Sun, Sep 21, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Russian alcoholism wears increasingly feminine face

AFP , MOSCOW

Harassed housewives who drink a few beers to ease up, stressed businesswomen relaxing with a glass or two at the end of the day, idle new rich drinking away their solitude while the husband is away -- alcoholism, in Russia, wears an increasingly feminine face.

According to sociologists and doctors, every year Russian women plunge deeper into alcoholism on the quiet, without even realizing that they are succumbing to an evil that strikes at "women from good families" as often as those who are worse off.

Tatyana, a 27-year-old, well-paid audit expert, took her first steps down the slippery slope to alcoholism with a group of friends around a bottle of good wine.

"I became an alcoholic when it no longer made any difference to me with whom I was drinking," confided puffy-faced, hoarse-voiced Tatyana.

So far she has spent a month in a gloomy ward of a rehab hospital, sharing her room with five other women in the same predicament and from different social classes.

She swears she will "never again drink three bottles of vodka a day" and "never come back here."

Anna, a wealthy, 26-year-old housewife and mother of a three-year-old, felt trapped in a stifling "golden cage" when she married after graduating.

"When I was out walking with my son, I would buy two or three beers and drink them before my husband came home. I was always well dressed and made up, but I became more and more aggressive, with fits of unreasonable jealousy," she said.

"Every day, I would invent a new pretext to drink," she confessed.

Marina, 32, another housewife with a rich husband, used to hide her bottles behind drawers and drank away from her family's sight. Her husband left her when he learned of her drinking problem.

Experts insist there are few reliable figures on alcoholism in Russia, and even fewer when it comes to women as they tend to hide their habit more than men.

"They only come to us when they are totally hooked," said Yevgeny Tolkachev, doctor in Moscow's hospital number 17, which specializes in toxicology.

"A drunken woman is everybody's," "a drunk mother is her family's woe," are but two of the many bitter proverbs which Russia's intolerant society uses to brand feminine alcoholism while condoning male drunkenness, sociologist Margarita Poznyakova pointed out.

The waiting room of the privately owned "psychological adaptation clinic" is a picture of a discreet rehab center for the well-off -- complete with pastel painted walls and the relaxing background murmur of classical music.

"Ten years ago there was one woman for every 10 male alcoholics, now it is four," the clinic's director Alexei Magalif said.

"Many women nowadays lead the same kind of life as men, with the same habits. They work more and relax by drinking," he said.

According to doctor Kirill Vinokurov, women are now emancipated and living alongside conservative men hits them hard. "They want a more Western type of family, which does not go very well with the Russian mentality."

Besides in Russia "we are extremists. A glass to go with food quickly becomes a bottle," sociologist Poznyakova shrugged.

Another alarming factor is that the group at risk is becoming steadily younger, which is why doctors have become vocal opponents of beer ads geared toward teenagers who can easily buy the drink round the clock.

"Five years ago most of our patients were between 40 and 50 years old. Now a 23-year-old woman no longer shocks anyone," Vinokurov deplored.

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