Academic journal article Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

Fatal Alcoholic Poisonings in Russia and Belarus: A Comparative Analysis of Trends

Academic journal article Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

Fatal Alcoholic Poisonings in Russia and Belarus: A Comparative Analysis of Trends

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


Alcohol is a major contributor to premature deaths toll in Eastern Europe [1]. Its effects on mortality seem to have been especially striking in the Slavic countries of the former Soviet Union (fSU), where it has been identified as one of the most important factor underpinning the mortality crisis that has occurred in the post-Soviet period [2]. Despite some positive changes in recent years, the former Soviet republics Russia and Belarus ranks among the world's heaviest drinking countries with an annual official consumption rate about 10 liters of pure alcohol per capita [3,4]. Furthermore, according to the WHO, in 2010, Belarus appears at the top of global rating with 17.5 liters of total alcohol consumption (including unrecorded consumption) per capita [5]. Evidence of a major effect of binge drinking on mortality pattern in these countries comes from both aggregate level analyses and studies of individuals. In Russia, for example, alcohol may be responsible for 59.0% of all male and 33.0% of all female deaths at ages 15-54 years [6]. Corresponding figures for Belarus are somewhat lover: 28.4% of all male and 16.4% of all female deaths [7]. The drinking culture in Russia and Belarus is rather similar and characterized by a high overall level of alcohol consumption and the heavy episodic (binge) drinking pattern of strong spirits, leading to high alcohol poisoning mortality rates [8,9].

In comparative perspective, Belarus presents an interesting contrast to other former Soviet countries with the extremely high alcohol-related mortality rate. The developmental path in Belarus has been somewhat different to that seen in other countries in the post-Soviet period. The country never fully democratized and there has been less emphasis on economic reforms, with many aspects of the command economy being retained, as witnessed by the low level of privatization [10]. By contrast to Russia, which implemented mass privatization after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Belarus has adopted a more gradual approach to transition [11]. In relation to this, Stuckler et al. [12] argue that rapid mass privatization and increased unemployment rate in the early 1990s was the major determinant of the mortality crisis in Russia during this time.

Alcohol poisoning death is caused by drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Therefore, the alcohol poisoning has been proposed as a main indicator for alcohol-related problems in countries where episodic heavy drinking predominates [3]. Although the alcohol poisoning mortality rates were comparatively high in Russia and Belarus, even during the later-Soviet period, the alarming rise that has occurred during the post-Soviet period meant that these countries have the highest alcohol poisoning mortality rates in the world [5]. In his study Stickley and coauthors [2] highlighted that there is no direct linear relation between consumption levels and alcohol poisoning rates amongst former Soviet Union countries. Therefore, it seems unlikely that it is a high consumption level alone that underpins the extreme alcohol poisoning rate seen in Russia and Belarus. Instead, there is growing evidence suggesting that the binge drinking pattern may be responsible for the extremely high level of alcohol poisoning mortality in these countries. In particular, the alcohol poisoning death rate is higher among the middle-aged men, the group that has the highest rate of excessive drinking [3].

This study examines the phenomenon of alcohol poisoning mortality in Russia and Belarus from the late Soviet to post-Soviet period. It goes beyond previous studies that have been confined primarily to Russia and focused on the alcohol-related mortality with few examples from elsewhere, even though the other former Soviet republics have experienced similar fluctuations in alcohol-related mortality rates. More specifically, this study focuses on a comparative analysis of trends in alcohol poisoning mortality rates and alcohol sales per capita in Russia and Belarus. …

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