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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

More Children Are Drying Out at the Clinic

MTTwo teenagers hospitalized for alcohol abuse sitting in a hallway of Child Substance Abuse Clinic No. 12 as the clinic's director, Dr. Veronika Gotlib, chats with a visitor.
Vladimir showed up at Substance Abuse Clinic No. 19 a month ago holding a bottle of beer in his hand and so drunk he could barely walk.

"I told them, 'Look, I'm an alcoholic. Can you do something about it?'" Vladimir, 20, recalled in an interview at the clinic.

Clinic staff said they could, and Vladimir is now one of 24 patients being treated there for alcohol abuse.

He also represents a new worry for doctors. After warning for years about drug abuse, they are now saying that alcohol -- particularly beer -- has become an even bigger problem among the younger generation.

The number of children and teenagers with substance abuse problems has jumped in the past decade from 6,000 to 22,000 -- and about half of those cases involve alcohol, according to the Health Ministry.

Alexei Nadezhdin, the Health Ministry doctor charged with overseeing substance abuse among juveniles and the director of Substance Abuse Clinic No. 19, said there was no need for a job such as his 10 to 15 years ago, when addition cases involving teens were very rare.

Then in the mid- and late 1990s, teens and children started being admitted for treatment, most of them for drug abuse.

Much to Nadezhdin's chagrin, all of his young patients these days are suffering from alcohol abuse. He blames this on aggressive beer advertising and little government control over sales of alcohol to minors.

"After 10 years of being widely advertised and our warnings going unheeded, we have ended up with what we have," he said. "Beer advertising has achieved its goal: Young people do not believe that beer is harmful and is addictive like any other alcohol. ... Besides, we are now dealing with a new type of addiction that we call beer alcoholism."

Beer is not considered alcohol in Russia and is widely advertised on television. Health officials have repeatedly called for tougher regulations on advertising and sales, and Deputy Health Minister Gennady Onishchenko several years ago urged that beer be reclassified as an alcoholic drink.

Breweries have a powerful lobby that has successfully fought off most Health Ministry efforts, and their sales have been growing by leaps and bounds for years.

Vladimir, a car mechanic by training, said he first tried vodka on his 18th birthday but started drinking beer long before that. He could not explain why he began drinking heavily but does not believe that advertising played a role.

Across the city from Clinic No. 19, where Vladimir has only several days to go before being discharged, are a group of even younger patients being treated for alcohol abuse. The oldest patient at Child Substance Abuse Clinic No. 12 is 17. The youngest is 9.

Most of the patients ended up at the clinic after undergoing a detoxification program at pediatric clinics and were delivered by doctors, police and, in some cases, their own parents.

Treating young alcoholics is much more difficult than adults, said Dr. Veronika Gotlib, who has run the clinic since it was opened last spring.

"The problem is that adults usually have their past and something or someone they don't want to lose as well as a stronger instinct for self-preservation, while children do not have any of these," Gotlib said.

Her office is decorated with bright children's drawings and the door is always wide open in an invitation to young patients to come in and chat or use the Internet.

Dealing with young patients takes a great deal of patience from the clinic's staff of 50 doctors and nurses, Gotlib said. The children often have temper tantrums when they cannot satisfy their cravings for alcohol or cigarettes and have to be ignored.

For Gotlib, the job is even more complicated as she also has to counsel distraught parents who find themselves at a loss over what to do with their children.

She asked that the children not be interviewed for this article, saying most of those at the clinic had only recently been admitted and questions from a reporter could impede their treatment.

While conceding that children often turn to alcohol because they do not get enough love or support at home or they have parents who also drink, Gotlib and Nadezhdin said the other big problem is that alcohol is just too available.

"Those colorful, attractive bottles and cans with cocktails are lined up in rows just like Chupa-Chups and chocolate bars," Gotlib said.

"In all of Norway, strong alcohol can be purchased at about 160 outlets. In Moscow, the same number of outlets can be found in just a quarter of the area of the average city district," Nadezhdin said.