Decades after alcohol ban, Iran admits it has a problem

Liquor in Iran
Liquor in Iran

In recent years, Iran, where alcohol has been illegal since the 1979 revolution and is taboo for devout Muslims, has taken the first step and admitted that, like most other nations, it has an alcohol problem, a report on the New York Times has said.

 

Since 2015, when the Health Ministry ordered addiction treatment centers to care for alcoholics, dozens of private clinics and government institutions have opened help desks and special wards for alcoholics. 

The government has also allowed a large and growing network of Alcoholics Anonymousgroups, modeled after those in the United States.

The relaxing of prohibition has allowed addicts like Mehdi to emerge from the shadows and embrace a new circle of friends — recovering alcoholics — who greeted him as he entered a West Tehran apartment one recent evening. “I’ve given up the bottle for 12 days now,” said Mehdi, a tall computer specialist who requested anonymity because of the stigma still attached to alcoholism in Iran. To cheers and hoots, he added, “This is a big step for someone who was drunk most of the time.”


The change in attitude by those in power is driven by changing realities in Iranian society. 
Official statistics show that at least 10 percent of the population uses alcohol in the Islamic country. For some among the country’s urban middle classes, drinking has become as normal as it is in the West. 


The Iranian news media have reported that those Iranians who do drink tend to do so more heavily than people even in heavy-drinking countries like Russia and Germany.

One reason is that alcohol is relatively easy to procure. There are alcohol suppliers anyone can call, and they will deliver whatever you want to your doorstep. 

Dealers receive their goods through a vast illegal distribution network that serves millions with alcohol brought in from neighboring Iraq.

Bootlegging is also a major problem; dozens of people die from alcohol poisoning every year after consuming low-quality moonshine — 135 in 2013, the latest year for which official statistics are available.

In July, after three people died and dozens were poisoned in the city of Sirjan, a former police chief went so far as to publish an open letter calling for an end to the taboo on alcohol.

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