How Russia beat vodka

Russia, like the USA, has had a turbulent history with alcohol. Since Tsarist times, some argue, the leaders of the country have encouraged or at least not discouraged alcohol consumption because of the tax revenue it provided. The 1914 vodka shortage appeared to lead to the unrest and eventual revolution of 1917. Mikhail Gorbachev introduced a “dry law” reducing production and restricting sales of alcohol in 1985, with similar results to those of the US’ own Prohibition. Then after the Soviet Union fell, alcohol prices dropped 30%, which led to an increase in consumption.

So it was a shock to many to see that between 2003 and 2016, the WHO concluded, alcohol consumption fell by more than 40% in Russia. Researchers also highlighted that life expectancy in Russia increased significantly over the same time period.

Our question was: how’d they do it?

We’ll cut to the chase: here’s what they did:

  1. The Russian government raised taxes on alcohol

  2. In addition, they introduced a minimum price per unit

  3. They also restricted sales of alcohol at night (after 11:00pm) and in certain regions, after instituting a system to carefully track alcohol production and consumption

  4. They introduced an alcohol advertising blackout

  5. They added policies to make certain public spaces, like parks, alcohol-free

It’s encouraging that some forms government policy can have such a powerful effect on alcohol consumption, given how hard it can be for governments to reach people with health messages. Of course, some give the credit entirely to Putin’s healthy image in the public mind, and there may be other factors, like changing work culture, that made the shift possible.

We’re not out in Russia yet, but if you’re cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking and insights into why you drink, and a support group of your peers to help you make needed changes. Try it free for a week before joining!

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