Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Uncle and nephew: alcohol-related dementia

Sergei Jargin
Moscow, Russia


 Photography of empty alcohol bottles by Julian Turner
Photography by Julian Turner

This essay is a composite of several stories published by different authors on the subject of alcohol induced dementia. It concerns two men, an uncle and his nephew.

The uncle was more muscular than the nephew. The nephew had started binge drinking at the age of twelve and had obviously damaged his health, conscience, and intellect. The two almost never argued. Only once had the uncle thrown the nephew out of the window. But as they lived on in the first floor, the nephew landed in some bushes and was not hurt. When he came back to the apartment the uncle threw him again. Then the nephew borrowed three rubles and came back home with a bottle of vodka; thereafter the uncle never defenestrated him again.

They both worked in a garage. The uncle was a mechanic. The nephew was a driver, who transported foodstuff from a factory to shops. Like many other drivers, he drove about a mile away from the factory and then made the “weeding.” Milk and other products were transported in plastic cassettes containing three rows with six packages in each row. The “weeding” meant taking one package from the bottom row. He also stole small amounts of products at the factory and sold them to acquainted saleswomen. It did not bring much money, but was enough to buy a bottle of vodka after each working day. After work he went with the bottle and with other drivers to a beer house or home to the uncle.

In another incident, described by Andrei Kuchaev, the uncle and nephew drank vodka all night and got up late for work. So they went to a polyclinic to get a certificate for sick leave. Without waiting in the queue they entered the doctor’s office. While the uncle talked to the doctor, the nephew noticed on a shelf a bottle with about 200 ml of alcohol. He quietly took it, drank with one big swallow, and ate some ointment with it. The nurse noticed it:

“Why are you eating the ointment? It is for patients.”
“I am also a patient. Besides, I cannot drink pure alcohol without eating something with it; only the uncle can do it.”

The doctor could not bear it and wrote one sick leave for both of them. They went to the garage, showed the note for sick leave and then went home to continue binge drinking.

The uncle was a veteran from World War II. He had been at the front not far from Novgorod, where a large German offensive took place in the autumn 1941. He sometimes reminisced about the war: “The airplanes come, we hide in the bush; the planes go, we go out of the bush.” Then rumors about encirclement reached them. They threw their weapons away, put on their coats inside out to avoid being shot, and went into captivity.

The uncle, according to the Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov, was in a prisoner-of-war camp, where he worked as an electrician. On one occasion, after a good day’s work, he was called by the German guards, who poured him a large glass of schnapps. He gulped it down in one big swallow but took no food from the table. Another glass was poured out and he drank it again without eating anything, and did this four times. The guards were impressed; they gave him a bottle of schnapps, some bread and sausage. He came back to the barracks, gave the food to his comrades, and passed out cold. His working mates finished the bottle and ate the food.

Later the uncle served as “voluntary helper,” working with horses as an assistant to the military veterinarian. He had learned German at school, had read several books, and soon was speaking well. He often remembered his German comrades; one of them had the surname Hirsch (stag) and often translated it into Russian: “Olen.” He played football with local residents, gave food to hungry children, and said bad things about their own Party members. All these stories the uncle told to the nephew and to his other drinking companions, among them a student, who also drank heftily.

The uncle would also tell another story (partly reproduced in a novel by Alexander Fadeyev “The Young Guard”): a group of young people were arrested after a robbery of a truck (or trucks) transporting soldier’s gifts. Some people including voluntary helpers wanted to go to Germany but the retreat went swiftly and it was hardly possible. They were given certificates in Russian language stating that as prisoners-of-war camp they has refused to work. With such a certificate the uncle, when recaptured by Soviet soldiers, remained for a short time in detainment, then was taken into military service again and served until 1948 in the newly acquired Soviet territories: Lithuania and West Ukraine (Ostgalizien).

He came home with plenty of booty: porcelain, books with naked women, and a superb electric railway with which the nephew and his friends would play. After demobilization the uncle studied in Moscow and became engineer, a good one. But he went on drinking as before. One day he went to work and came back with a head injury that he could not account for. After that, his dementia has become progressively obvious.

Probably under the influence of the drinking student, the nephew, his brain also damaged by alcohol, began to think that having an uncle in his own apartment was an obstacle to his private happiness: women did not want to live with him supposedly because of the uncle. The nephew and the student started talking the mentally deficient uncle into believing that his life has no sense anymore, that dementia will only worsen, and that suicide would be the best solution.

They came in the evening, drank some vodka, and left another bottle for the morning. This was consumed next morning with black coffee, the uncle having had learned from the Germans that strong coffee washes vodka well down. When the bottle was finished they put a sling around the uncle’s neck and took him to a hook in the wall of the corridor. Later, the nephew gave the student a key to his apartment.

The authorities treated the case as a suicide. In fact at was at least assisted suicide and elder abuse, perhaps at least manslaughter. The perpetrators maintained that mercy was their main motive. His life has no sense anyway, they argued to justify their action, citing the unfavorable prognosis of the alcohol-related dementia. It is known, however, that alcohol-related dementia can be reversible, at least in part after a period of abstinence; but that we need to do more the weaker members of society, many of whom are disabled, homeless, and in danger of being taken advantage of and abused.


Suggested reading

  1. Jargin SV. Social vulnerability of alcoholics and patients with alcohol-related dementia: a view from Russia. Alcohol and Alcoholism 2010;45(3):293-4. http://alcalc.oxfordjournals.org/content/45/3/293.long
  2. Jargin SV. Letter from Russia: minimal price for vodka established in Russia from 1 January 2010. Alcohol and Alcoholism 2010;45(6):586-8. http://alcalc.oxfordjournals.org/content/45/6/586.long
  3. Jargin SV. Health care and life expectancy: a letter from Russia. Public Health 2013;127(2):189-90.
  4. Jargin SV. Alcohol consumption by Russian workers before and during the economical reforms of the 1990s. International Journal of High Risk Behaviors and Addiction 2013;2(2):48-50.
  5. Pillemer KA, Wolf RS, editors. Elder abuse: conflict in the family. Auburn House, Dover, Mass., 1986.
  6. Gupta S, Warner J. Alcohol-related dementia: a 21st-century silent epidemic? British Journal of Psychiatry. 2008;193(5):351-3.



SERGEI V. JARGIN graduated from the I.M. Sechenov Medical Academy in Moscow in 1983. He received postgraduate training in pathology at the same institution until 1986. Thereafter, he was a pathologist and lecturer at the I.M. Sechenov Medical Academy (recently renamed university). Since 1995, he has been a lecturer at the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia in Moscow. His scientific interests include social, medical, and pathological aspects of alcohol consumption, alcoholism and alcohol-related dementia, child and elder abuse and neglect. He is author of the book: Alcohol consumption in Russia 1970-2014. LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2014.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Fall 2014 – Volume 6, Issue 4
Fall 2014  |  Sections  |  Psychiatry & Psychology

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