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Carmen Eller

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Carmen Eller works as a journalist and author in Berlin. She was an editor at the "Moskauer Deutsche Zeitung" and reported as a correspondent for Spiegel Online, among others, from the Russian capital. In 2010 her book "A year in Moscow. Journey into everyday life" was published by Herder.

About the Russian folk drug alcohol and its effects

Every fifth inhabitant of Russia dies as a result of alcohol abuse. Men between the ages of 15 and 54 are particularly at risk. Even during the Soviet era, the state tried to respond to this problem with campaigns - with little success.

In Russian men aged 15 to 54, 59 percent of deaths are the result of alcohol abuse. (& copy AP)

"In the beginning was the word. And the word was with God. And the word was - vodka." The writer Viktor Erofejew begins an essay in his book "Russian Apocalypse". Russia and vodka - in the minds of many people, these two terms form a unit. There is hardly a travel guide that can do without a paragraph on alcohol, hardly a novel that does not also include drinking at some point. Wenedikt Erofejew even made a drinker a hero in his 1969 book "Moskau-Petuschki". On a train ride through Russia he gets more and more intoxicated from station to station. And the poet revolutionary Vladimir Mayakovsky is said to have said that it is better to die of vodka than of boredom.

But even if the high-proof "little water", as it literally translates, is considered a national drink, alcoholism remains a taboo in society. "Vodka has left its mark on almost every Russian family, like the war against Hitler and the Stalinist repression," writes Erofejew, whose own uncle was also an alcoholic.

Alcoholism and the Consequences

According to official figures, around half a million people die each year in Russia as a result of alcohol consumption. The average life expectancy of Russian men is 59 years.

A study published in the scientific magazine "The Lancet" examined the specific effects of alcohol consumption on the death rate in Russia. According to this, alcohol abuse in the age group 15 to 54 years was responsible for more than half of all deaths. For men, the rate in this age group is 59 percent and for women 33 percent. In addition to alcohol poisoning and typical diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver, the scientists also took into account alcohol-related accidents or acts of violence.

According to a recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO), every fifth inhabitant of Russia dies as a result of alcohol abuse. Most deaths occur as a result of injuries suffered by Russians when they are drunk and from alcohol-related illnesses. According to the WHO, the socio-economic background in Russia also plays an important role when people become addicted to drinking. People with a very low level of education have a comparatively higher risk of alcohol-related death than people with the best possible education.

According to the WHO, both alcohol consumption and deaths caused by alcohol have risen significantly in the wake of the profound social, economic and political changes of the 1990s. Unmarried and poorly educated men were the main risk group. In general, the drinking habits of Russian men are more worrying than those of women, since on average they consume more alcohol and more. In addition to commercially produced beverages, it is also common to consume home-made spirits.

The WHO also examined the relationship between alcohol consumption and acts of violence in various studies. Accordingly, in about 1995 three quarters of all people arrested for murder in Russia were under the influence of alcohol. Of the men who killed their wives, 60 to 75 percent had been drinking before the crime. In addition, heavy drinkers in Russia are five times more likely to commit suicide and alcoholics are nine times more likely to commit suicide.

The illegal production of spirits is one of the central problems surrounding alcoholism in Russia. After many unregistered distilleries have been shut down, criminals are often closing the gap by selling booze mixed with industrial alcohol. Especially in poorer regions of the country, Russians sometimes drink dangerous mixtures to which, for example, alcohol-based cleaning agents have been added. Adulterated vodka caused a veritable wave of poisoning in Russia in 2006. Thousands of people fell ill, over a hundred died. In some areas, for example in Pskow on the border with the Baltic States, a state of emergency has even been declared.