Alcoholism in Russia
Alcoholism in Russia is reflected in its effects on the country's social fabric and in its political, economic and public health ramifications. Alcoholism has been a problem throughout the country's history because drinking is a pervasive, socially acceptable behaviour in Russian society. It has also been a major source of government revenue for centuries. It has repeatedly been targeted as a major national problem, with mixed results.
According to the WHO 2011 report, annual per capita alcohol consumption in Russia is about 15.76 litres, or the equivalent of about sixty 700 millilitre bottles of vodka; the fourth highest volume in Europe.
Drinking as a part of Russian culture has deep roots, dating back to at least the tenth century AD. Legend holds that the tenth-century Russian prince Vladimir the Great rejected Islam as a state religion for the country because of its prohibition of alcohol. Historically, it has been tolerated or even encouraged as a source of revenue.
In the 1540s, Ivan IV began setting up kabaks (кабак) or taverns in his major cities to help fill his coffers; a third of Russian men were in debt to the kabaks by 1648. By 1860, vodka, the national drink, was the source of 40% of the government's revenue. At the beginning of World War I, prohibition was introduced in the Russian Empire, limiting the sale of hard liquor to restaurants.
After the Bolshevik Party came to power, they made repeated attempts to reduce consumption in the Soviet Union. However, by 1925, vodka had reappeared in state-run stores. Joseph Stalin reestablished a state monopoly to generate revenue.
Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev (himself a drinker), Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko all tried to stem alcoholism. Mikhail Gorbachev increased controls on alcohol in 1985; he attempted to impose a partial prohibition, which involved a massive anti-alcohol campaign, severe penalties against public drunkenness and alcohol consumption, and restrictions on sales of liquor. The campaign was temporarily successful in reducing per capita alcohol consumption and improving quality-of-life measures such as life expectancies and crime rates, but it was deeply unpopular among the population and it ultimately failed. In 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev nearly doubled the minimum price of a bottle of vodka in an effort to combat the problem.
A study by Russian, British and French researchers published in The Lancet scrutinized deaths between 1990 and 2001 of residents of three Siberian industrial towns with typical mortality rates and determined that 52% of deaths of people between the ages of 15 and 54 were the result of alcohol abuse. Lead researcher Professor David Zaridze estimated that the increase in alcohol consumption since 1987 has caused an additional three million deaths nationwide.
In 2007, Gennadi Onishenko, the country's chief public health official, voiced his concern over the nearly threefold rise in alcohol consumption over the past 16 years; one in eight deaths was attributed to alcohol-related diseases, playing a major role in Russia's population decline. Men are particularly hard hit; according to a U.N. National Human Development Report, Russian males born in 2006 had a life expectancy of just over 60 years, 17 fewer than western Europeans, while Russian females could expect to live thirteen years longer than their male counterparts.
In June 2009, the Public Chamber of Russia reported over 500,000 alcohol-related deaths annually, noting that Russians consume about 18 litres (4.0 imp gal; 4.8 US gal) of spirits a year, more than double the 8 litres (1.8 imp gal; 2.1 US gal) World Health Organization experts consider dangerous.
In 1985, at the time of Gorbachev's campaign to reduce drinking, it was estimated that alcoholism resulted in $8 billion in lost production.
In the early 1980s, an estimated "two-thirds of murders and violent crimes were committed by intoxicated persons; and drunk drivers were responsible for 14,000 traffic deaths and 60,000 serious traffic injuries". In 1995, about three quarters of those arrested for homicide were under the influence of alcohol, and 29% of respondents reported that children beaten within families were the victims of drunks and alcoholics.
A 1997 report published in the Journal of Family Violence, found that among male perpetrators of spousal homicide, 60–75% of offenders had been drinking prior to the incident.
In 2008, suicide claimed 38,406 lives in Russia. With a rate of 27.1 suicides per 100,000 people, Russia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, although it has been steadily decreasing since it peaked at around 40 per 100,000 in the mid-late 90s, including a 30% drop from 2001 to 2006.
Heavy alcohol use is a significant factor in the suicide rate, with an estimated half of all suicides a result of alcohol abuse. This is evident by the fact that Russia's suicide rate since the mid-90s has declined alongside per capita alcohol consumption, despite the economic crises since then; alcohol consumption is more of a factor than economic conditions.
From the 1930s and 1940s until the mid-1980s, the main treatment for alcoholism in Russia was conditioned response therapy. This treatment has since fallen out of favour, and the modern mainstream treatment is pharmacotherapy, which involves detailed analyses of each patient, medicinal treatment, psychotherapy, sociotherapy, and other support. Although Alcoholics Anonymous exists in Russia, it lacks funding and support from the government and so is generally dismissed by the Russian Population.
One alternative therapy for alcoholism that has been used in Russia is the practice of "coding," in which therapists pretend to insert a "code" into patients' brains with the ostensible effect that drinking even small amounts of alcohol will be extremely harmful or even lethal. Despite not being recommended in Russian clinical guidelines it has enjoyed considerable popularity, although in recent years its use has lessened due to the spread of information about its ineffectiveness.
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