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Was alcoholism a problem?

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Post 04 Nov 2009, 00:11
Over the years I've read (here and there) about alcoholism in the Soviet Union in the '80s - was it really a big soical problem?

I think someone once said on here that all the Soviets could afford was alcohol.
Post 04 Nov 2009, 01:38
I know that since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, 50 percent of death's by Russian males aged 15-54 have been because of alcohol. I don't have a source but we learned about it in World Issues class. I don't know what it was in the USSR, though.
Post 04 Nov 2009, 04:49
Alcoholism was a problem in the Soviet Union, but not as bad as it is in Russia today. I'll post a source later.
Post 06 Nov 2009, 11:55
Here are selected quotes from Michael Binyon's Life In Russia, which I have read and recommended again and again as a relatively fair portrayal of life in the USSR in the early 1980s. The page numbers from which I'm selectively quoting are 58-64.

"In 1925 surveys showed that 11 percent of workers were drunkards. Figures recently given by the State Anti-Alcohol Committee show that today some 37 percent of male workers abuse alcohol. And the average drinking age has fallen sharply. The percentage of people who begin drinking under the age of eighteen has risen from 16 percent in 1925 to around 93 percent today."

"The cost to the country is enormous. Economists have calculated that about 1 percent of all male workers in industry or on construction sites are absent from work every day because they are drunk. The problem is worst after weekends and holidays: on Mondays productivity is 12 to 15 percent lower than on other working days. Among the serious consequences is the large number of industrial accidents and injuries."

"The harmful effect on people's health has been widely discussed. Disease caused by alcohol abuse is now third only to cardiovascular disease and cancer in the Soviet Union. But perhaps the saddest effect is the high percentage of mentally retarded children born to alcoholics. As drinking increases among women, more and more children suffer...Furthermore, the children of alcholic parents suffer from neglect at home, undernourishment and psychological disturbance as a result of druniken brawls between their parents, and many such children later become criminals.

Indeed, the effects of widespread drinking on family life are equally catastrophic: more than half of all divorces are directly attributable to drink, as well as a high proprotion of domestic violence and household accidents. The increase in drinking among young people is especially worrying as it is closely linked with the rising crime rate. The papers detail case after case of grisly crimes originating in teenage drinking. In 1979 two youths, after drinking, broke into Moscow's zoo and stabbed and beat to death two rare kangaroos, to take an incident that provoked considerable outcry. New housing estates in provincial towns have been terrorized by drunken vandals who smash up cafes and cinemas, rob passers-by and attack old people. Drunkards have stolen cars and mown down pedestrians, knifed people after quarrels, badly injured policemen and gone on the rampage with an axe. In a typical month, 96 percent of people convicted of hooliganism were intoxicated, as were 68 percent convicted of aggravated murder, 67 percent of the convicted rapists and 57 percent of those inflicting bodily injury."

"Why do Russians drink so much? People blame the cold weather, the Tsarist encouragement of vodka production before the Revolution, the hardships and sufferings of the war and civil war and public tolerance of drunkenness. But this does not explain the alarming increase in consumption since the war. The paradox is that at a time when the average citizen is better fed, housed and paid than ever before, his drinking has reached record levels. Several million people now suffer from alcohol psychoses or are confirmed alcoholics.

There are many factors driving people, especially the young, to drink. Old attitudes play an important part. Over the generations a cult of liquor has evolved in Russia, which has now spread to the non-Russian parts of the country as traditional Islamic temperance in the south has lost its hold. Alcohol is considered a nourishing food product, a stimulant to the appetite, a means of keeping warm, a source of strength, a way of relaxing and getting rid of mental tension and a source of good feeling. Prodigious drinking is associated with manliness, but society has always been lenient to those who cannot hold their liquor. And whereas Russians used to entertain guests with tea from the samovar, a host now cuts a better figure by producing a few bottles."

"Ironically, increased prosperity has spurred greater drinking. After the Revolution and the devastation of the Second World War, most people were barely able to afford food. Now they have more money than outlets to spend it on. The shortage of consumer goods leaves people with plenty of cash to spend on drink, and though vodka prices have more than doubled in the past twenty years, the price appears no barrier.

The rise in the standard of living and the fall in working hours have not been matched by an increase in leisure facilities, especially in the new housing estates that surround the big cities. So more and more people drink out of boredom. A questionnaire distributed among young workers in hostels in the Moscow region revealed that a third drank 'to raise their spirits', another third 'because their friends were drinking and they did not want to offend them by refusing', and the rest 'because they had nothing else to do'. Drinking out of boredom is especially common in towns. Many Russians are only first or second generation city-dwellers, and rapid urbanization has taken a heavy toll on traditional values. Lonely divorcees have only drink to console them. At the same time the lack of paternal authority has led more and more young people to start drinking, often when both parents are out at work.

One alarming survey by the State Committee for Anti-alcohol Propaganda found that even children under seven were inured to alcohol. In one kindergarten 20 out of 27 children had tried beer, 7 had tried wine and one had drunk vodka with his father.

Escapism is a strong motive for drinking, especially for those who drink simply in order to get drunk, as many Russians do. Life is still hard for ordinary people, especially women, who more and more are starting to drink. Doctors report that solitary women who are embarrassed by their alcholism are slow to seek help.

But beyond all this lies a fundamental reason which deeply troubles the authorities and social workers alike and which has beetn touched on only obliquely in the press: Soviet society nowadays has lost many of its values. There is, said a writer in the athiest magazine Science and Religion, a 'spiritual emptiness' in the younger generation. 'The lack of inner values, the narrow outlook, the inability to live life (in the highest sense of the term) are what have given us that unpleasent phenomenon, hard drinking,' he wrote. 'The drunkards cannot be returned to a sober life without effort on their part. And ultimately the question comes down to the need to foster higher interests in each person.' But though the state argues that it provides a healthy moral atmosphere in schools and clubs for young people, it is the state itself, in its policy on the sale of alcohol, that bears most guilt for the present crisis. Total production of vodka, beer and wine is never given, but the quantities are reliably believed to be colossal, and sales are extremely profitable to the state."

"Many shops and restaurants do their best to sell as much vodka and fortified wine as possible in order to fulfill their annual sales targets. Restaurants, notoriously slow in serving food, quickly bring vodka to the table and are reluctant to serve cheaper drinks such as beer. Alcohol shops refuse to stock finer, drier wines because the coarser, more alcoholic 'portwine' is more profitable.

The early Bolsheviks seriously considered introducing prohibition to rid the young Soviet state of the scourge of drunkennesss that was hindering their efforts to transform the country. They eventually discarded the idea as unenforcable. But many people engaged in the fight against alcoholism now regret that such a lw was not enacted. As the campaign against drunkenness intensifies, prohibition is again being seriously considered.

Three broad approaches are used in the fight: persuasion, punishment and decree. Persuasion consists of a massive propaganda effort by the party, health workers, the press and local authorities to bring home to the population the damage caused by alcohol. Much is deliberately shocking. Television shows films of the burgeoning number of homes built to cope with the mentally retarded children of alcoholic parents. Disgusting scenes from sobering-up stations deliberately depict drunks in almost bestial depravity. The press gives details of the messy murders, the most grisly cases of assault and violence caused by drunks. Men are frightened with the prospect of madness or impotence, women with the breakup of families and the corruption of children by drink.

Persuasion is more subtle. Efforts are made to teach people to drink socially and in moderation. New cocktail lounges and restaurants have been opened with a light, attractive environment, serving light wines, beer and sandwiches, cocktails and soft drinks. Their fashionable exclusivenesss is compared with the sordid drinking in dark entryways and the hangovers of the next morning.

The state has tried to boost the sale of beer and wine in an effort to cut down the consumption of vodka. More breweries have been built - several producing prestigious Czech beers - and shops are encouraged to stock the better Georgian and Armenian wines. In a clever move capitalizing on the obsession of youth with Western products and fashions, the Russians have allowed Pepsi-Cola to set up bottling plants in the Soviet Union, open street kiosks and even put up the familiar brand-name signs. It has become chic to ask for Pepsi or Fanta, the orange drink sold in the Soviet Union by Coca-Cola. Attempts are being made to get Russians to revive the old custom of entertaining guests with tea. The Ministry of Education has sent booklets to help teachers with temperance lectures.

Persuasion is backed with stiffer punishments for persistent drunkenness in an effort to reduce public tolerance for drunks. Ridicule has long been used to shame people into sobriety -drunks picked up by the police have cartoons drawn of their inebriation, which are then pinned up on street notice-boards. Drunkards are warned at their places of work about their behaviour and criticized at party meetings by workmates in informally constituted 'comrades' courts'.

It is now suggested that the coveted vouchers to holiday resorts should not be given to drunkards. Heavy drinkers may be expelled from the Komsomol, and it has been recommended that job references include a statement of drinking habits. The press has called for the fine on illegal home-distilling of vodka, now widely drunk in the countryside, to be increased to 1,000 roubles...Restaurants that sell alchol to minors will face stiffer penalties, and their are mounting calls for tougher action against drinking in factories, with hints that managers will be given a freer hand to sack drunken workers without having to find them another job. In the Ukraine, several mines run daily checks for inebriation among the miners as they report for work. Traffic police have also urged tougher penalties for drunken driving, which is already severely punished, and in recent years a number of people causing fatal accidents while drunk have been shot.

However only in recent years has a real attempt been made to tackle alcoholism on a social and economic basis. The state has sponsored serious research into the causes, and acted on key recommendations. One important measure is that restaurants will no longer be able to include alcohol sales in the fulfilment of their plans. Another decree provides for better treatment of alcholics.

Kiev is one city that has done much in preventative treatment. The anti-addiction centre has set up a residential clinic in the countryside that can treat up to 700 people at a time. Alcoholics, all volunteers, are taught to relax without alcohol, and meet former patients and their families. Special buses take them to factories each day where they are given well-defined work schedules or taught a trade. The city also has two out-patient centres, including a hypnosis centre, where regular drunkards are invited to go for treatment. Courts can order compulsory attendence, and discipline is strict.

Kiev has found that more effective treatment can be offered in special fee-paying wings of local hospitals, where patients may admit themselves anonymously. In two years one such hospital has treated 2,000 people. Similar centres have been established elsewhere. Teetotal clubs have also been set up with some success. Members take oaths, wear badges, meet weekly in comfortable club-houses, provide entertainment and organize summer outings to which they may bring guests. The most dramatic measures against drunkenness -prohibition - has already been tried in some cities, especially those with priority construction projects, but most Russians agree that national prohibition is simply not possible, so ingrained is the drinking habit."
Post 06 Nov 2009, 15:47
Well we all know that Yeltsin had an alcohol problem. I'm guessing his death had something to do with it.
Post 06 Nov 2009, 17:41
Thank you very much soviet78.
Post 06 Nov 2009, 21:55
No problem. It's a difficult subject, and as Fellow Comrade said it's even worse in Russia today (as difficult and heart wrenching as that might be to believe).
Post 07 Nov 2009, 00:16
I forgot I said I'd post a source in this thread...
Post 07 Nov 2009, 04:26
I am sure if the soviet state banned alcohol, within a generation, the nation would be sober.
Post 07 Nov 2009, 08:53
Personally, I doubt that, for reasons mentioned in the quotes above and those which historically presented themselves in Gorbachev's prohibition campaign. Sure drug prohibition seemed to work pretty well in the Soviet Union well into the 1980s, but for alcohol and tobacco, I think a long-term campaign would be best. It's a long, difficult, and expensive project, where you combine information campaigns aimed particularly at children and teens with gradually rising prices and new laws about when and where you can consume the substance. In the case of tobacco, it's worked pretty well here in Ontario, where cigarette addiction is down like 80% since the 1980s.
Post 11 Nov 2009, 21:56
Were there any drugs in the USSR? Cannabis, cocaine, heroin, etc.?
Post 11 Nov 2009, 23:04
Arif_moin opened my eyes about the subject a couple years back when he said that there were, especially in the southern republics (hashish being the predominant drug). From my reading and talking with friends and relatives, it seems drug use was virtually non-existant in the northern Baltic and Slavic republics. I suppose it was tolerated in the south out of respect for the cultures of the region.

Heroin became a problem for Soviet soldiers during the Afghan war, and as they came back home many maintained their use habits, which means supply of heroin to northern cities was growing from the mid-1980s. Sharing of needles of course became the major cause of the AIDS explosion in the post-Soviet space. And so it was in the late Soviet period that the seeds to the catastrophe of the 1990s were sown.
Post 11 Nov 2009, 23:10
Hashish was tolerated in the Southern Republics? That's very interesting to hear. Do you know whether the government's policy on this changed over time? Like, whether Stalin was more severe about it than Brezhnev?
Post 11 Nov 2009, 23:14
No, I don't know when policy changed. I suspect it might still officially have been illegal throughout the Soviet period, with authorities looking the other way, though my source on the entire matter is arif_moin's posts on the subject.
Post 02 Jan 2010, 09:41
Hello, comrades!
I was born and now living in Russia, and I may tell you,that alcoholism was a problem at past and,unfortunately,is a problem now.
Many families fell apart because of alcohol, including my family. All this is very sad =(
Post 02 Jan 2010, 20:54
Well let's not kid our selves here, alcoholism is a problem in lots of countries. My dad's a recovering alcoholic.
Post 03 Jan 2010, 03:12
Alcoholism is a problem in all slavic countries,especially Ukraine and Russia.
We also have 500 000 alcoholics(registered ones) in Croatia too(a country of 4,5 million)
I' still drunk btw now(i had 3 beers in a bar,two beers bought in a market and 3 small votkas stolen there,hahaha)
Post 03 Jan 2010, 08:50
To show how dire the situation with alcohol, we have, one of the most popular TV channels show the video. It shows how different countries consume alcohol and what their population growth. The latest show our Russia, where consumption of alcohol the most, and population loss is enormous. Sad but true.
Post 05 Jan 2010, 03:02
Why do the eastern countries, i.e. Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and some of the Balkan countries drink heavy amounts?
Post 05 Jan 2010, 05:57
Well they make the best Vodka so it could be easily available to them. That's just a guess I could be way off.
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