Alcohol Abuse in Russia

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Joe Bloe Professor I. B Smart BS 131 December XX, 2008 Alcohol Abuse in Russia Family Issues Russians drink more alcohol than any other nation in the world. (Halpin, 2007, p1) The Times of London reports that Russians are currently going on an alcoholic binge even by Russian standards.

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According to the country’s chief public health officer, Gennadi Onishenko, Russians are drinking nearly three times as much as they did sixteen years ago. Onishenko’s study was promulgated by the Russian equivalent of the consumer protection agency and it reported that at least 2. million people in Russia were alcoholics. The average Russian consumed 15 litres (26 pints) of pure alcohol per annum, up from 5. 4 litres in 1990, and this phenomena is blamed for a rising rate of mortality among men. This compares to 8. 4 litres for people in the United States and 7. 6 litres in Japan. (Halpin, 2007 p 1) Violent crime and alcohol consumption have increased throughout the Russian federation since the fall of the Soviet Union. This has shown harmful consequences for families and communities, as heavy alcohol drinking is closely associated with violent behavior in Russia.The correlation between heavy drinking and violence is a complicated mixture of physiological, psychological, situational, social and cultural elements. Whenever measures to control alcohol production and consumption have been introduced, reduced violence has occurred in Russia and elsewhere. (WHO, 2006) Violence is a family’s worst enemy and may include physical and sexual assaults, mental or emotional abuse and neglect. It may also be categorized into interpersonal violence, child maltreatment or neglect, intimate partner violence within a relationship, sexual violence, abuse of the elderly or self-directed violence including suicide. WHO, 2006) There is ample evidence to support the relationship between heavy drinking and violence. In Russia, alcohol has been involved in three-quarters of homicide arrests. Families often bear the brunt of the violence that emanates from heavy drinking. In the Central Black-Earth Region of Russia, a study showed that 77% of violent crimes against family members involved drinking with 35% of these drinkers bingeing every day. Among male perpetrators of spousal homicide, 60–75% of offenders had been drinking before the incident. (WHO, 2006)Alcohol abuse affects physical and cognitive functioning resulting in reduced self-control and the ability to process incoming information. This makes drinkers more apt to resort to violence to resolve conflicts. (Rand Corp. , 2002) Heavy drinking can impair parents’ responsibilities toward themselves and their children. Drinking also reduces the amount of time and money spent on their children, often neglecting the children’s basic needs. Alcohol abuse by either the parent or the child increases the child’s vulnerability to sexual abuse.Sometimes children are made to drink alcohol to facilitate sexual acts or involve them in child pornography. (WHO, 2006) Alcohol abuse during pregnancy can result in children being born with fetal alcohol syndrome as well as health issues for the mother. Excessive drinking in a relationship can create problems with finances, childcare, infidelity or other stressors leading to potentially violent situations. (WHO, 2006) Health Issues Russians are suffering from a problem with demographic retention and a declining population base.Alcoholism is a leading cause in rising Russian mortality rates, particularly among males. Alcohol contributes to premature deaths involving accidents, injuries and violence particularly among males. Male mortality rates fell sharply during Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign of 1984 to 1987. This effort reduced state alcohol production, raised prices for liquor, mandated alcoholic treatments where needed and cracked down on homemade liquor. The program was highly unpopular and abandoned, after which both consumption of alcohol and mortality rates for males increased dramatically once again. Rand Corp. , 2002) Russia’s population has dropped from 145 million in 2002 to 140,702,000 in July of 2008. The birth rate is slightly higher at 11. 3 births per 1,000; up from 9. 1 per 1,00 in 2002. Male life expectancy is only 59 years and for females it is 73 years. (Fitzgerald, 2003, CIA 2008) Statistics for children are not encouraging. In 2003, the number of healthy children in Russia dropped from 45. 5 percent to 33. 9 percent over ten years, and the number of disabled children doubled, according to the epidemiology section of the Health Ministry.According to information gathered form the 2002 census, one third of Russian children are born out of wedlock. (Fitzgerald, 2003) The Russian Ministry of Health did not blame alcoholic parents for substandard health environments or the usual culprits of drug abuse, or smoking and eating junk food but blamed an increase in the school workload and less time for outdoor exercise. The Ministry claimed that an incredible 75% of children were said to have hypertension and related problems in the 2003 analysis of Russian health. (Fitzgerald, 2003)Beer is regarded in many areas as if it were soda pop. Children as young as 13 routinely drink beer in public in some areas and the national legal drinking age is currently 18 years. Vodka has traditionally been available nearly everywhere to nearly everybody in Russia and children have no problem finding it. As in America and elsewhere, heavy alcohol consumption in Russia impedes a family’s well being in a host of problematic ways. And Russians drink more alcohol per capita than any other national population in the world. (Halpin, 2007)Gorbachev’s attempt to limit alcohol abuse In 1985 President Gorbachev, who was then president of the USSR, began a campaign to limit alcohol abuse by raising the legal drinking age to 21 years and imposing tough legal sanctions on home production of alcohol. (Today, the drinking age is 18 years. ) During the period of 1984 through 1987 when the campaign was running, state sales of alcohol decreased by 61%. Statistically speaking, the effort was successful in that total violent deaths dropped 33% and alcohol-related violent deaths dropped by 51%.The program was not popular with the public, however, and was abandoned in 1987. By 1992, market reforms for alcohol were instituted that liberalized trade and dropped prices and the rates of violent deaths increased substantially. (WHO, 2006) These rising figures are subject to interpretation because this was the era of perestroika in Russia and increases in violent deaths cannot be solely attributed to increases in alcohol availability and consumption. The temporal correlations between the crackdown on alcohol and the drops in violence indicate that they are interconnected.Perestroika and glasnost were introduced to Russian society in response to President Gorbachev’s initiatives toward political reform and moral recovery. A cornerstone of his plan was a reduction in drinking which he saw not only as a health problem but a cause of economic inefficiency. (McKee, 1999) He adopted a heavy-handed approach to limiting alcohol production, distribution and use. All state agencies were ordered to develop departmental strategies to cut down alcohol consumption. Alcohol was banned at official functions and party officials who drank heavily were dismissed from their jobs.Liquor outlets were dramatically reduced and the media changed its attitude to one of intolerance for alcohol and organizations like the All-Union Voluntary Society for the Struggle for Sobriety sprang up. This association claimed 12 million members one year after organizing. (McKee, 1999) Within a few years, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, the campaign faltered and was eventually replaced by a rapid rise in consumption, driven by widespread illicit production of homemade alcohol on a massive, national scale. Economic IssuesRussia’s stock markets have lost about 70 percent of their value since peaks in May, and workers have been hard hit by lay-offs and wage arrears. The tepid global economy has left Russians hurting and they, like most of the world, have had to cut back on expenses. The result is less state-sanctioned vodka being sold and an increase in homemade spirits. Research by the National Alcohol Association showed that deaths from alcohol poisoning increased to 1,458 in September, presumably the result of Russians drinking dangerous substitutes for vodka as a cheaper way to get drunk. (Shuster, 2008)During Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, the production of samogon (homemade spirits) had become a large-scale industry that provided cheap alcohol to Russians while depriving the state of tax revenue. When restrictions were eased in 1988, alcohol consumption quickly exceeded the pre-1985 level. A Russian study done in 1995 revealed that regular drunkenness affected between 25 and 65 percent of blue-collar workers and 21 percent of white-collar workers, particularly in rural areas. (Coutsoukis, 2005) Unemployed workers are particularly vulnerable to alcohol abuse problems.Being available in most places, day or night and being historically cheap people without occupations tend to drink more often and heavier. When vodka is unavailable or too expensive, they will often resort to dangerous substitutes. In 1994, the number of people who died of alcohol poisoning rose to about 53,000, a major increase from 36,000 in 1991. These are typically the result of drinking homemade alcohol substitutes. Bootlegging had become a widespread criminal activity by the mid 1990s. (Coutsoukis, 2005) Legal vodka is big business in Russia.The word “vodka” means “little water” in Russian, a term of endearment. (Tartakovsky, 2006) The brand “Stolichnaya” sells $2 billion a year worldwide and was privatized in 1992. Soyuzplodimport, or SPI, has the exclusive rights to export Stolichnaya, which vodka lovers in the U. S. fondly refer to as “Stoli. ” Some 50% of the company’s export turnover comes from the United States, thanks mostly to its strategic alliance with Allied-Domecq for U. S. distribution rights. (Shuster, 2008) Alcohol and workers The Russian workplace has always been a place where vodka contributed to the socializing rituals.Before the Bolshevik Revolution the Russian tradition of prival’naia, a welcoming ceremony for new workers that included snacks and vodka. It was a socializing event where the new workers would become acquainted with their fellow workers. The new workers were expected to provide the snacks and vodka for the veterans in exchange for training in the new job. (Andreasen, 2006) The Revolution changed the way workers were hired. Prior to this era, workers were usually hired on the recommendation of an acquaintance and the ceremony of prival’naia was part of the payback for getting the job.With the implementation of the communist trade unions, the hiring became an impersonal process and there was no payback necessary and it eliminated the worker’s obligation to train new employees. These changes brought about the practical end to prival’naia, although some workers and organizations still clung to the old tradition where they could get away with it. (Andreasen, 2006) Russian worker culture has always included vodka. The working class sees vodka as an essential element for surviving their brutal winters and poor economy.It is an escape that causes apathy among the work force and contributes to poor health and accidents that make Russia’s work force less productive and more costly. Productivity in Russia has always been known to suffer because of heavy drinking. That belief is one of the motivators behind Gorbachev’s plan to reduce drinking in the 1980s. It is difficult to gauge the true impact of worker drinking and productivity because the Russian economy is still in a state of flux as it transfers from a state-controlled, centralized economy to free-markets. It is inappropriate to make comparisons about worker utput and drinking since the two economies measure productivity in myriad different ways. (Kryzanek, 2004) Many Soviet patriots and party leaders recognized the need to curb alcohol to increase worker productivity.Pokhlebkin was one of these patriotic historians who published his extensive research in a book called “A History of Vodka” he included a chapter depicting what he determined to be Russia’s descent into rampant alcoholism. Drunkenness, he asserted, is incompatible with socialist principles in that it undermines worker morale and curtails industrial productivity. Tartakovsky, 2006) Russian workers have become complacent after seventy years of communism. Entire generations have grown up shirking work because private initiatives were always discouraged and sometimes even dangerous. Wage inversion led to high pay for lowliest work while job dissatisfaction created moonlighting and demoralized workers moved from job to job. Alcohol has always exacerbated this complacency and lack of motivation. (Kryzanek, 2004) Heavy drinking has a deeply rooted history in Russian culture and life.The problem seems so ingrained in their society that it would be impossible to completely eliminate drinking from the society. This heavy drinking behavior is exhibited in other northern cultures like the Finish or Polish societies without such devastating consequences. In Russia, however, there is historical evidence to suggest that the country’s governments from the Czars to the Soviets have helped to create this culture. (McKee, 1999) There are also several sub-cultures of the drinking population in Russia because of geographic, gender and socio-economic variations, making it difficult to generalize the problem.There are even some people among these groups who actually abstain or drink in moderation. The state itself has contributed to the drinking problem throughout the country’s history by producing and distributing cheap vodka in the name of tradition and profit. It should be feasible for the government to take some kind of proactive measures to stop its population from killing themselves with even-more toxic substitutes for a toxic product. Apparently, it will take many generations of sober Russians to change the high-profile role alcohol plays in so many national traditions.The Russian people have gone through many changes throughout the ages. Hopefully, their resilience will help them change their love of vodka and allow them to become socially conscious drinkers. That’s a tradition easily passed on.