Russia Minister Raises Alarm Over Rampant Alcoholism

By Bajeda · Dec 2, 2008 · ·
  1. Bajeda
    Russia Minister Raises Alarm Over Rampant Alcoholism
    7 November, 22:50 | Reuters

    ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russia should revive the Soviet-era practise of compulsory treatment for alcoholics, the interior minister said on Friday.
    Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told President Dmitry Medvedev that there were 253,000 alcoholics registered with police but that the actual number must be higher.

    "The real picture is much worse," he told Medvedev at a meeting of law enforcement agencies in St. Petersburg.

    The Moscow Serbsky Institute for Social and Forensic Psychiatry says more than 10 percent of Russia's population of 142 million could be alcoholics.

    "I propose returning to the idea of compulsory treatment for alcoholism," Nurgaliyev said, adding that alcohol-related crime was an acute problem.

    Russians are some of the world's heaviest drinkers.

    Demographers often cite high alcohol consumption as a major factor in the low life expectancy of Russian men.

    Russians consume the equivalent of 15 litres of pure alcohol per head each year, chief public health official Gennady Onishchenko said in a newspaper interview last year.

    The Kremlin has for decades tried to get a grip on the problem but Russians' love of vodka and illegally made liquor -- known as samogon -- has always overcome government measures to combat alcoholism.

    In the 1960s, alcoholics were forced into labour camps. Soviet authorities said hard work would cure alcoholics.

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  1. Bajeda
    The Nov. 29th - Dec. 5th issue of The Economist has a special report on Russia that touches upon the problem of alcohol in that country. Only one of the articles from the report is available online, so I will quote the relevant portions of the article that touches upon this topic.

    The article is called, "The Incredible Shrinking People" and the heading is, "Russians are dying out, with dire consequences." It discusses the increasing desertion of small rural villages and towns as people seek greater opportunities in urban areas, leading to large lifeless "black holes" between urban areas.

    From the article: "Active life is concentrated in a radius of 35-40km from the centre of these large cities. Russia has only 168 cities with a population over 100,000 and their number is dropping. The average distance between large cities is 185km. According to Ms. Nefedova [a geographer and specialist on Russian agriculture], this means that a stretch of 100km between them is a social and economic desert."

    "Russia's demography befits a country at war. The population of 142m is shrinking by 700,000 people a year. By 2050 it could be down to 100m. The death rate is double the average for developed countries. The life expectancy of Russian males, at just 60 years, is one of the lowest in the world. Only half of Russian boys now aged 16 can expect to live to 60, much the same as at the end of the 19th century."

    After touching on the reasons for this decline - amongst them is the focus of Soviet health-care on treating maladies that affect larges numbers of people, rather than improving individual standards of health - the article turns towards what it terms, "the curse of the bottle."

    Drinking yourself to death is a common method of suicide in Russia, with a researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry estimating that, "nearly 30% of all male deaths and 17% of female deaths are directly or indirectly caused by excess alcohol consumption and that over 400,000 people a year die needlessly from drink related causes, ranging from heart disease to accidents, suicides and murders." Underscoring these figures are the documented results of a short-lived anti-alcohol campaign conducted by Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s that extended life expectancy by three years!

    "The average Russian gets through 15.2 litres of pure alcohol a year, twice as much as is thought to be compatible with good health." Adding to the problem is the ways in which alcohol is ingested, as "moonshine and 'dual-purpose' liquids, such as perfume and windscreen wash, make up a significant proportion of alcohol consumption.... Tens of thousands a year die of alcohol poisoning, against a few hundred in America."

    The report indicates that the low price and easy availability of alcohol is a primary contributing factor to the problem. Chronic alcohol consumption became a prevalent trend starting in the 1960s when the state ratched up production. Vodka is one of the few inflation-resistant products in Russia, and "a cheap bottle of vodka in Russia costs the same as two cans of beer or two litres of milk." Raising the price seems like an obvious way to try and tackle the problem (as Nordic countries have done), but the fact that "two-thirds of hard liquor is produced illegally and sold untaxed" makes this difficult.

    Between the low birth rate, low life expectancy, poor health-care standards, and above-average alcohol and drug use (not to mention a burgeoning AIDS problem) Russia has got its hands full ensuring the propagation of its population.
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