Political factors for alcoholism

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

This is interesting, but potentially reverses cause and effect:

A further obstacle to AA’s growth in Russia is something more philosophical: At a basic level, its premise of sobriety through mutual support just doesn’t make sense to a lot of Russians. In the past, this has taken the form of anti-Western suspicion—“What are the Americans trying to get out of this?” is a question Moseeva used to hear regularly. But more fundamentally, the group-therapy dynamic collides with a skepticism about the possibility of ordinary people curing each other of anything. “The idea that another drunk can help you is asinine to most Russians,” said Alexandre Laudet, a social psychologist who has researched Russian alcoholism.

Then there’s the problem of opening up to strangers. The AA method works in part through trust in people you’ve never met before, and coming clean to them about one’s most shameful secrets. “It is much harder for a Russian person to talk about himself than it is for an American,” said a Russian AA member named Mikhail. “And there are a lot of reasons why, including that the generation of my parents—and my own, I’m 55—couldn’t speak the truth at all, because it was possible to get arrested for it.” Today, according to Moseeva, Russians are reluctant to admit in public they have a problem with alcohol because, while drinking is not considered shameful, doing it because you have some kind of psychological problem very much is. Boris Lobodov, a psychiatrist who conducted a pilot study of AA in 2007 in the city of Voronezh, said he hears the same thing from his patients whenever he suggests they attend a meeting. “Nobody believes in anonymity,” Lobodov said. “Nobody believes it, and people are afraid to be recognized.”

As a result, unlike in America, where AA and similar recovery programs are now part of the cultural landscape, in Russia they are still seen as alien. When Lobodov asked his test subjects in Voronezh whether they’d ever consider going to AA, he found they were immediately suspicious of it, saying they believed it was a cult where they would be tricked into working in a prison-like community.

Isn’t this another way of saying that alcoholism is, in part, a response to oppression? “Nobody believes in anonymity” sounds like a great reason to drink. If the state can spy on you at all times, then you have no power, and if you are powerless, then your life is meaningless, and if your life is meaningless, then perhaps you need something that can take your pain away.

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