(CN) – Fewer Russians picked up a bottle of alcohol during several time periods in the last 40 years and researchers say in a study published Wednesday this may have added up to an increase in life expectancy.
Alcohol and a person’s life expectancy are difficult to link, but researchers say whenever alcohol consumption dropped in Russia, life expectancy went up in their study.
The research, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol & Drugs, explores how current life expectancy for Russians has risen 6.1 years for men and 4.7 years for women when compared to data from 1980.
Money plays a role, but so do government enacted policies and how people got hold of their alcohol, says study author Maria Neufeld with the Moscow Research Institute of Psychiatry (MRIP) and Dresden Technical University.
“Alcohol use has been established as one of the main contributors, if not the main contributor, to Russian mortality,” Neufeld said.
Researchers waded into the country’s fertility and mortality database to look at alcohol-related death rates from alcohol poisoning, liver and heart disease. The study factored in suicide and homicide as causes of death frequently related to drinking and information was further broken down by gender and beer sales.
Study author Alexander Nemtsov from MRIP determined alcohol-related deaths ebbed and flowed on three waves over the last 40 years.
From 1985 to 1987, a drop in the number of Russians drinking corresponded to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, enacting an anti-alcohol campaign. But as soon as those measures were repealed, life expectancy rates dropped as more people drank, especially illegal vodka.
The second wave was from 1995 to 1998, which corresponded to soaring inflation in the country and fewer people drinking. But just as soon as the economy bounced back, more people were drinking and life expectancy rates decreased, according to the study.
The most recent wave began around 2003 and ran parallel to government policies. Russians are still riding this wave which includes restrictions on alcohol sales, price increases, stricter licensing and prohibitions on public drinking.
Authors noted public taste has shifted with more people drinking beer than vodka.
Vodka has been kicking around Russia since the late 14th century and truly took off around the 1860s when government policy promoted state-manufactured vodka for citizens.
William Pridemore, criminologist and dean of the School of Criminal Justice at SUNY Albany said in a related editorial there are many more variables at play than alcohol consumption and mortality rates.
“Alcohol policies also may be rooted in culture or a zeitgeist that affects health outcomes independent of regulations,” he writes. “For example, a developing nation with high consumption enacts alcohol regulations, but also enacts other health-related policies, and goes through demographic transition, and experiences economic growth.”
Pridemore adds that regulations are driven by social forces, and those might influence health through other channels. He said alcohol policy is “embedded in a complex network of social, political, and economic forces that make it difficult to discern its precise effects.”