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The War on Alcohol in The Russian Federation

According to the World Health Organization, every year three million people world-wide die from harmful use of alcohol (“Alcohol”). Specifically, in the ages of 20-39 years about 13.5 percent of the deaths are alcohol related (“Alcohol”). These numbers will only continue to rise if we do not raise awareness about the history behind drinking, cultural norms, why people use alcohol, and how it impacts millions of people. With that being said, we will look at how Russia has dealt with alcohol related problems and how they are still dealing with the on-going problem they face to this day. Together, we will find a massive dark hole of the drinking situation of the past and present in the Russian Federation.

Alcohol has played a huge role in Russian society. Alcohol dates back to 988 when Prince Vladimir converted the nation to Orthodox Christianity so that Russians could drink (Fedun, 2013). Russian people drink in bars, social settings, family gatherings, on the street, and in sports settings. They drink to feel good, wind down from a long day’s work, enjoy pleasure, relieve tension, and to improve one’s mood (Tapilina, 2007). Alcohol has been used to build up armies, raise money for the country, reduce political dissent, and used as a form of political oppression (Fedun, 2013). Alcohol consumption in Russia over the years has been researched and studied for many years. Thanks to many organizations and researchers, we now have better data and reliable information that can be used to help combat the alcohol problem in Russia.

Alcohol has led to over 700,000 premature deaths between 1991-2001 (Tapilina, 2007). Another shocking statistic shows that one in five men in the Russian Federation die due to alcohol-related causes yearly (“Russian Federation”). In 1993, 80 percent of Russian respondents said that they consumed about 21 ounces of liquor per day (Grogan, 2006). In 1994-2002, there was a steady increase of alcohol consumption in women, working class, retired people, poor, families with many children, unskilled laborers, and rural inhabitants (Tapilina, 2007). Russia has tried multiple times in the last fifty years to lower alcohol use. Alcohol consumption has done more harm than good for the Russian Federation. This has been an on-going problem since alcohol was first introduced to the country.

In an attempt to lower the death rate and slow the rate of alcohol consumption among the population, Mikhail Gorbachev created a large-scale anti-alcohol campaign in 1985 (McKee, 1999). With the Soviet Union on the verge of collapsing, the anti-alcohol campaign soon collapsed and alcohol consumption skyrocketed (McKee, 1999). Alcohol was prohibited in the workplace, on trains, government parties, former legal bars, and sales were banned after 2 p.m. Prices on alcohol also increased. Restrictions were also made at distilleries which led to a shortage of alcohol (McKee, 1999). Because of how tight regulations were right before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians sought out ways to make their own alcohol illegally. The government quickly noticed that people were making their own spirits illegally (Grogan, 2006). Counterfeit alcohol or samogon (moonshine) was thought to be one of the leading causes of alcohol use-related deaths under Gorbachev’s presidency. (Grogan, 2006).

In the mid 2000s, President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation about rampant drinking trends and tobacco use. Putin released several measures that would reduce mortality rates. Those measures included regulation on sale of alcohol, stricter drunk driving laws, and a public smoking ban. (Brooke, et al., 2016). From 2006-2010 there was about a 14,000 person decline in alcohol related deaths. Regulations also included banning alcohol between the hours of 11 p.m. to 8:00 a.m., banning on alcohol related advertising, zero tolerance for drinking and driving, raising penalties for not wearing a seatbelt, drunk driving, and annual increases in excise duties on alcohol (Brooke, et al., 2016). Covering such massive territory like Russia can be taxing and strenuous. Regulations across the nation could be less-restrictive due to Russia’s land mass that stretches over seven time zones. Bills and laws are passed on a daily basis that strict adherence to laws can be difficult to follow from one place to another. Traffic police can be corrupt from place-to-place. Not to mention bribes and material possessions could help one get out of traffic violations (Brooke, et al., 2016).

Experts believe that since Putin’s inception of laws and regulations, alcohol consumption fell by 18 percent between 2005-2010 (Brooke, et al., 2016). Life expectancy also rose during 2010, mortality overall declined due to factors such as improved healthcare, rising economy, lower unemployment levels, and greater awareness of alcohol consumption (Brooke, et al, 2016). With the mortality rate declining, and a better grip on the nation’s war on alcohol, researchers found that between 1994-2016 younger generations consumed less alcohol (Radev & Roschina, 2019). Researchers surveyed over 38,000 youth over the period of 22 years and found a fluctuation of alcohol use from 1994-2003 (Radev & Roschina, 2019). Because beer was being substituted for vodka, the economy fluctuating periodically, and stricter alcohol policies, there was a decline in alcohol consumption between 2008-2015 (Radev & Roschina, 2019). Radev and Roschina found that “The recent downward trend in alcohol use in Russia is driven largely by a decrease in prevalence of alcohol use in the younger people of this study” (Radev & Roschina, 2019).

Nevertheless, alcohol consumption is still a major concern in Russia. In 2016, the World Health Organization found that 72 percent of drinkers between the ages of 15-19 consumed about twenty ounces of pure alcohol in the past thirty days (“Russian Federation”). Males accounted for about 30 percent more consumption than females (“Russian Federation”). Only about 41 percent abstained from alcohol in the past twelve months (“Russian Federation”). These numbers are astonishing. President Putin’s policy measures may have cut down on alcohol consumption for a few years but are steadily seeing an increase of young drinkers from 2016 to now. Beer and spirits account for 80 percent of alcoholic beverages sold in the Russian Federation (“Russian Federation”). Trends have shown that alcohol consumptions have steadily risen and declined over the period of about sixty years. But more needs to be done to crack down on heavy drinking among youth and young adults.

The Russian Federation has struggled with the war on alcohol. Several attempts were made by previous Presidents in the past century to combat the high mortality rates and safety of its nation. Due to a nation that spans seven time zones, corrupt police, bills passed on a daily basis, strict regulations and a fluctuating economy, Russia deals with a problem that can severely impact its progress towards a better future.

Alcohol has played a major role since the late 900s. Russians love to drink in social settings, on the street, family gatherings, and at sporting events. It has been used in many various political settings for thousands of years. Laws and policies have been shown to be weak and useless in times when Russia needed it most. President Putin has tried to put up a fight against alcohol and tobacco in recent years, but even he cannot manage the war on alcohol. Unless the Russian Federation seeks help from outside organizations such as the World Health Organization and model after different countries, the use of alcohol will go up.

Works Cited

“Alcohol.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/alcohol.

“Russian Federation.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 30 Nov. 2020, www.euro.who.int/en/countries/russian-federation.

Brooke, Henry St.George, and Jordan Gans-Morse. “Putin’s Crackdown on Mortality.” Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 63, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 1–15. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10758216.2015.1039438.

Fedun, Stan. “How Alcohol Conquered Russia.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 27 Sept. 2013, www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/09/how-alcohol-conquered-russia/279965/.

Grogan, Louise. “Alcoholism, Tobacco, and Drug Use in the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union.” Substance Use & Misuse, vol. 41, no. 4, Apr. 2006, pp. 567–571. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10826080500521664

Martin McKee, ALCOHOL IN RUSSIA, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 34, Issue 6, November 1999, Pages 824–829, https://doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/34.6.824

Radaev, Vadim, and Yana Roshchina. “Young Cohorts of Russians Drink Less: Age–period–cohort Modelling of Alcohol Use Prevalence 1994–2016.” Addiction, vol. 114, no. 5, May 2019, pp. 823–835. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/add.14535.

Tapilina, V. S. “How Much Does Russia Drink?” Sociological Research, vol. 46, no. 2, Mar. 2007, pp. 31–46. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2753/SOR1061-0154460203.

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