Alcoholism in Russia

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited:  November 12 ,
| 4 Sources

Alcoholism is a problem in Russia. People drink for different reasons: religion, depression, family problems, or to cope with stress.

Alcoholism has been the norm of Russian culture since before Soviet times and it's difficult to break this cycle because alcoholism is so ingrained into society and lifestyle that most people don't even realize they have a problem. It's not just an issue for adults either- children are being exposed to alcohol at younger ages than ever before which can lead them down the same path as their parents.

Alcoholism in Russia is reaching heights that appear to directly impact the instances of non-natural death, and lowering life expectancy particularly in men.According to statistics, it is the leading cause of death in Russia, a country that used to have one of the highest life expectancies and lowest rates of alcohol-related deaths around the world.

According to Alexander Nemtsov's report for the RIA Novosti news agency titled 'Alcoholism: Punishing Disease,' Russians die four years earlier than citizens in other European countries.

This brings down life expectancy among Russian men from 64 years in 1992 to 58 years by 2003. The main reason for this shortening is a light decrease (by 5%) in male life expectancy at birth and an astonishing increase (10%) in the death rate from alcoholism.

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.


Reasons for Alcoholism in Russia:

New research suggests that a combination of several factors may be contributing to the rising problem of alcohol abuse. In order to improve the situation, Russia needs to tackle these issues and look at them individually so they can develop effective solutions.

Here are some major reasons why alcoholism in Russia has been increasing so dramatically the past 20 years or so:

Geographical Location - Currently three-quarters of Russian territory consist of temperate latitudes, which means long cold winters and short hot summers (or moderate ones). This greatly influences people's drinking habits as warming up with strong liquor is often considered more appealing than taking advantage of the summer heat or enjoying the cool weather.

Natural and Cultural Attitudes - This one is pretty obvious, but it's still worth mentioning. Russia also has a long history of drinking to cope with difficult situations such as celebrations and funerals. Russians have also been known to drink when they are happy or just relaxing after work. All these individual factors have contributed to the general attitude that happiness can only be achieved through alcohol consumption.

Resources - Although Russia is one of the worlds leaders in terms of its natural resources, and particularly oil and gas, it has become obvious that this has not translated into prosperity for all citizens.

In fact, many Russians have been affected by having their pensions reduced or even cut off altogether. It's really no surprise then that people turn to drink as a way to cope with financial instability and what they perceive as hopelessness.

Medical Factors - As mentioned before about 70% of Russian women first try alcohol between the ages of 13-14 years old. This early introduction has serious implications later on if not addressed properly.


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.

Nonetheless, alcoholism is not just a problem in Russia, but all over the world. If you or your loved ones need help with alcohol abuse, contact a treatment provider today. Let's put a stop to alcoholism, one person, at a time.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

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