Alcoholism

   Alcoholism remains one of Russia’s main social problems, often bemoaned as “Russia’s curse.” The habitual consumption of large quantities of spirits impedes economic growth and cultural development, as well as having an especially pernicious impact on the nation’s demography. It is estimated that the economic damage caused by alcoholism is about $750 million per year. Alcoholrelated problems annually account for between 500,000 and 900,000 deaths in Russia; it is estimated that alcohol is a factor in nearly half of all deaths of men between the ages of 25 and 54. In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev launched a war against alcoholism, including banning advertising of alcohol and promoting an alcoholfree lifestyle. As with many of his reforms, aspects of the alcoholfree campaign verged on the absurd; for example, many valuable vineyards in Crimea, Armenia, and Georgia were destroyed. While alcohol sales dipped (with an accompanying loss of tax revenues), the production of samogon (homemade alcohol) skyrocketed, resulting in many deaths from poisoning.
   In contrast, during the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin’s government was generally indifferent to the alcoholism problem, enjoying high taxes from alcohol sales. Yeltsin’s well-documented alcoholism resulted in a number of scandals, negatively impacting his political career. Under Vladimir Putin, a teetotaler, the government tried to address the issues of alcoholism by raising penalties for improper consumption of alcoholic drinks, shifting the blame for alcohol-dependent children onto their parents, and raising the population’s awareness of the severity of the problem.
   Though consuming alcohol—especially vodka and beer—is a traditional pastime in Russia, the problem of alcoholism had been exacerbated by the economic downturn of the 1980s and the chaos and crisis of the 1990s, causing many underprivileged Russian citizens to turn to drink. The most vulnerable members of society have been worst afflicted by the phenomenon. While support exists in the form of clinical, social, and cultural associations and awareness of the problem of addiction is on the rise, Russian society’s historical tolerance to excessive alcohol consumption typically undermines the effects of antialcoholism campaigns. However, in the new millennium, there have been considerable attempts to change the image of drinking, by stressing the dangers of alcohol addiction and advocating a glamorous alcohol-free or alcohol-moderate lifestyle. Despite such efforts, alcohol consumption continues to rise. Today, Russians consume 15 liters of hard liquor per year, which is slightly below the European average and nearly twice as much as the average American.
   See also Demographic challenges.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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