Background: Alcohol is an important determinant of the high and fluctuating adult mortality rates in Russia, but cause-specific detail is lacking. Our case-control study investigated the effects of alcohol consumption on male and female cause-specific mortality.
Methods: In three Russian industrial cities with typical 1990s mortality patterns (Tomsk, Barnaul, Biysk), the addresses of 60,416 residents who had died at ages 15-74 years in 1990-2001 were visited in 2001-05. Family members were present for 50,066 decedents; for 48,557 (97%), the family gave proxy information on the decedents' past alcohol use and on potentially confounding factors. Cases (n=43,082) were those certified as dying from causes we judged beforehand might be substantially affected by alcohol or tobacco; controls were the other 5475 decedents. Case versus control relative risks (RRs; calculated as odds ratios by confounder-adjusted logistic regression) were calculated in ever-drinkers, defining the reference category by two criteria: usual weekly consumption always less than 0.5 half-litre bottles of vodka (or equivalent in total alcohol content) and maximum consumption of spirits in 1 day always less than 0.5 half-litre bottles. Other ever-drinkers were classified by usual weekly consumption into three categories: less than one, one to less than three, and three or more (mean 5.4 [SD 1.4]) bottles of vodka or equivalent.
Findings: In men, the three causes accounting for the most alcohol-associated deaths were accidents and violence (RR 5.94, 95% CI 5.35-6.59, in the highest consumption category), alcohol poisoning (21.68, 17.94-26.20), and acute ischaemic heart disease other than myocardial infarction (3.04, 2.73-3.39), which includes some misclassified alcohol poisoning. There were significant excesses of upper aerodigestive tract cancer (3.48, 2.84-4.27) and liver cancer (2.11, 1.64-2.70). Another five disease groups had RRs of more than 3.00 in the highest alcohol category: tuberculosis (4.14, 3.44-4.98), pneumonia (3.29, 2.83-3.83), liver disease (6.21, 5.16-7.47), pancreatic disease (6.69, 4.98-9.00), and ill-specified conditions (7.74, 6.48-9.25). Although drinking was less common in women, the RRs associated with it were generally more extreme. After correction for reporting errors, alcohol-associated excesses accounted for 52% of all study deaths at ages 15-54 years (men 8182 [59%] of 13968, women 1565 [33%] of 4751) and 18% of those at 55-74 years (men 3944 [22%] of 17,536, women 1493 [12%] of 12 302). Allowance for under-representation of extreme drinkers would further increase alcohol-associated proportions. Large fluctuations in mortality from these ten strongly alcohol-associated causes were the main determinants of recent fluctuations in overall mortality in the study region and in Russia as a whole.
Interpretation: Alcohol-attributable mortality varies by year; in several recent years, alcohol was a cause of more than half of all Russian deaths at ages 15-54 years. Alcohol accounts for most of the large fluctuations in Russian mortality, and alcohol and tobacco account for the large difference in adult mortality between Russia and western Europe.
Funding: UK Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation, International Agency for Research on Cancer, and European Commission Directorate-General for Research.