Over 150 Alcohol Treatment Centers to Open in Iran, Where Drinking Is Illegal

By May Wilkerson 06/10/15

Drinking in Iran can be punished with lashings. Repeat offenders can be put to death.

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In an attempt to tackle widespread alcoholism, the Iranian government is planning to open more than 150 outpatient alcohol treatment centers in the near future, the Washington Post reports.

Though not a huge number for a country with a population of 77 million, it’s remarkable given that alcohol has been illegal in Iran since 1979. Drinking is considered a “crime against God” and can be punished with lashings, and repeat offenders can theoretically face the death penalty. Exceptions are made for non-Muslim citizens, who are still banned from selling alcohol.

As the U.S. learned during Prohibition in the 1920s, banning alcohol doesn’t prevent people from drinking. In Iran, alcohol is readily available in a thriving black market that is estimated to rake in millions of dollars a year. Most of the product is illegally brewed at home or smuggled in from neighboring Turkey and Kurdistan.

Alcohol consumption generally takes place in people’s homes or at “inconspicuous gatherings,” and booze may be delivered directly to people’s doorsteps. “You don’t even need to leave the house,” a computer engineer told Reuters last year. “Nasser, the brewer, will deliver it to your door.”

Due to the lack of regulation, Iranian alcohol may be dangerous, with health risks including blindness or even death. Authorities say drunk driving is fairly common in Iranian cities.

Iranian officials in recent years have warned that alcoholism is rising in the country. According to 2014 statistics from the World Health Organization, overall alcohol consumption in Iran is low—less than 1 liter per person per year. But among those who drink, consumption is estimated to be around 25 liters per person a year, a higher rate than in many parts of Europe.

The government estimates that around 200,000 Iranians may be alcoholics—though the number could actually be much higher. Some believe Iranians are drinking more as a way to cope with the heavy restrictions placed upon them.

"Personal reasons are the most important factors which led to the spread of alcohol consumption in society,” said Deputy Health Minister Alireza Mesdaghinia in 2012. “Some think this is a way [to cope] with their frustrations."

Harder drugs are also a rising concern in the country. Iran’s Drug Control Headquarters estimates that three million people in the country are drug addicts, even though trafficking in Iran is punishable by death.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.