Alcoholism in Russia

Alcoholism in Russia is reaching heights that appear to directly impact the instances of non-natural death, and lowering life expectancy particularly in men. Alcohol consumption in Russia is nearly three times higher than it was 15 years ago. In fact, Russia ranks #1 in world alcohol spending.

For a while, alcoholism in Russia was curbed after the State regulated the overall supply of alcohol. However the effect wasn’t permanent. Alcohol consumption in Russia started to increase again in 1987 particularly in hard liqueur, and the country’s beverage of choice – Vodka.

Alcoholism in Russia by the Numbers

On a weekly average Russians consume about ½ pint of pure alcohol. Currently there are well over 2 million alcoholics in the country. Of these, more children are becoming addicted, with their first drink being taken around the age of 13. Current statistics show that over 70% of girls and 76% of boys use alcohol at least twice a month. Many experts feel that part of the reason for such high levels of underage drinking is vodka and beer advertisements that make alcohol seem “desirable” and “cool” to young people.

There’s no question that the instances of alcoholism in Russia are dramatically increasing. This is reflected in the retail market. The sales of beer tripled since the late 1990s, especially to younger individuals. In the last year alone alcohol consumption in Russia reached the 12 billion liter mark. Of this, more than 30 percent was wine, and over 15 percent was Vodka.

Alcoholism, or alcohol related accidents and illnesses account for one in 8 deaths annually. Men have been most severely impacted, now having a life expectancy of about 60 years of age. These numbers are of serious concern to the government as the overall population of Russia is shrinking in part due to what could be called a national addiction.


Alcohol has been a very important part of Russia’s social history since around the 10th century AD. Nearly every class and both genders appeared to over indulge regularly. Effectively, there was a culture of alcohol use that has continued into modern times

The main difference between alcohol consumption in Russia vs. other countries was that the vast majority (as much as 90%) was hard liqueur like vodka (other countries favored wine or beer), and the consumption occurred in binges. Modern studies show that this type of alcoholic beverage is more damaging and many times more quickly addicting.

Because alcohol provided an excellent source of revenue, drinking was often encouraged throughout Russia. In the mid 1500s, for example, many towns built a spirit production house the monies from which went right to the treasury. By the 19th century about 33% of government money came from the sale of alcohol.

Today, alcohol and alcoholism continues to influence the overall morality, crime rates, social behavior and legislation in Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev enacted an anti-alcohol campaign in 1985 that was successful for about a year, during which time male life expectancy improved by 2 years.

Sadly like the prohibition in the US, it ended up spurring even greater amounts of alcohol consumption in Russia (particularly illegally made beverages), followed by a decrease of three years in life expectancy by 1993. The largest change was due to heart disease and injuries tied to alcohol consumption. It’s interesting to note that currently upward of 20% of a family’s disposable income goes toward alcoholic beverages. As in many other parts of the world alcoholism in Russia contributes to unemployment, illness, family stress, and work related injuries.


More than alcoholism in Russia on our genetics and alcoholism page

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