Let’s all be honest, when we think of Russia one of the first things we think of is vodka, and it’s completely justified. Russians have always been massive consumers of alcohol, and in the mid 1900s, the Soviet Union had a monopoly over the production and distribution of alcohol. In fact, the state made more money off of alcohol than it did from income taxes. Unfortunately, the heavy consumption of alcohol caused high rates of child abuse, suicide, work related accidents, and other issues among frequent alcohol consumers. In order to combat this, Gorbachev decided to start a movement against alcohol abuse that led to new laws limiting where alcohol was created, who could sell alcohol, and when it could be sold. Much like the prohibition in the United States, this did not go as well as Gorbachev had hoped.
Looking back on his campaign, Gorbachev said “We should have had conducted a systematic, long-term battle with alcoholism,” rather than attacking it so aggressively with an “ax over the head” method. The campaign saw many negative effects including an increase in moonshine production, Soviet citizens turning to other substances for a buzz, and a massive decrease in revenue from the state. From 1985 to 1987, the Soviet Union lost 20 billion rubles as a result of the prohibition of alcohol. In 1987, just two years after starting his initiative, Gorbachev quit his fight against the sale of alcohol.
While it did not succeed in the long run, the anti-alcohol did see some positive results among its citizens. There was a decline in mortality rates, less accidents on the road and at work, and better health among newborns whose parents had consumed less alcohol. Even with these positive effects of less alcohol consumption, current day Russia still sees a large amount of its citizens abusing alcohol. Today, around 30 percent of all deaths in Russia are in some way related to alcohol consumption; a sign that Gorbachev’s campaign was well-intended, but nearly impossible to accomplish.