A new report released on Feb. 11 by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the dangers of alcoholism and its impact on overall health highlights the urgency of Russia's alcoholism crisis, itself just one part of the country's broader demographic challenges. Official WHO (.pdf) and Russian statistics paint a horrifying picture on this subject for Russia's population of 140 million:
- Russians 16 and older drink the equivalent of roughly four gallons of pure alcohol per capita each year, almost twice the amount of their American counterparts.
- Russia currently has 2 million alcoholics.
- The number of Russian children aged 10-14 who drink alcohol exceeds 10 million.
- Roughly 500,000 Russians die annually from alcoholic-related accidents, crimes, and illnesses.
- Alcohol poisoning kills more than 23,000 Russians each year.
In addition to heavy overall drinking, Russians are prone to binge drinking. It is also not uncommon for Russians to consume potentially toxic substances containing high levels of alcohol -- including lighter fluid, cleaning solution and even the ethanol fuels used in vehicles -- for the simple reason that they contain greater concentrations of regular alcohol but are taxed at only one-third the rate. During the Soviet period, MiG-25 warplanes were a particularly popular source, since their de-icing tanks contained almost 5 gallons of pure alcohol.