Russia’s alcoholism a result of years of oppression, state control of vodka industry

December 30, 2010

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Although alcoholism is still widespread, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern believes things have improved since Soviet times.

The National Institute of Health estimates that the average Russian consumes the equivalent of roughly 4.8 gallons of rubbing alcohol per year. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev calls his nation's staggering rates of alcoholism a “national calamity."

According to Northwestern University professor Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, things used to be different. Petrovsky-Shtern grew up in the Soviet Union and wrote a chapter about Russia’s drinking culture in a forthcoming book.

He says that in the 19th century, when Jews ran the taverns and largely oversaw the distillation of alcohol, drinking in Russia involved a lot more than vodka.