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Alcohol Linked to 1990s Murder Rate in Russia
January 1, 2003
By Clementine Wallace

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Following the breakup of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, the murder rate in some areas of Russia rose in tandem with alcohol consumption, according to an analysis of newly available data. The findings support previous research linking alcohol consumption to higher rates of violence and homicides.

Sociologist William Pridemore of the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma studied homicide rates and alcohol consumption in 89 different Russian regions. He found that the two variables followed a similar pattern. For every 1% increase in the consumption of alcohol, there was a 0.25% uptick in the homicide rate.

Although such a correlation is not unexpected, reliable data to study the phenomenon scientifically was unavailable until recently, according to the report in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"These data were released just recently," said Sang Weon Kim, a PhD student who worked on this study with Pridemore, "and the massive changes that occurred after the breakup make this transition period such a unique social phenomenon that is very important for us social scientists to explore."

During the transition period, the former Soviet social welfare system collapsed--pensions and savings values dropped and unemployment and poverty rose drastically. Many regard the social stress accompanying this period as a major cause for an increase in alcohol consumption.

But although alcohol seems to be an important factor in homicide rates, Pridemore notes that many people around the world drink to excess without a violent outcome.

"This suggests that the role of alcohol may vary according to the cultural context and the social situations involved," he writes. He believes that "what, how and where Russians drink may result in situations that are more likely to lead to violence."

Researchers have also attempted to study the influence of alcohol consumption on homicide rates in the US, but with mixed results, said Colin Loftin, a sociologist at the State University of New York School of Criminal Justice

"In the United States, it's a very hard area to study, but it's an issue that people have tried to investigate since the 1950s and even probably before then," he said in an interview with Reuters Health.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health 2002;92:1921-1930.

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