This paper examines the social origins of the rise in adult mortality in Russia and selected Eastern European countries. Three explanations for this trend are considered: (1) Soviet health policy, (2) social stress, and (3) health lifestyles. The socialist states were generally characterized by a persistently poor mortality performance as part of a long-term process of deterioration, with particularly negative outcomes for the life expectancy of middle-aged, male manual workers. Soviet-style health policy was ineffective in dealing with the crisis, and stress per se does not seem to be the primary cause of the rise in mortality. Although more research is needed, the suggestion is made that poor health lifestyles - reflected especially in heavy alcohol consumption, and also in smoking, lack of exercise, and high-fat diets - are the major social determinant of the upturn in deaths.