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
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
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
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
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