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Aims. Alcohol has been suggested as an important determinant of mortality in Russia but survey data on individuals' alcohol consumption in Russia are sparse. We have analysed the levels and distribution of alcohol consumption in a national sample of the Russian population. Design. Cross-sectional survey. Participants. A multi-stage random sample of men and women of the Russian Federation (N = 1599, response rate 66%). Measurements. Data on frequency of drinking alcohol and the average amount consumed at one occasion were collected in an interview. Information was also collected on smoking, self-rated health and a broad range of socio-economic factors and political attitudes. Findings. Nine per cent of men and 35% of women reported that they never drink alcohol; 10% of men and 2% women drink several times a week; 44% of men and 6% of women reported that they drink an equivalent of 25 cl of vodka or more at one occasion and 31% of men and 3% of women would do so at least once a month (25 cl of vodka contains 78.5 g of absolute alcohol). There were differences in alcohol consumption between geographical areas. Material deprivation was not related to alcohol consumption. Among men, smokers, unmarried, unemployed and men reporting poor health consumed more alcohol; women with higher education, widows, non-smoking and with worse health consumed less alcohol. Variables related to reaction to economic and political changes, rating of family economic situation general satisfaction or political preferences were not related to alcohol consumption. Conclusions. While the overall levels of alcohol consumption appeared low, possibly due to under-reporting, the proportion of men who can be considered as "binge drinkers" was relatively high. The absence of sizable socio-economic differences suggest that drinking may be spread relatively uniformly in Russia, especially among males. Alcohol consumption seems unrelated to individuals' perception of the recent societal changes.