Thursday, February 24, 2011

Alcohol Dementia

Wise decision, that. To confront the reality of a population soaked in alcohol. And to make a meaningful effort to wean it away from that dependence. Which has resulted in the kind of mortality rates more reflective of a developing country than that of a country priding itself on its modernity. Although we are speaking of Russia, a hard-drinking population historically.

There was a time when alcohol consumption was a reasonable diversion as a social habit. And when women who were pregnant were encouraged to drink beer, as a healthily reliable source of protein. All in moderation, needless to say. There was also a time when clean, potable water was not always available, and in its stead watered-down wine was served in Europe as an alternative.

Including to children. Wine was simply far more available than milk for children. Cheaper, too. That kind of early introduction to the allure of mind-bending alcohol did have its disadvantages. Those who had a genetic disposition to alcoholism were understandably disadvantaged in the long run, their early exposure and its respectability, no help to them.

In Russia alcohol consumption is rampant and endemic in all age groups. Alcoholism is a dire and distinct social ill. Longevity is severely impacted by that very fact. And a population that is under the influence of alcohol is not a psychologically healthy one any more than it is a physically healthy one.

The current President's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, an inveterate drunk, was an embarrassment to his country on the world stage. (On the other hand, a country as sober as Canada had its inveterate Prime Ministerial drunks, too. It's just that it was a different world back then, when instant communication did not yet exist and drunkenness could be kept hidden from public view.)

Russian consumption of pure alcohol per capita exceeds doubly, the World Health Organization's recommended maximum. A situation that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev considers "a national disaster". An extremely costly one, in human morbidity. And in lost productivity, and costly medical intervention.

So it could be said a new move to give legal classification to beer as alcohol is long overdue. Beer, it would appear, has long been regarded as a foodstuff. Food can be freely advertised and sold at any time of the night or day. The new law will make it possible to restrict beer sales at night, ensure it cannot be sold in public places such as schools.

Russians are so accustomed to imbibing alcohol on any and all occasions, from morning to night, that beer is considered light stuff, like a soft drink. Which is why school kids often consume it in super-sized containers on their way to school. Missed breakfast? Don't worry, have some protein-rich beer.

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