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Quenching Russia's Drinking Problem

The death toll was seven: a teacher, her husband, and five orphans with disabilities. They were returning home from a crafts fair last September when a drunk driver, traveling 125 miles per hour through the streets of Moscow, plowed into them as they waited at a bus stop.

Following his arrest, 29-year-old Alexander Maximov, who had been drinking for two days straight and had landed a DUI arrest two years prior, told investigators, "I always do what I want."

Under current law, a drunk driver will spend less than 10 years behind bars if convicted of manslaughter. But the public outcry after the accident caused lawmakers to call for life imprisonment as a maximum punishment when fatal car crashes are fueled by intoxication.

The national tragedy also stirred soul-searching among pastors, priests, and other Christian leaders. Could the church help solve the country's addiction to alcohol?

Europe has the world's highest rate of alcohol consumption. But Russia's consumption rate of 15.8 liters (or about 4 gallons) of pure ethyl alcohol per capita annually is even higher. It is exceeded in Europe only by Moldova (18.2), the Czech Republic (16.5), and Hungary (16.3). Working-age men are Russia's heaviest drinkers, consuming the equivalent of 155 half-liter bottles (or about 20 gallons) of vodka yearly on average.

Russia's drinking problem affects every facet of national life. There's the sheer fact of 30,000 deaths each year from alcohol poisoning. Russian moonshine, called samogon, as well as "surrogate alcohols" like antifreeze, perfume, and cleaning solutions, play a large role in alcohol-related deaths.

Experts estimate that one out of every three Russian men regularly binge ...

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Quenching Russia's Drinking Problem
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In the Magazine

November 2013

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