PALO ALTO, Calif., April 13 (UPI) -- Alcohol deaths in Russia, reduced when an anti-alcohol campaign began in 1985, surged again when the program was abandoned in 1988, U.S. researchers say.
Stanford University researchers say a 40 percent surge in alcohol-related deaths among working-age men occurred between 1990 and 1994, blamed by many on Russia's lurch toward democracy and capitalism. It drove those men to drink, the reasoning went, because privatization left many people unskilled and unemployable, causing a sense of inertia and depression that mixed too easily with cheap vodka.
The researchers say the end of the anti-alcohol campaign accounts for almost half of the four-year mortality crisis of 1990-94, a Stanford release reported Wednesday.
Recognizing alcoholism as a major cause of death and low work productivity, Mikhail Gorbachev instituted an aggressive anti-alcohol campaign in 1985, shortly after he became the Soviet Union's secretary general. Official alcohol sales were cut by two-thirds, prices were increased by as much as 50 percent, stores were prohibited from selling liquor before 2 p.m. on business days, and showing up drunk at work or on the streets could cost Russians a hefty fine or land them in prison.
Deaths plummeted in 1985 and remained low throughout the late 1980s, but when the campaign was dropped, the number of deaths again began to climb. The campaign officially folded in 1988 because it was wildly unpopular and the government realized it was losing too much money from low alcohol sales.
By 1991, consumption was back to pre-campaign levels and Russia's heaviest drinkers, working-age men, fell off the wagon and got back to dying at alarming rates, the researchers found.