November 23, 2020 | Press Release

An Inside Look Into a Special Publication on Alcohol-Related Mortality in Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe is the world region with the highest mortality from alcohol abuse. © iStockphoto.com/pashabo

Domantas Jasilionis, alongside with David A. Leon and Robin Room, recently edited Drug & Alcohol Review’s Special Section on the impact of alcohol on mortality in Eastern Europe. In this interview, the researcher gave us an inside look into this collection and explains why research on this topic is still needed in the future.

Dr. Jasilionis, why is this Special Section of Drug & Alcohol Review important?

Domantas Jasilionis: For the very first time, this collection of papers is able to provide a broad overview of the problem of alcohol-related mortality across a wide range of Eastern European countries. The papers are associated with the most recent alcohol-control initiatives, and despite some recent progress in reducing the enormous burden of alcohol, Eastern Europe remains the hardest hit region in the world. The latest evidence presented in this section highlights the need for continued policy initiatives in the area of alcohol control.

What are the main reasons for the alcohol epidemic in Eastern European countries?

DJ: We were able to identify three main reasons. The first of these was that Eastern European countries have a particularly harmful pattern of alcohol consumption that entails consuming very large amounts in one occasion – otherwise known as binge drinking. This form of alcohol consumption is closely related to varying harmful situations and conditions, such as violence, poisonings, liver diseases, specific mental diseases, and cardiac deaths.

And the other two reasons?

DJ: This persisting unfavorable situation is also linked to a very high concentration of alcohol-related problems in certain disadvantaged groups, such as lower educated, unemployed, occupied in low-skilled manual work, and non-married adult men. Many alcohol-related problems in Eastern Europe can also be associated with psychological and social factors, which are at least partially originating from unfavorable macro-conditions, such as high unemployment and very large income inequality. Lastly, until the mid/end of the 2000s, many countries had very liberal alcohol control policies. That lead to increased consumption of widely accessible and affordable alcohol.

Which countries are affected the most?

DJ: The former USSR countries of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, as well as the three Baltic countries. Despite similar consumption levels, the level of alcohol burden is much smaller in some Central European countries such as Poland and Czech Republic.

What are the biggest challenges in doing research on this topic, methodically and data-vise?

DJ: General alcohol consumption per se does not fully reflect the real scale of alcohol burden. For example, if two countries have similar consumption levels, they might show substantial differences in alcohol-related mortality rates. Exact identification of alcohol-related causes of death on medical death certificates and accounting for unrecorded consumption also act as significant challenges in this field of research.

Has there been some changes in alcohol-related mortality in the last couple of years?

DJ: In general, our collection of country-specific studies highlights the progress made in reducing alcohol-related harm during the second half of the 2000s and the 2010s. In saying that, the timing and scale of improvement was highly varying across countries. Despite the generally positive trend, Eastern Europe has been repeatedly named the area with the highest levels of alcohol-related health harms and mortality in the world.

What kind of research on this topic is needed in the future?

DJ: We need to monitor changes in alcohol-related harm and policy implementation closely and in a timely manner to create an effective alcohol control agenda. There is also a need for better data and methods to assess multiple dimensions of alcohol-related harm. In particular, even more attention needs to be given to the impact of binge drinking on one’s health.

About Domantas Jasilionis

© MPIDR

Domantas Jasilionis is Research Scientist at the Laboratory of Demographic Data at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany and part-time Professor at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania. Domantas Jasilionis is a demographer with a strong research interest in mortality, public health, health inequalities, international migration, and register-based and census-linked demographic data.

He is a member of the Human Mortality Database project team, which is a key international project of the Laboratory of Demographic Data conducted in cooperation with the University of California at Berkeley, USA. Domantas Jasilionis was a PI and co-PI of several large scientific projects devoted to studying determinants of mortality changes in Europe and establishing census-linked evidence base on demographic differentials in Lithuania.

More Information

The Special Section of Drug & Alcohol Review titled Impact of alcohol on mortality in Eastern Europe: Trends and policy responses was jointly edited by Domantas Jasilionis, David A. Leon (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), and  Robin Room (Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University, Australia).

The editorial can be found here: Jasilionis, D., Leon, D.A. and Pechholdová, M. (2020). Editorial: Impact of alcohol on mortality in Eastern Europe: Trends and policy responses. Drug & Alcohol Review, 39: 785-789. doi.org/10.1111/dar.13167

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.