Substance abuse and addiction in Russia has been on the rise. The rate of drug abuse, addiction, and drug-related mortality has risen dramatically in Russia since the turn of the millennium. Drug-related mortality rates in Russia are three times as high as the rate in the United Kingdom.
Russia is facing an epidemic of substance addiction as a result of draconian laws, societal misunderstanding about the nature of drug addiction, and problematic societal norms and beliefs that addiction is the result of a flaw in a person’s character. It’s important to keep in mind that in the U.S., the world’s leading democracy, we continue to fight against the misconception that drug abuse and addiction is not due to a moral or ethical flaw. This old misconception about why people turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism is tragically difficult to shake.
In Russia, it’s believed that a growing percentage of the population uses drugs on a regular basis and this is resulting in a public health crisis. The Kremlin sees this as a moral problem. This is because of a failure to understand drug and alcohol addiction as a medical issue that requires medical intervention. By characterizing drug addiction as a moral issue, Russia is able to get away with harsh punishments.
Substance Addiction in Russia
The Russian government is a military state. They take a strict law enforcement approach toward drug trafficking and those with substance abuse disorders (SUDs) as opposed to choosing methods such as harm reduction, preventative measures, and focusing on treatment modalities that could help turn lives around.
Blaming the Victim
An ongoing problem has been access to drugs like heroin from nearby countries including Afghanistan. Poppy farming has long been a popular crop in countries where farmers struggle and know that they are able to make more money to feed themselves and their loved ones. The incentives these farmers to produce poppies instead of crops that could feed their people as opposed to fueling the opioid crisis. It’s important to not blame the victims in this situation.
The farmers are not typically turning to poppy growing as an act of greed and selfishness but instead as a means of survival. This is a common theme across the globe. Innocent actors contribute to an overall problem because they are struggling and proper interventions do not allow them to survive, let alone thrive, without turning to regrettable choices.
Harm Reduction and Preventative Measures
If Russia wanted to improve the livelihood of its citizens, it would change its approach. Harm reduction strategies and an emphasis on preventative measures like early intervention can change lives and help those with substance abuse disorders, drug addictions, and alcohol addiction, get life back on track.
In the United States, we aim to emphasize statements like “it’s ok not to be ok” when it comes to awareness about the challenges people with mental health disorders face every day. In many places around the world, mental health disorders are simply not on the radar. Those in power do not want to talk about the importance of mental health and do not necessarily subscribe to mental health disorders and diagnoses as reasons why a person might struggle with drug abuse and addiction. Instead, they blame the victim and allow the cycle of abuse to play out. This is both a tragedy and a travesty.
We know that mental health and physical health are closely intertwined. Increasingly, scientists and mental health experts talk about the gut as our “second brain”. We continue to learn much about our minds and bodies in real-time through new advances in science. It’s a mistake, to say the least, to ignore the new data that arrives daily informing us just how little we understand about the human brain and how mental health functions and can be treated.
We remain a long way off from creating personalized treatments and still have to use blunt instruments and medications to treat disorders because we do not yet have all the answers. It’s essential that we recognize that we do not have all the answers while also making the case that we must choose to work with all the evidence and best information that science has provided us with. It’s a mistake to wait for perfection when there are people in need right now.
The Ongoing Struggle for Lasting Sobriety
There is no concrete cure for substance addiction and that is why it’s important to talk about the ongoing struggle for lasting sobriety. A person who is in recovery is always in recovery. For this reason and more, it is essential to emphasize the need for harm reduction strategies that can help with relapse prevention.
Once a person is sober, the work is never done. Each day is a new day to fight off temptations to relapse. Having good coping mechanisms that operate in real-world situations can help individuals learn to manage high-risk triggers. Without proper education and life skills to learn these tactics it is incredibly difficult for a person to maintain sobriety. A good safety net requires a system that is dedicated to helping people get better and stay better.
A Better Future For Russians in need of Recovery
If Russia wants to help their people, they need to consider adopting a new strategy to combat substance abuse and addiction. Telling a person that they are a bad person because they abuse drugs and alcohol is ineffective. Telling a person that they have a character flaw, a weak mind, or a lack of willpower, is not going to help them help themselves.
People know when they are down and out. They often do not need a secondary punishment of being chastised for choices they are likely well aware is not ideal. Russians with substance abuse disorders and alcohol addictions could almost certainly benefit from variations on anonymous programs like AA and NA. These programs have worked wonders for Americans who need extra support in their recovery.
In the future, for the sake of Russian citizens, the hope is that The Kremlin will learn to understand the importance of mental health diagnosis and treatment. Relatedly, they will stop using brute strength and criminal punishment as a way of sidestepping the crisis of drug abuse and addiction. Understanding that mental health and substance abuse are closely intertwined is essential. Proper treatment for mental health and related medical conditions should help Russian citizens find healthier and more positive coping mechanisms and lessen the number of individuals who turn to substance abuse as a means of finding temporary solace.
Creating well-intentioned drug addiction treatment programs that help those who have struggled with addiction learn to find ways to return to society with meaning and purpose will yield an overall better society for all. In the United States, we want our citizens to find well-being, happiness, and live meaningful lives. At the very least, finding meaning and purpose in life is an essential part of maintaining dignity. Let us hope that Russia finds a new path forward soon.