Keep it down: Russia is recovering from a giant hangover

January 15, 2013

Americans may already be weeks into their New Year's Resolutions, but Russians are just now starting to dry out from a two-week celebratory winter season that starts with New Year's Eve and ends with the Russian Orthodox Church's "Old New Year" on Jan. 14.


(Getty Images)

This isn't your average New Year's Eve party: Russian stock markets and newspapers were closed until Jan. 9, and many people extended their revelry through Sunday.

Russians, not exactly known for their temperance, spent $400 apiece on alcohol during the period, according to the country's Research Center on the Federal and Regional Alcohol Market, and some experts estimated that all the bottles of alcohol Russians drank during the period could wrap around the world 17 times, according to the Guardian.

Now, Russian doctors are using the end of the holidays as an occasion to once again issue a plea for moderation, warning Russians that they may take up to a month to fully recover from the binge.

"Long holidays are, in any event, bad," Yevgeny Bryun, Russia's top medical drug official, said Monday. "Long-term abuse of any alcohol is always bad – it has chronic toxic impacts, the effects of which can last a month."

Russians imbibe at rates on par with a few other European countries. However, along with Mexico and Kazakhstan, they have some of the so-called "riskiest patterns of drinking," as measured by factors such as festive drinking, drinking in public, drinking daily and the amount consumed per occasion. Here's a WHO map from 2005:


(World Health Organization)

A 2009 study found that more than half of all deaths of people of working age in Russia are caused by alcohol.  More than 23,000 people there die of alcohol poisoning annually, while an additional 75,000 die of alcohol-related diseases, according to state statistics.

"If current Russian death rates continue, then about 5 percent of all young women and 25 percent of all young men will die before age 55 years from the direct or indirect effects of drinking," the study's authors warned.

The country's drinking problem has become so pervasive that authorities have stepped up efforts to limit alcohol sales and to increase penalties for crimes committed while intoxicated.

In 2010, Vladimir Putin approved a plan to cut Russian alcohol consumption in half by 2020 and to eliminate illegal alcohol production and sales.

Since Jan. 1, retail sales have been banned between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., and ubiquitous corner kiosks are now barred from selling alcohol at any time. This month, beer also lost its classification as a "food item," thereby placing it under the same buying and selling restrictions as hard alcohol. A newly instituted minimum price for vodka is intended to fight counterfeit alcohol production.

Prompted by a spike in drunk driving accidents, the Justice Ministry proposed a bill last week that would add alcohol and drug intoxication as aggravating factors for any crime committed.

“There is sense [in the bill] – it prevents people from wild behavior when drunk,” Communist Duma Deputy Yury Sinelshchikov said.

In the meantime, there may be an uptick in the consumption of pickle juice and kvass, a fermented rye drink — two popular regional hangover remedies.

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Olga Khazan | January 15, 2013