The main problem of pensions, Nemtsov says, is poverty; and even cheap samogon requires “some means.” There is another factor at work, however. With age, the amount of alcohol bodies can tolerate drops. That means even those who consume less may suffer more. The worst outcomes are among those who drink between age 40 and 55.
The best Russian study on causes of alcoholism among the young was prepared a few years ago by scholars at Arkhangelsk University ( ). They found that retirement in Russia is “one of the most profound psycho-social crises” individuals face, and many turn to alcohol out of a sense of loss.
Russians have not always been heavy drinkers at any age, Nemtsov says. In 1864, the average per capita consumption was six liters a year, a figure that fell up to and after the revolution. By World War II, Russians were consuming only about 1.9 liters per person per year. The situation remained stable until about 1965 and then shot up to 13 liters or more by 1985.
The situation has been improving in recent years, the doctor says. But there is a problem: While Russia ranks fifth internationally in consumption of alcohol, its citizens consume it almost exclusively in the form of hard liquor like vodka which is harder for the body to metabolize and adapt to.
A decade ago, approximately 400,000 Russians were dying prematurely as a result of alcohol, Nemtsov says. The situation may be somewhat better now but there are no good new studies to rely on in making an assessment. And there is little agreement how to allocate the role of alcohol in deaths from other causes where it is present in high amounts.
Twenty percent of those who die from heart attacks have alcohol in their bloodstreams, 40 percent of accident deaths do, 70 percent of those who murder do, and 40 percent of those who commit suicide.
And there is a problem many don’t want to talk about: Russians are not eating well and therefore do not have the resistance to alcohol that people in other countries do. “About 15 percent of Russians” aren’t getting enough calories each day. Simply put, they are starving. Such people may not become alcoholics but the impact of alcohol on them is enormous.