Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, February 02, 2014

An Alcoholic Gene?

"Russians clearly drink a lot, but it's this pattern of getting really smashed on vodka and then continuing to drink that is dangerous.
"The rate of men dying prematurely in Russia is totally out of line with the rest of Europe. There's also a heavy drinking culture in Finland and Poland, but they still have nothing like Russia's risk of death."
Sir Richard Peto, Oxford University researcher
 Vodka responsible for high death risk in Russian men: study
This undated file picture, shows Russians purchasing vodka from a street kiosk in Moscow. A quarter of all Russian men die before they reach their mid-fifties and their passion for vodka may be to blame, according to recent research by the Russian Cancer Centre in Moscow, Oxford University in the UK and the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer, in France.     Photograph by: Alexander Nemenov , AFP/Getty Images
"If you're drinking vodka, you get a lot more ethanol in that than if you were drinking something like lager. It's not considered out of order to drink until you can't function, in Russia. It just seems to be part of being a guy in Russia that you are expected to drink heavily."
David Leon, professor of epidemiology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
In a new study funded by the U.K. Medical Research Council, published in the online journal Lancet, researchers concluded that Russian men who drink large amounts of vodka have an "extraordinarily" high risk of achieving early death. The research team tracked about 151,000 adult men in Barnaul, Bysk and Tomsk for an eleven-year period ending in 2010, interviewing them about their drinking habits. They followed up to monitor causes of death when of that number studied 8,000 died during the study period.

Risk of dying before age 55 for those who claimed to drink three or more half litre bottles of vodka weekly came in at 35%. One-quarter of Russian men die before reaching 55, compared with 7% in the United Kingdom and less than one percent in the United States. The life expectancy for Russian men is among the lowest 50 countries in the world, at 64 years of age. But it is known that the average Russian adult drinks 20 litres of vodka annually as compared to 3 litres of spirits taken by the average Brit.

That alcohol represents a top killer in the country is certainly not unknown. Russian lawmakers are known to have lamented the culture that encourages this kind of binge drinking. Vodka is most often the choice of these drinkers, because it is cheap, often home produced, coming from small villages. There have been previous studies validating the data that over 40% of working-age men in Russia die from over-drinking. Use of alcohol not meant for human consumption, like alcohol from colognes and antiseptics is another problem.

And it is not only working age men and women who indulge to excess, cutting short their lives. The problem is culturally ingrained and dreadfully acute to the point where Russian teens often pick up alcohol casually on the way to school. Alcohol is readily available and its uptake is a popular custom. There's a Russian word describing a drinking binge; zapoi; to describe a binge that can last several days up to a week in duration.

Evidence surfaced as well of a similar social-cultural effect among Russian women drinking as heavily as their male counterparts. Official Russia knows it has a problem among the population with its long tradition of taking so enthusiastically to over-drinking. In the West a backlash took place  when various levels of government realized that tobacco constituted a public health hazard costing health-care systems enormously and impacting as well in the workplace.

Gradually, the deleterious effects of smoking leading to early, gruesome deaths from lung cancer were acknowledged for the public health threat that they represented and legislation was enacted to protect non-smokers from the effects of passive inhalation of smoke, and a campaign to educate smokers about their chances of lung cancer due to chronic smoking was launched, and smoking prevalence declined markedly, to the dismay of tobacco manufacturers.

No such education and social habit management attempt that is broad-based inclusive of government, the medical community and social welfare agencies appears to have been seriously attempted in Russia. And until such steps are taken, it appears that new generations have embraced the habits of their parents, heading down the same treacherous road of gradual self-annihilation.

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