Forbidden Drink: Why Alcoholism Is Soaring in Officially Booze-Free Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran takes its ban on alcohol, which goes back to a few months after the 1979 revolution, so seriously that taking a drink here can get you publicly whipped. Last week, one Iranian couple, who had endured 80 lashes each on their first and second alcohol convictions, got the death sentence for their third.
But Iranians still drink. They drink smuggled booze — an estimated 60 to 80 million liters came over the border last year alone, mostly from Iraqi Kurdistan — and they drink homemade booze, often the ouzo-meets-moonshine aragh saghi, made from raisins. They drink at home, drink at the corner shops that double as clandestine liquor stores, and apparently they drink behind the wheel: when Tehran police administered random alcohol tests to city drivers, a staggering 26 percent turned out to be drunk.
So many Iranians drink to excess that health officials there are now warning of a national threat to public health, citing a spike in alcohol-related ailments. Police are confiscating 69 percent more alcohol than they did last year, according to an Iranian newspaper.
“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,” Iran’s deputy health minister said, a statement that seems as much aimed at reactionary hard-liners in the government as at regular citizens. That an official would publicly acknowledge the scale of the problem is, in itself, a sign of the severity: police will crack down on individuals but prefer not to admit how widespread alcoholism has become, the BBC notes in reporting on the announcement, because of how politically sensitive the issue can be