Behind the Smile: Alcohol Abuse and Deviant Behavior among Contemporary Urban Russian Youth
Guay, Matthew L.
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In 1991 the Russian people, unified under a new federation, bid farewell to communism and turned the page onto a new era of Russian history. A history they all believed to be filled with the wonders of democracy: freedom of speech, personal property, and increased standard of living to name only a few. Even stout communists were excited about the future. Could the new economic and political policies eliminate the negative characteristics of stagnation, alcoholism, and corruption associated with the later Soviet period? As many Russians will tell you today, the democracy they dreamed of has yet to materialize. With relative ease one can compose a synopsis of Russian current events that depicts Russia midway through a laborious economic defeat which will knock it back into the realm of developing nations its Soviet brethren worked so hard to get them out of. Upon my arrival in Russia and association with members of the post-communist generation, it was my impression that these dire predictions held more truth than I wanted to believe. Economic hardships had taken their toll on all but the very rich, who continue to exploit the nation's resources. As factories are sold off by those winners of the privatization auctions, whole sets of tropical islands are bought with money once used to finance Russia's subsidized higher education system. Theft, corruption, and capital flight have lead to many severe devaluations of the Ruble, further increasing the poverty of the people who many times find themselves unemployed in the midst of economic reform and transition. Young people in Russia are increasingly being forced to rely on themselves, while their parents spend long hours scraping enough rubles together to feed and clothe the family. In worse cases, unemployed parents have turned to alcohol and abandon their children who are then left to wander the streets. Among youth in Russia today the growing past time has become alcohol consumption and alcohol related deviance. At consistently younger ages, these adolescents are experimenting with and then adopting drinking habits into their normal social patterns (Levin, 1999, 9.47). This frequent drinking practice was the same among the kids I had befriended while living in Russia. My thirteen-year-old host brother would routinely come home late, and hide from his parents in my room until the signs of intoxication had become less noticeable on his face (Guay, Appendix A). Alcohol is a frightful social evil, and especially so for a population such as Russia's, which consumes predominately hard alcoholic beverages. The continued rise in consumption among teenagers is a growing problem which posses many threats to the well being of the generation. The earlier a person begins abusing alcohol the more likely they are to become addicted. Besides alcoholism, early drinking also presents a threat to the steadily worsening health of Russian teenagers. Additionally, preoccupation with drinking wastes their energies in unproductive ways, instead of developing and cultivating intellectual and physical skills through participation in sports, the arts, and investing themselves in their studies. The hope for Russia's return to a productive stable society lies on the shoulders of this next generation. Their ability to choose between the values of their parents and those of the west affords them the opportunity to establish a new direction for Russia. The purpose of this paper is to examine the reasons behind adolescent drinking behavior among my subjects in the attempt to explain the continued increase of alcohol abuse and deviant behavior in Contemporary Russian Youth.