Ex Soviet drinkers just can't say 'nyet'

By Shaun Walker

It was only recently that beer was classified as an alcoholic drink in Russia. Photo / Thinkstock
It was only recently that beer was classified as an alcoholic drink in Russia. Photo / Thinkstock

Citizens of the small, post-Soviet republic of Moldova are the world's biggest drinkers, knocking back the equivalent of more than 18 litres of pure alcohol per year, according to a World Health Organisation report.

Moldovans drink nearly three times the global average of 6.1 litres per person per year. They drink 18.22 litres of pure alcohol a year, compared with the 9.62 litres consumed by New Zealanders.

Much of Moldovans' consumption was made up by the "unrecorded" drinking of bootleg alcohol, according to the report, a study of drinking habits in over 100 countries spanning several decades, up to 2004.

Moldova, between Romania and Ukraine, is one of the poorest countries in Europe. It is split between ethnic Moldovans, who speak a language almost identical to Romanian, and ethnic Russians. The country is a major wine producer, with many people drinking cheap homemade wine, vodka and other spirits.

Other post-Soviet nations were also identified as culprits when it comes to drinking. While globally, only 6.2 per cent of male deaths and 1.1 per cent of female deaths were linked to alcohol, among Russian men this rises to a staggering 20 per cent and is one of the main reasons why male life expectancy in Russia hovers around 60. Among Russian women, 6 per cent of deaths are alcohol related.

Countries like Russia and Ukraine have traditionally been big vodka drinkers, but in the 20 years since the collapse of Communism beer has been added into the mix. It was only recently that beer was classified as an alcoholic drink in Russia.

Russia has a long history of alcohol problems and mixed attempts to fight them. Mikhail Gorbachev tried to ban vodka sales except for during a short window in the day, which led to him becoming hugely unpopular and to Russians taking to brewing moonshine.

Britain was not that far behind the leaders, coming in at 13.4 litres of pure alcohol a year. The British drank more beer than any other kind of alcohol, while Russians drank mostly spirits. The Moldovan intake was made up roughly equally of wine, spirits and beer.

While Moldovans drink the most, the WHO confirmed that Russia and Ukraine were home to the most "risky" drinking. They were the only two countries to receive the top "five out of five" risk score.

Mediterranean countries came out as the least risky drinkers of all, despite consuming a large amount of alcohol.


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