Russian men who down large amounts of vodka have an "extraordinarily" high risk of an early death, a new study says.
Researchers tracked about 151,000 adult men in the Russian cities of Barnaul, Byisk and Tomsk from 1999 to 2010. They interviewed them about their drinking habits and, when about 8,000 later died, followed up to monitor their causes of death.
The risk of dying before age 55 for those who said they drank three or more half-liter bottles of vodka a week was 35 percent.
Overall, a quarter of Russian men die before reaching 55, compared with 7 percent of men in the United Kingdom and less than 1 percent in the United States. The life expectancy for men in Russia is 64 years — placing it among the lowest 50 countries in the world in that category.
It's not clear how many Russian men drink three bottles or more a week. The lead researcher, Richard Peto of Oxford University, said the average Russian adult drinks 20 liters of vodka per year, while the average Briton drinks about three liters of spirits.
"Russians clearly drink a lot, but it's this pattern of getting really smashed on vodka and then continuing to drink that is dangerous," Peto said.
Alcohol has long been a top killer in Russia, and vodka — available cheaply and often homemade in small villages — is often the drink of choice.
Changing drinking patterns in Russia to combat the problem is possible but will take significant cultural adjustments, said David Leon, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was not part of the study.
"It's not considered out-of-order to drink until you can't function in Russia," he said.
The study was paid for by the U.K. Medical Research Council and others. It was published online Thursday in the journal Lancet.