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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Drinking Deaths In Russia

When the Soviet Union collapsed the entire world changed, countries saw freedom for the first time since World War II and it seemed like anything was possible - even the fall of communism. Russians would be able to experience what Americans had been bragging about for so many years, but, sadly their transition to democracy would not be that easy and with the idea of a free market came more vodka. Alcohol, especially vodka, is entrenched in Russian culture and as a result alcoholism is a major cause of death throughout the country. Successful attempts had been made, before the Wall fell, to curb alcoholism during the Gorbachev era throughout the `80's; realizing that alcohol was major cause of death and low work productivity, right after becoming the Soviet Union's secretary general, Mikhail Gorbachev began a hardcore anti-alcohol campaign in 1985.

Official alcohol sales dropped by two-thirds due to new regulations and the price of alcohol was increased by as much as 50 percent. Liquor stores were no longer allowed to sell alcohol before 2 p.m. on business days. Citizens who were going into work drunk would be heavily fined and drunkenness in the streets could land a person in prison. Gorbachev's plan appeared to be successful; the number of deaths dropped in 1985 and remained below the pre-campaign trend throughout the late 1980s. A 12 percent decline in mortality rates: about 665,000 fewer deaths. But, with freedom also came higher death rates by the early 1990s the number of deaths began to rise again, shortly after the campaign was dropped. A 40 percent surge in alcohol related deaths was seen between 1990 and 1994.

Privatization may have been the cause for the increase in consumption according to Stanford research, with many people unskilled and unemployable, giving people the sense of uselessness, which lead to depression, mix that with the end of the anti-alcohol campaign in Russia - throw vodka on that fire and you will have an explosion. "Most things that kill people disproportionately kill babies and the elderly," said Grant Miller, an assistant professor of medicine and faculty member of the Center for Health Policy. "But working-age men accounted for the largest spike in deaths in the early 1990s. Many people suspect that's somehow entwined with political and economic transition, but there's a lot more to it than that." People who drank heavy after the anti-alcohol campaign probably drank heavy before it, that being said, removing people's choice to consume something does not mean that an individual does not still want to consume it. "Welfare and health are not exactly the same thing," Miller said. "You can restrict people's choices in a way that improves health, but that doesn't unambiguously mean that people are better off."

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