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Drinking and Drugs

In 1987 the official Czechoslovak press conveyed the impression that the country had few social problems. Occasionally, however, reports appeared on such topics as alcohol abuse, illegal drugs, theft, and "hooliganism" (a catch-all term that covered everything from disorderly conduct to vandalism).

Drinking has always been part of Czech and Slovak life; however, it has become a serious problem since the 1948 communist coup. Apparently, many people drink because there is nothing else to do and because it is a way to escape the dreariness that pervades life in Czechoslovakia. As of 1987 drinking during the workday and drunkenness on the job reportedly were common and even tolerated.

In 1984 Czechoslovakia's per capita consumption of hard liquor (over 20 proof) was 8.2 liters, of beer 140.1 liters, and of wine 15.5 liters. The total amounted to 163.8 liters per capita of alcoholic drinks, as compared with 101.2 liters per capita of nonalcoholic drinks, i.e., alcoholic drinks were consumed at a rate of 1.6 times that of nonalcoholic drinks. There were, however, differences in the drinking habits of Czechs and Slovaks. In 1983 the Czech Socialist Republic's per capita consumption of beer was 154.1 liters, whereas the Slovak Socialist Republic's per capita consumption was 111.8 liters. (Czech beer is world famous; Pilsner beer, for example, is named after the city of Plzen.) The Slovak Socialist Republic, on the other hand, consumed hard liquor at a rate of 12.2 liters per capita, while the Czech Socialist Republic came in at 6.3 liters. Wine consumption was slightly higher in Slovakia (17.0 liters) than in the Czech lands (14.8 liters). On the whole, the population spent about 19 percent of its total expenditures for food products (about Kcs19 billion annually) on alcohol. Some consumer goods might have been in short supply, but alcohol, especially beer, was plentiful and omnipresent. Czechoslovakia, along with France, West Germany, and East Germany, was among the world's highest consumers of alcoholic beverages, and consumption was increasing.

In the Czech Socialist Republic, consumption of alcohol was linked to 47 percent of all violent crimes and 56 percent of all rape cases. In the Slovak Socialist Republic, the figures were about the same, alcohol figuring in about 50 percent of all crimes.

In 1984 alcoholism was the third most frequent reason cited by women seeking divorce. ("Irreconcilable differences" was first, followed by "infidelity.") Over 18 percent of the women involved in divorces gave alcoholism as a reason, whereas only 1 percent of men secured divorces for this reason. In Slovakia 26 percent of women and 2 percent of men divorced because of alcoholism; in the Czech lands these figures were roughly 16 percent for women and 1 percent for men.

Although in the 1980s the press started attacking alcoholism more vociferously than it had in the past, little was actually done to fight the problem. Production of alcoholic beverages increased, and they were sold at affordable prices, while production of soft drinks was neglected and their quality was very poor. In October 1984, the government sharply raised the price of alcoholic beverages, but this measure was not intended to reduce alcohol consumption, inasmuch as the price of nonalcoholic beverages was also raised significantly. Because the government had a monopoly on the sale of alcoholic beverages, it would have lost a great deal of money if the country had suddenly become "dry." (Spending on alcohol was also a means of absorbing excess savings because there was little in the way of quality consumer goods to spend them on.) Rather than trying to prohibit alcohol consumption, the government relied on education, especially of the young, but without much success. The government also established ineffective alcoholism boards, which citizens viewed as a token gesture.

Drugs have also been a growing problem in recent years, especially among young people, although abuse was not believed to be at Western levels. As of 1987 the printing of drug-abuse statistics was banned, so that much of what was known about the problem came from Western or nonofficial Czechoslovak sources. The country had an estimated 500,000 drug addicts, although this figure consisted mostly of those addicted to various kinds of medicines. Drug users were a relatively young group; most were in their teens and twenties. According to Charter 77, about 50 percent of addicts were males between fifteen and nineteen years of age. In the case of females, more adult women were addicted than teenage girls. Urine tests of prison inmates showed that about 50 percent used drugs.

Most of the drugs came from pharmacies and were widely available, often without a prescription. Such drugs included amphetamines and barbiturates; codeine was especially popular. Marijuana, heroin, cocaine, LSD, and other illegal drugs, although rare, were also available. They were often smuggled into the country, although sometimes they were produced in clandestine domestic laboratories by persons having a knowledge of chemistry. Drug dealers were usually taxi drivers, hotel employees, black marketers, money changers, and students.

It was also a common practice to buy certain over-the-counter drugs and mix them. A 1961 law that remained in force in 1987 covered only the production and distribution of illegal narcotics (heroin, cocaine, and marijuana) and made no provision for drugs produced from legal drugs. Pharmaceutical supplies and prescription drugs were sometimes illegally diverted to an enterprising person who would concoct new drugs and sell them on the black market. New legislation had been proposed, but no details were available in mid-1987.

Facilities to treat drug addiction were seriously lacking. Although in 1983 about 8,400 addicts were officially registered in hospital psychiatric departments--1,700 at the Prague Drug Abuse Center alone--only a few beds were set aside for addicts, and specialized care and supervision were rarely provided. There were three drug abuse centers in the country, one each in Prague, Brno, and Liberec, but they could not adequately cope with addicts.

Charter 77 tried to bring the growing drug problem to the attention of the government, calling for more public awareness. The official attitude, however, was that drug abuse, characteristic of sick, decaying, bourgeois Western society, did not exist in socialist Czechoslovakia because there was no reason for it to exist.

Data as of August 1987

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