According to official sources in Iran, the total number of alcohol dependents within the country are 200,000 – a figure not representative of the reality and likely to be higher owing to the Iranian Government’s hesitance in admitting its prevalence.
Alcohol is banned in Iran and its illegal possession has grave consequences. If you are caught with alcohol you are publicly whipped. If you’re caught again, you suffer the same punishment. However, for the third time, you are most likely to face a death penalty.
US-led western nations allege Tehran is secretly seeking to build nuclear weapons. However, Iran denies it and says that it intends to use nuclear power for energy efficiency. The nuclear plants in Iran do not allow entry of international inspectors. Such an attitude has compelled the UN Security Council to impose several rounds of sanctions against Iran. The sanctions have contributed to social ills within the country including high unemployment, lack of opportunities and spiraling inflation to name a few. This has affected the young people in the country who resort to liquor as escape from reality. The average age of a drinker in Iran is 27.
Mostafa Eghlima, chairman of the Iranian Social Workers’ Association, says:
‘Alcoholic drinks are only one of many sedatives. My countrymen live in a society in which people are subjected to constant economic pressure and social grievances. They are seeking refuge in alcohol to ease their pain.’
Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Alireza Mesdaghinia regards alcohol consumption as a means the people use to deal with their frustration.
The country’s heavy drinking problem is slowly turning into a public health crisis.
‘We should be sensitive about this issue and pay attention to it even more than we do to other ailments, such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases,’ says Iran’s deputy health minister.
According to a report released by the Iranian Organization for Forensic Medicine, 93 people died as a result of alcohol poisoning in 2011. In 2010, the figure was even higher, with 145 dead. These figures have caused concern in the Iranian Ministry of Health in the capital.
It is estimated that around 60 mn to 80 mn litres of alcoholic drinks are smuggled into Iran each year. This amount is in addition to the spirits made domestically, including the popular “araq” made from fermenting and distilling raisins. Based on statistics available in 2011, every year around $730 mn (£465 mn) worth of alcoholic drinks are smuggled into Iran. Around 80% of the alcohol is brought in through the country’s Western border, from Iraqi Kurdistan. Police are able to seize only a fraction of the smuggled alcohol. As quoted by Hasan Musavi-Chelak, the head of the Social Workers Society:
‘At best, the amount of alcohol that is confiscated is only 20 to 30% of the total volume of alcohol in the country.’
However, most of the smuggled alcohol goes through government hands, an issue rising as a consequence of corruption.
To combat alcoholism amongst its citizens, Iran then needs to launch a two-pronged attack: accountability of corrupt officials and efforts to create a sustainable economic environment that is successful in eliminating the country’s financial crisis.