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More Vodka


Here’s a passage from the Nicholas Eberstadt article I linked in my original “Deadly Atheism?” post. Notice that Eberstadt acknowledges diverse causes for death rates, and also notes the long-standing Russian predilection for alcohol. Yet Eberstadt fingers alcohol as the central cause of increased death rates, and notes that alcohol consumption has increased with the decline of communism. Also, note how some of the other factors Eberstadt cites, like “increasing social atomization and anomie,” track well with the “spiritual void” idea:

“Russia’s dismal health record can be explained in terms of a multiplicity of unfavorable social, behavioral, and policy tendencies: pervasive smoking; poor diets; sedentary life styles; increasing social atomization and anomie; the special economic stresses of Russia’s “transition”; the unimpressive capabilities of the Soviet medical system and the limited coverage of its successor. At the end of the day, however, it is impossible to overlook the deadly contribution of the Russian love of vodka.

From the sixteenth century–when vodka was first introduced to a receptive public–up to the present day, Russians have always demonstrated a predilection to drink heavy spirits in astonishing excess–a fact remarked upon by visiting foreigners for centuries. Russia’s thirst for hard liquor seems to have reached dizzying new heights in the late Soviet era, and then again in the early post-Communist era. By 1984, according to some estimates, the per capita level of alcohol intake in Russia was roughly three times as high as in 1913 (that pre-revolutionary era not exactly being remembered as a time of temperance). By the mid 1990s, Russian per capita alcohol intake may have even slightly surpassed its previous, Communist-era, zenith. In 1994, for example, the estimate of pure alcohol consumed by the population aged 15 and older amounted to 18.5 liters per capita annually–the equivalent of 125 cc. of vodka for everyone, every day.”