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Regular version of the site

Quitting the Bottle

How different generations fight alcohol addiction


It may be possible to pressure millennials into addiction treatment, but they tend to rebel against such coercion more fiercely than people born a few decades earlier. There are other intergenerational differences as well. Yuliya Belova has described how different generations of Russians deal with alcohol problems. Based on her report for the XXI April International Academic Conference, we take a look at people's different paths to sobriety.

Ways to Goal

Quitting an addiction requires making changes in one's life. How different people approach it depends not only on their individual characteristics but also on their generation. It has been found that growing up in a certain era can influence one's outlook and self-perception.

Belova explores how members of five generations of Russians tend to approach quitting alcohol. Their ages at the time of the study (2019) ranged from 19 to over 81, with the oldest subjects born in the mid-20th century and the youngest ones in the first decade of the 21st century.

Five generations of Russians according to Vadim Radaev's classification 



Years of birth

Period of growing up

Age at the time of the study

Mobilisation generation

before 1938


over 81

Thaw generation




Stagnation generation




Reform generation








Having reviewed more than 130 published autobiographical stories of ex-drunks, Belova identified 11 distinct practices which people may use when they decide to give up alcohol. In particular, these practices concern how people deal with obstacles and switch modes between drinking and sobriety.

At the decision stage, the main difference is based on the criterion of independence, i.e. whether a person makes an independent decision or trusts someone else’s expertise:

 adaptation: conforming to circumstances and other people's wishes;

 submission: having others choose for them – or being pressured into choosing – a specific method for quitting alcohol;

 free choice: being guided by one's own ideas on how to deal with the addiction.

Once the decision is made, one's path towards the goal depends on how they deal with potential obstacles:

 conscientiousness: painstaking and thoughtful pursuit of their objectives;

 firmness of intention: a consistent search for, selection and use of information about quitting alcohol;

 intensity: persistent and intense efforts, not always well-conceived or prudent;

 isolation: avoiding other people in an attempt to combat addiction single-handedly.

And finally, people may use different tactics of switching between drinking and sobriety and dealing with setbacks (based on the flexibility of choice criterion):

 loyalty: sticking to tried and tested methods and advice from trusted people;

 rationality: reflecting on past experience and consciously looking for alternative approaches;

 replacement: deliberately switching from drinking to healthy activities;

 change of environment: dealing with the discomfort by trying something new, not necessarily being fully aware of the problem or committed to quitting.

The above 11 coping practices — some of which may or may not overlap in different generations — reflect the diversity of challenges involved in transitioning to a sober lifestyle.

Older Generations:  Loyalty and Conscientiousness

The ‘mobilisation’ generation: 81 and older. The ‘thaw’ generation: 73 to 80. The ‘stagnation’ generation: 52 to 72.

Characteristics: patriotic, hardworking, committed, perfectionist, seeking guidance and support, collectivist, loyal to authority, law-abiding.

Practices of quitting alcohol:

 independence: adaptation and submission

 resistance to circumstances: conscientiousness, firmness of intention and intensity

 flexibility of choice: loyalty

'Obediently', 'dutifully', 'under escort' — these are the words which member of the three older generations use to describe their experience of fighting the addiction. Once they decide to quit, rather than explore how it can be done, they prefer to follow other people’s advice or submit to pressure:

Yesterday, I voluntarily submitted to being hospitalised in a mental health facility.

female, born in 1932

Escorted by the rehab centre’s counsellor alongside other patients, I was led to an AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] group meeting...

female, born in 1964

Even submitting to someone else's choice or pressure, one can be driven by one’s own sense of responsibility — which is often characteristic of older persons' mindset — and show perseverance, reflected in an impressively thorough and systematic approach to quitting alcohol:

Over and over again, I worked on a methodology which included, with variations and not necessarily in this order of priority, intellectual, psychological and spiritual approaches (AA meetings and literature, medical literature, and going to church); extensive physical exercise (swimming pool, dumbbells, tennis); reducing the frequency of drinking to a minimum and taking at least 10 to 14-day alcohol-free intervals; while having 'due respect for the enemy' and approaching alcohol with utmost vigilance and caution.

male, born in 1947

After a setback, older people tend to resume the same methods as they used before, even though they may consider an alternative:

I phoned Slava, a guy from the [AA] group and said that I'd relapsed and that day was my first sober day [after the relapse]... The next evening, I was already attending the AA group.

male, born in 1963.

After spending some time in search of other methods... I swallowed my pride, came back to the group meeting and finally started to sober up.

male, born in 1959.

Most older people are convinced that books shape one's personality. They tend to think of themselves as well-educated and thoughtful people, especially those who grew up during the 'thaw' and ‘stagnation’ periods. Compared to younger generations, they are more likely to read a lot:

Books were my fist passion, I binged on books... Everyone in my family worshipped books... Even during wild hangovers, I never touched books. [Damaging] books is taboo. They are sacred..

male, born in 1963.

Reading anti-alcohol literature was often their first step towards sobriety, and being an avid reader often helped alleviate one's craving for a drink. Yet on the other hand, books had contributed to alcohol addiction for some people who first started drinking to imitate literary characters:

I read a lot when I was a child. In particular, I loved adventure books about noble knights and duels ... high-society balls and receptions, partying hussars, secret assignations with fine ladies — all accompanied by lots of wine which gave the heroes their strength, determination and vitality. Then I wished I could grow up faster to be like them.

male, born in 1943.

‘Reform’ Generation: Confusion and Rationality

The ‘reform’ generation: 38 to 51.

Characteristics: rule-following, committed to obligations, nostalgia coexisting with a thirst for change.

Practices of quitting alcohol:

 independence of choice: submission

 resistance to circumstances: firmness of intention and intensity

 flexibility of choice: rationality

People of the 'reform' generation tend to be more independent and more likely to respond to 'gentle and unobtrusive suggestions' rather than strict orders. Nonetheless, they are prepared to trust and obey authority and find it easier to 'quit alcohol in the company of other people':

It was not easy; what really helped me was the church and the group meetings with other people like me who understood me and shared their experience, strength and hope ...

male, born in 1974.

Like the older generations, they tend to stay true to their commitments. There is a difference however, since their formative years fell during the period of massive change between 1985 and 1999. Born in a state which suddenly ceased to exist, they are often confused:

Who am I? A miserable egocentric drowning his heartache in alcohol. Now I realise that my complaint to the world, namely that I was raised a Soviet citizen but have to live in an entirely different country, is nothing but an excuse to get drunk.

male, born in 1975.

On the other hand, they are more accepting of change. Therefore, they tend to act rationally after a relapse and reflect on their earlier attempts to fight the addiction; based on the lessons learned and given a choice, they may change the method:

I had to choose between a local LTP [state-run rehab facility] and a Salus Centre in Moscow. I had my own ideas about LTPs and I chose the 'Russian-American approach' offered by Salus

male, born in 1975.

Millennials: Motivated Independence

The generation born between 1982 and 2000.

Characteristics: defiant of authority, doubting, seeking self-sufficiency and new experiences, confident but lacking perseverance.

Practices of quitting alcohol:

 independence of choice: free choice

 resistance to circumstances: intensity and isolation

 flexibility of choice: replacement and change of environment

Compared to earlier generations, those aged between 19 and 37 have a different attitude towards alcohol. They tend to experiment with it earlier but drink less and quit at a younger age.

Millennials have grown up and matured in an environment which supports self-reliance. Those born in this era of wide access to information need to feel that quitting alcohol is their own choice. Coercion will not necessarily work with them:

My relatives found out about my lifestyle and had me committed [to a detox centre]. But I was kicked out of the centre after 28 days for 'not cooperating'. I broke every rule, I did not trust any of the counsellors, and I refused to admit that I was addicted.

female, born in 1982.

They are more likely to accept unobtrusive encouragement from others: 

I am very grateful to that doctor for not trying to impose things on me but encouraging me to sort it out and to try and understand myself better. This was exactly the approach I needed.

male, born in 1982.

However, they rarely trust anyone completely and tend to question methods:

The recommendation to attend 'ninety meetings in ninety days' seemed like a punishment to me. I literally had to force myself every time and preferred to keep quiet during meetings.

female, born in 1986.

They often feel the need to isolate themselves from others and rely on their own devices:

I isolated myself from the world and the people. I went sober cold turkey, and it was a miracle that God helped me not to drink.

male, born in 1985.

In commenting on millennials' practices, the author of the study explains that while they may or may not be aware of the severity of their drinking problem, they tend to change something in their lives to get rid of the discomfort. 

This generation is the only one to use replacement practices, i.e. to avoid drinking by switching to benign activities which are not related to any addiction treatment methods. According to Belova, 'Younger people may be haunted by the feeling that alcohol deprives them of things they value in life and believe that quitting will help them reach their dreams'.

I used to take up odd jobs, like cleaning floors in supermarkets, packing vegetables or handing out flyers outside a metro station. At the same time, I was working on my degree paper and studying as much as I could. I'd cut all ties with my former drinking pals. In June, I successfully defended my degree and in September, I gave birth to a healthy daughter, Mashenka... These are the best things that have happened to me in my entire life...

female, born in 1987

Millennials tend to be persistent in fighting the addiction; many of their stories use phrases like 'being dead-set on quitting', 'struggling to stay in control' and 'fighting against myself'.


Study author:
Yuliya Belova, PhD in Sociology, HSE Laboratory of Studies in Economic Sociology
Author: Svetlana Saltanova, April 26, 2020