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How it was: On the work of sobering-up centers in the USSR
How it was: On the work of sobering-up centers in the USSR

A cold bath, a towel with liquid ammonia in your face and the threat of dismissal from work - these are far from all the methods of treating Soviet sobering-up centers.

Narcologist, a plump woman in age with short hair sits at a long table in the assembly hall. Ten centimeters away from her - a microphone, into which she speaks in a monotonous voice about the danger of alcoholism, a few meters away in chairs are dozens of unkempt men with wrinkled drooping faces, who have not yet fully recovered from another hangover.

“I'll start with a friend who has been hit more than once. Here is Nikolai Ivanovich Gulepov. Stand up please. For the eighth time you are in a sobering-up station, for the eighth time! We will have a very serious conversation! You were treated by a narcologist, and what, do you continue to drink?"

Moldavian SSR

He, like a child, makes excuses that he was treated, did not drink for eight months, but then stopped the treatment and took up the bottle again. The doctor promised to treat him forcibly if he does not take up the treatment himself, but then another patient takes the side of the "patient".

“Are you sure you are helping with this treatment? I was treated just, and I want to say that it affects the genitals, affects the liver!”, - the man is indignant.

"This vodka affects!", - the doctor objects.

This is how the standard preventive conversation took place in the Soviet sobering-up station, which were in almost every city in the USSR, and were liquidated only in 2011. How did they work and how did they bring Soviet drunkards to life, and what has become a modern replacement for sobering-up centers in Russia?

The first drunk shelters

Sobering-up stations appeared in the Russian Empire in the early 1900s, one of the very first opened in Tula under the name "Shelter for the drunk."

In a small brick building with several hospital beds inside, they took everyone who could barely stay on their feet from drinking alcohol or even fell asleep on the street in the cold - this was the job of the police or a specially hired coachman, writes the Dilettant magazine.

In the "shelter" new guests were fed, allowed to sleep, and in the morning they were allowed to go home. They soldered drunkards with brine, sometimes they gave them ammonia, less often they did "subcutaneous injections of strychnine and arsenic", the only entertainment was a gramophone. Not only men, but also women fell into such shelters. Sometimes drunk people with children ended up in the sobering-up center - in this case, the “orphanage” had a children's department, where the child could wait for the “recovery” of the parent.

the USSR

“During the first year of the orphanage's operation, street deaths from opiate in Tula decreased by 1, 7 times. In 1909, 3029 people were treated in the shelter, 87 in the outpatient clinic, "the percentage of successful cure" reached 60, 72%, "TASS reports.

By 1910, similar establishments began to open throughout the country, but they all worked only until the 1917 revolution.

References and cold baths in the USSR

Sobering-up centers again began to open across the country in 1931, policemen also gathered drunken people along the street, but this time they did not stand on ceremony with alcoholics:

“We hardly manage the patient, he rests, swears, gets into a fight. The police officers on duty and the paramedic, experienced people, quickly tame him: they knock him down on the floor, a towel dipped in ammonia, put into his hat and put on his face. A wild cry, but it's already half tamed. It is handed over to two hefty women dressing room. They knock him down on the sofa and strip him naked in one minute. Clothes are immediately removed from the back through the head, and several buttons are rolled back to the side. Then they are dragged into a cool bath, washed with soap and a washcloth, wiped off and, humbly, are led into the bedroom.A naked man is always more humble than a dressed man, which cannot be said about women,”wrote the doctor of the Narkomzdrav polyclinic, Alexander Dreitser, in his book“Notes of an ambulance doctor”.


After that, the "patient" was examined by a doctor for injuries and sent to sleep on a bed. All things and money were copied and put in a special bag, in the morning all things were returned. The service of staying in the sobering-up center was not free - from 25 to 40 rubles (the average salary in 1940 was 200-300 rubles) was charged from a drunkard, "depending on the degree of his rampage," Dreitser wrote. In exchange for the collected money, he is given a receipt: for "medical care."

The drunkard's problems did not end there - the law enforcement agencies also reported to the drunkard's place of work about the stay in the sobering-up center, for which the unfortunate worker could be deprived of the bonus or fired. Students who ended up in the sobering-up center were also threatened with expulsion from the institute. Many of those who stumbled did not want such serious consequences, so many of them offered bribes to the police so that they would not send a notice.

From the series "Sobering-up station in Cherepovets"

If a citizen was taken to a sobering-up center three times a year, he was sent to a narcological dispensary for examination and treatment for alcoholism, and he was also obliged to attend conversations conducted by employees of sobering-up centers and narcologists - for this, the institutions had special departments for the prevention of drunkenness.

Pregnant women, minors, disabled people, military and police officers, as well as Heroes of the Soviet Union and Heroes of Socialist Labor were not taken to the sobering-up center; they were taken to their duty station, hospital or home.

All these measures, however, did not help - according to the recollections of Mikhail Gorbachev's assistant for international affairs Anatoly Chernyaev, since 1950, alcohol consumption has quadrupled. 2/3 of the crimes were committed in a drunken state, and the main reason for Chernyaev was the increase in the production of alcoholic beverages.

From the series "Sobering-up station in Cherepovets"

Since May 30, 1985, according to the order of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, all drunken people whose appearance “insulted human dignity and public morality” was taken to the sobering-up centers - they were mainly found on the streets, in squares, parks, train stations, airports and other public places. Minors were taken away only in exceptional cases - if the identity and place of residence were not established. It was forbidden to pick up foreign diplomats; when such persons are found, "the senior of the crew reports this to the person on duty at the city district organ and acts in accordance with his instructions."

With the collapse of the USSR, the number of sobering-up stations began to gradually decrease, in 2010 President Dmitry Medvedev canceled the 1985 order, and in 2011 all special institutions were liquidated.

The fate of modern alcoholics and sobering-up centers 2.0

With the closure of the sobering-up centers, people in severe alcoholic intoxication or alcoholic coma were taken to ordinary hospitals. If desired, relatives of a person in a state of alcoholic intoxication can call doctors from private clinics - they are taken out of the binge with the help of drugs and droppers, such a service can cost from 1.5 thousand rubles. ad infinitum, such institutions do not have a single price list.

Courier Maxim (name changed at the request of the hero) ordered a private sobering-up station for his girlfriend Elena in September 2020 - according to him, he and his friend changed several bars overnight, in one of them a man met Lena, she drove away in a state of intoxication Maxima and went to the stranger's home.

Patient of the medical sobering-up station of the Khimki Department of Internal Affairs of the Moscow Region

“She disappeared for a day, the next evening an unknown girl brought her to me and said that she had been pumped up not only with alcohol, but also with drugs. Her lips were all blue, she didn’t react to anything - well, I called a sober at home, two doctors came, did an EKG, put on an IV. They really wanted me to send her for treatment to their private clinic, and demanded 140 thousand rubles for this. I didn't have that kind of money, as a result, they took 15 thousand rubles from me for a one-time trip,”Maxim recalls.

According to him, Elena woke up a few hours later, remembered nothing and went to work as if nothing had happened.

In some cities of Russia, for example, Chelyabinsk, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod, local authorities, on their own initiative, began to reopen sobering-up facilities, money for them was allocated from the regional budget. Only people with moderate intoxication are taken there - they are also examined by doctors, and if urgent medical attention is not needed, they are left to wake up in one of the beds.

Patient of the medical sobering-up station of the Khimki Department of Internal Affairs of the Moscow Region

On January 1, 2021, the law on the return of sobering-up centers came into force. Police officers will bring to the sobering-up centers all citizens found in public places in a state of alcoholic, drug and toxic intoxication, who cannot move and navigate in space. They will also deliver drunk citizens from houses and apartments, but only if people living with drunks write a statement on them and if the police decide that an alcoholic or drug addict can harm the life and health of others or damage property.

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