By Michael Akerib
Alcohol has been with us probably since the very early magic cults and continues to be associated with a number of religious practices. It probably had multiple uses in ceremonies, not least of which was its ability of altering consciousness.
As humans settled and started practicing agriculture, grain was fermented and produced beer. Whether its use was purely for ceremonial purposes or for socializing, is unclear. It has been suggested that the necessity of fermenting grain as been the main driver behind sedentarization. In any case, alcohol certainly played an important role in socialization. Certain pagans even revered alcohol as it was believed to have aphrodisiac properties and was an adjuvant to fertility.
The Greeks used wine, together with other substances, to disinhibit those practicing the Dionysian mysteries. The very word ‘symposium’ meant a drinking party in ancient Greece.
Alcohol, whether in the form of wine or spirits, has permeated European culture. Both Christian and Jewish religions allow drinking while asking believers to avoid excesses. Consumption in the European Union is of 13 liters of pure alcohol per capita and per year and, corrected for non-drinkers, of 15 liters. Up to half of the alcohol is drunk by only 10% of the population.
Heavy drinking is responsible for a number of problems, including accidents, cirrhosis, violent behaviors, and birth defects of progeny. Over 10% of the disease burden in the EU is due to alcohol consumption and the material cost is greater than 1% of GDP, which is four times the duties cashed by the state on the sale of alcohol. Most of the costs are health-related., followed by lost productivity and the cost of loss of life. Finally, there are the costs to insurance companies and to the judicial system following alcohol-related accidents.
All this, however, has not stopped the European Union from subsidizing wine production.
The case of Russia
Russia’s drinking habits are part of what has been termed the Northern European habits – large quantities of distilled spirits, mostly vodka, at irregular intervals – meaning they indulge in binge drinking on an average once a month. There is a large social tolerance for alcoholics and the disinhibition due to drinking leads to violent behavior and suicide. Consequently, one in every seven Russians is an alcoholic.
Children of alcoholics suffer intensely from these situations and either themselves become alcoholic or bear psychological sequels during their entire life.
Consumption is made up of both legal and illegal alcohol so as to avoid taxes even though legal vodka is sold at very low prices. Poor people also drink other alcohol-containing products such as alcohol-containing cleaning liquids.
Nevertheless, the country also has up to 25% of non-drinkers.
Reducing alcohol consumption
Price increases do reduce alcohol consumption, particularly for young people and are probably the most effective method to reduce consumption. Other measures include making it difficult to access alcohol either by limiting the number of bars or the opening hours. These measures can be accompanied by frequent testing of drivers while reducing the upper acceptable limits of alcohol levels in blood.
Sales to persons below the drinking age limit must be punished sternly and advertising, including indirect advertising, such as during sports events banned, just as has been the case with tobacco.
Alcohol consumption being one of the most important killers in Russia, and a major factor in its demographic collapse, it is urgent to reduce it, failing what, there will be nothing to celebrate – Russia will have, as a country, committed suicide.
Michael Akerib is Vice-Rector, SWISS UMEF UNIVERSITY