–829. doi:10.1093/alcalc/34.6.824. PMID 10659717.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Claire Suddath (January 5, 2010). "A Brief History of Russians and Vodka". Time magazine. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved May 10, 2010.
  9. 1 2 3 Dorman, Nancy D.; Towle, Leland H. (1991). "Initiatives to curb alcohol abuse and alcoholism in the former Soviet Union". Alcohol Health & Research World.
  10. 1 2 Tony Halpin (April 13, 2007). "Health alert as Russia's alcohol consumption triples". The Times.
  11. Kate Transchel (January 18, 2010). "Opinion: Why a $3 bottle of vodka won't cut it". Global Post. Retrieved May 10, 2010.
  12. Petroff, Alanna (December 31, 2014). "Russia slashing vodka prices as economy reels". CNN. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  13. 1 2 Zaridze, David; Brennan, Paul; Boreham, Jillian; Boroda, Alex; Karpov, Rostislav; Lazarev, Alexander; Konobeevskaya, Irina; Igitov, Vladimir; et al. (2009). "Alcohol and cause-specific mortality in Russia: a retrospective case—control study of 48 557 adult deaths". The Lancet. 373 (9682): 2201–2214. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61034-5.
  14. "Alcohol blamed for half of '90s Russian deaths". Associated Press. June 25, 2009. Retrieved May 10, 2010.
  15. "Russia's alcohol consumption more than 100% above critical level". RIA Novosti. September 24, 2009.
  16. John Moody; James O. Jackson; Nancy Traver (October 21, 1985). "Soviet Union Fighting the Battle of the Bottle". Time magazine. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  17. 1 2 "Interpersonal Violence and Alcohol in the Russian Federation" (PDF). Violence and Injury Prevention Programme - WHO Regional Office for Europe. 2006. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  18. H1 2009 demographic figures Rosstat Retrieved on August 28, 2009
  19. WHO Russia suicide statistics WHO retrieved on March 21, 2008
  20. Demoscope - Demographic, social and economic consequences of alcohol abuse in Russia Demoscope Retrieved on July 6, 2010
  21. Treatment systems overview. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing. 2010. pp. 127–128. ISBN 978-92-871-6930-3. Retrieved June 14, 2011.
  22. Mosher, Clayton (2007). Drugs and Drug Policy. Thousand Oaks: Sage. p. 269. ISBN 978-0-7619-3007-5. Retrieved June 9, 2011.
  23. Finn, Peter (October 2, 2005). "Russia's 1-Step Program: Scaring Alcoholics Dry". Washington Post. Retrieved June 9, 2011.

Further reading

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