The Sobering of Society: The Effect of the Anti-Alcohol Movement on the Family

In 1985, when Gorbachev launched his anti-alcohol campaign, his goal was to create a better society by limiting the consumption of alcohol. He took extreme measures to reduce alcohol consumption, such as limiting shops that sold alcohol, destroying vineyards, and reducing the production of alcohol significantly.

Certainly Gorbachev’s campaign had several positive effects. The state saw a significant decline in mortality rates, among adults as well as newborns, and a decline in alcohol related factory accidents. However, the anti-alcohol movement was widely rejected by members of Soviet society. Those who had been heavy drinkers turned to more dangerous substances, and moonshine production was at an all time high. Organized crime became more common, and many fought back against the strict laws.

Anti-Alcohol Propaganda during Gorbachev’s Campaign. Source: Alcohol and Drugs History Society

It was clear that alcoholism in Soviet society was incredibly destructive to the family structure. Divorce rates were high, as well as rates of child abuse and domestic violence. In addition, alcoholism affected mainly males. After reading several accounts of how the anti-alcohol campaign affected hard drinkers that were men, I thought it would be interesting to analyze this event from a female perspective. Did women support this campaign, or rebel against it as so many men did? Would they be in support of their husbands and family members who were struggling with addiction or were they eager to see a society free of alcohol?

After looking through several articles in the Current Digest of the Russian Press, I was able to read several firsthand accounts of women and their position on the anti-alcohol movement. If one thing was clear, it was that these women were incredibly supportive of the anti-alcohol movement. In a 1985article titled “Alcohol is the Enemy of Society: No Indulgence!” several women stated their passionate concern for the dangers of Alcohol and how it plagued their families. They spoke of the “brotherhood of drunkards” and how much their families suffered from living with alcoholics. It was clear that their stance was similar to Gorbachev’s: a no-tolerance, no-lenience policy that cut off alcohol completely instead of drawing the process out.

In addition, after reading a study called “The Impact of the 1985-1988 Russian Anti-Alcohol Campaign on Child Health,” I learned of the significant effect that suppressing parental access to alcohol had on the long term health of a child. Studies on children born during this era of prohibition were significantly healthier, both at birth and in the long-term. It was clear to many that alcohol posed a significant threat to the survival of it’s people and of society as a whole.

To this day, Russia is still struggling with over-consumption of alcohol, and many wonder if the anti-alcohol movement had a significant part in the behaviors of Russians today. From an economic perspective, Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol movement was wildly unsuccessful, and there certainly were ways that it could’ve been handled differently to have a more long-lasting effect. It was clear Gorbachev was only trying to combat the turmoil that alcohol was causing for many Soviet families; however, instead of making all alcohol disappear, the campaign should’ve moved slower in order to gradually change societal habits. Economic issues aside, it is certainly interesting to see and read firsthand the effects that the anti-alcohol campaign had on the family—both women and men.  

Sources

Balan-Cohen. Andreea. “Sobering Up: The Impact of the 1985-1988 Russian Anti-Alcohol Campaign on Child Health”. December 2008. http://conference.nber.org/conferences/2009/HCs09/balan.PDF.

Boroznova, N. “ALCOHOL IS THE ENEMY OF SOCIETY: NO INDULGENCE!” Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, The,  No.21,  Vol.37, June  19, 1985, page(s):13-14.
https://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/19986564
.

Pleshevenya, V. “The Life of Sober Alcohoholics.” Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, The,  No.52,  Vol.16, January  20, 1965, page(s):27-28.
https://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13769352
.

“Posters of the Anti-Alcohol Campaign.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 11 Jan. 2016, soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/anti-alcohol-campaign/posters-of-the-anti-alcohol-campaign/.

World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe. “Policy Briefing: Interpersonal Violence and Alcohol in the Russian Federation.” Global Campaign for Violance Prevention. http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/98804/E88757.pdfhttp://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/98804/E88757.pdf

24 thoughts on “The Sobering of Society: The Effect of the Anti-Alcohol Movement on the Family

  1. Claire, this was a great post about the anti-alcohol campaign! Your post provides a perspective that’s probably not talked about often, the opinions women held about the campaign.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Claire, you are right on target about the effects of alcoholism on families in the USSR but especially on the women. In the US, the drastic negative effects of alcoholism on the family-women was the main cause for the need to try Prohibition in the 1920s as a way to stop this same problem. Too bad that it didn’t work in the US as it appears it didn’t work in the USSR.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree– In my research I did read a lot about how Russia still faces a lot of the same problems today with regards to over-consumption of alcohol (domestic violence, etc), and it is interesting to wonder if it would still be a problem today if Gorbachev had acted differently. In addition it is certainly interesting to compare the two movements (Soviet and US) and their underlying reasons!

      Like

  3. Claire, this was a really interesting post to read! I appreciate how you choose to focus on the women’s perspective on the anti-alcohol campaign and how they were the major supporters. I think your conclusion about how the campaign might have been effective if they had gone slower and given society time to adjust can be applied to a lot of the failed social programs of the Soviet Union.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Kayt! I definitely agree, it is certainly interesting to analyze Gorbachev’s leadership strategy and what might’ve been different if he had prolonged the recovery process rather than making such swift changes.

      Like

  4. I agree that the focus on women’s perspectives on the anti-alcohol campaign is really effective. And you had terrific sources in the Current Digest. I’m not sure I agree that the campaign was a huge economic success, though. It was partially intended to improve labor efficiency (by getting people to work on time), but alcohol was also a state monopoly, so “drying out ” the country also had a huge impact on the state’s coffers. Check out Jake’s post, which goes into some of these issues in more detail: https://jakej99.art.blog/2020/05/03/why-did-they-ban-the-booze/comment-page-1/#comment-45

    Like

    1. Thank you! I really enjoyed reading through the various primary sources in the Current Digest, and it certainly gave me great insight into this time in history. Also, I hope I didn’t leave you with the impression that I thought the campaign was at all economically successful– I agree that it certainly had issues which I did mention in my post! I just know many family members had other concerns in mind.

      Like

  5. Claire, this was a great post and I really enjoyed hearing the perspectives of the women during this campaign and how they reacted to all of this. One thing that really caught my attention was the perspective on the lasting affects of this campaign on Russia today. When you think of Russia one of the first thoughts that come to mind is vodka. Russians love their alcohol and yes, many people there abuse it. I think it would be really interesting to compare this with the Prohibition era in the United States and see what the similarities and differences are in the outcomes of these two anti-alcohol campaigns.

    Like

  6. Very informative post and like so many have said it was interesting to read about the women’s perspective during this campaign. I find It interesting that both the Soviet Union and United States, at a earlier point in time, both tried to tackle the over consumption of alcohol and both failed. Considering how vodka is so ingrained in Russian culture I think it would of been wiser to go about enforcing policies at a much slower rate. They had one of the best propaganda systems in history. Can’t help but feel if they played the long game with education mixed in with economic policies it might of worked out better. Granted the USSR didn’t last much longer.

    Like

  7. Hi Claire! I think your take on the prohibition movement in Russia from a female perspective is very similar to the prohibition movement in the United States since American women somewhat spearheaded the Temperance movement there. I also liked your analysis on his alcoholism or alcohol consumption affects the upbringing of children, it really shows how habits like these effect people other than yourself. I also agree with the ending of your post on how it was good that Gorbachev only wanted to help his people, but the way that he tried to do so wasn’t the best. I feel like this entire lesson could possibly reflect similar thoughts on marijuana and tobacco use.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You bring up a good point about marijuana and tobacco use being a problem, and I would definitely be interested to see statistics on how that effects quality of life/family life! I agree that it is certainly interesting to compare the two movements (soviet and US) and their underlying reasons. I think another main difference is that Russia still faces some of the same problems today with regards to over-consumption of alcohol, and it is interesting to wonder if it would still be a problem today if Gorbachev had acted differently.

      Like

  8. Claire, this was a really great post! I find it interesting how this movement echoed the American Temperance movement, particularly in being led by women (though the American effort had a religious component that I think the Soviet one lacked). It’s enlightening to see the same kind of reasons being set forth for limiting alcohol consumption in both movements.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I agree that it is certainly interesting to compare the two movements and their underlying reasons. I think another main difference is that Russia still faces some of the same problems today with regards to over-consumption of alcohol, and it is interesting to wonder if it would still be a problem today if Gorbachev had acted differently.

      Like

  9. Claire, this was a really cool post from your perspective. Its crazy to realize how much an effect alcohol has on society once you take it away. As someone mentioned above, one of the first things i think of when i think of Russia is vodka, which goes to show how much a part of russian society it really is.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Tanner! It really is interesting how alcohol is an integral part of Russian society still today. Also sad that they still face some of these same problems (domestic abuse, etc). I can’t help but wonder if Gorbachev handled it differently if Russian society would be the same today.

      Like

  10. This was a fun topic to read about. It goes to show you that it is hard to get alcohol out of the hands of people. Just like the prohibition in the United States, Russia failed to control and outlaw alcohol consumption. While alcohol is dangerous if overused, if consumed responsibly, then it poses no danger. I feel that if Russia educated the people better on alcohol then its problems would be solved, not by outlawing alcohol altogether.

    Like

    1. I agree! It is definitely interesting to compare this anti-alcohol campaign with prohibition in America, and I agree that Gorbachev’s strategy was definitely not the wisest!

      Like

  11. Claire, very interesting post! I think that the Anti-Alcohol campaign is an excellent example of faulty public policy that has unintended outcomes. Rather than the more complex and time-consuming process of, as you mentioned, changing societal norms and offering rehabilitation and other services, Gorbachev tried to cut corners. Banning substances/outlawing certain behaviors does not stop them from happening. Humans are resourceful and they always find a need to meet their wants and needs. The black market was already alive and well despite strict economic regulation by the state. This goes to show that laws are not effective influences on social norms. I really enjoyed your post!

    Like

    1. Thank you, Eric! I certainly think the anti-alcohol campaign is interesting to analyze in the greater context of Gorbachev’s leadership strategy, and how it led to the downfall of the nation.

      Like

  12. Claire, this is a great post about Russia’s anti-alcoholic movement. I’m sure we all have heard the stereotypes in movies or life in general that Russian’s are known for “drinking vodka,” but I had no idea there was an anti-alcohol movement. You make a lot of good points about the economy and show the how’s and why’s to Gorbachev trying to implement this and the results of the unsuccessful campaign,

    Like

    1. Thank you! It is certainly interesting to study Gorbachev’s leadership strategy in relation to the anti-alcohol campaign, if you’re interested further you can read about it in 17 moments!

      Like

  13. It’s always good to get a different perspective on an otherwise singular issue, great post Claire! It’s also fascinating to note that this is the hill Soviet citizens died on, alcohol. All jokes aside, I find Gorbachev to be an extremely puzzling Soviet leader in that he seemed to care more about citizen sovereignty than any other previous premiers outside of possibly Lenin. With this policy it sort of supplanted his platform as a reformer and with other subsequent events led to the downfall of the nation he had oversight of.

    Like

  14. While reading your article I couldn’t help but look at it from a modern perspective. It definitely seems like mental health issues were at a high considering the sheer amount of alcoholism. I can clearly see why many women supported a ban, especially due to rising domestic violence, but I also feel sympathy for the people who got trapped in the cycle of alcoholism. If I had to guess, a combination societal and economic stress, which there was plenty of in the Soviet Union, is likely the source of a great deal of the alcoholism during this time.

    Like

  15. I really enjoyed your post Claire! Its interesting how alcoholism has been tied to the Russian stereotype given their genuine attempts to remedy the problem. I wonder if there is a connection between the soviet citizens and Alcohol similar to Lower class Americans at the same time who were dealing with the crack epidemic.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: