Thursday, September 9, 2021

Russians May be Drinking Less Vodka But are Downing More Moonshine, Roshchin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 9 – The Russian government this week has been trumpeting figures suggesting that Russians are drinking less vodka; but any decline in the consumption of that alcoholic beverage is more than matched by an increase in their consumption of homemade moonshine (samogon) or even dangerous alcohol surrogates, Aleksey Roshchin says.

            The social psychologist says he is sure that is what is happening and is only surprised that vodka sales have fallen no more than they have but assumes that they are being maintained by the purchases of urban residents who have more money and less easy access to those who make homebrew (

            Russians have seen this kind of a shift twice before in the last 50 years. When Gorbachev launched his anti-alcohol campaign, vodka consumption dropped, but sugar purchases surged as people bought that component of samogon. And then again in the early 1990s when vodka became more expensive thanks to taxes, people shifted to moonshine once again.

            Now, prices for vodka are rising and incomes are falling, Roshchin says; and so the natural response of Russians is to shift from high-priced vodka to samogon which is three to four times cheaper, even as their decision to do so drives up the price of sugar as has been happening across Russia in recent months.

            In a study completed by the Higher School of Economics just before the onset of the pandemic, sociologists there found that Russians were consuming nine liters of pure alcohol in legally registered drinks like vodka and six liters of alcohol from illegal moonshine (

            Today the ration between the two kinds of alcohol may have reversed, something especially serious given that alcohol is directly or indirectly killing working-age Russian men (  and

            What is even more worrisome, although Roshchin does not focus on it directly is that if sugar prices rise because of the shift from registered vodka to samogon, many Russians will turn from samogon, which although heavily alcoholic is typically relatively safe, to alcohol surrogates like perform and cleaning supplies which decidedly are not.

            And given the shortcomings of the Russian healthcare system after Putin’s “optimization” cuts, those who do come down with poisoning from such “drinks” are far less likely to survive than they were only a few years ago, something that will put further downward pressure on the demographic future of Russia.  

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