Korea's Growing Addiction Problem

      December 15, 2012 08:13

      Korea is becoming a society of addicts who are hooked on alcohol, gambling, online games or drugs, a group of experts warns.

      Addiction Forum, which consists experts who treat people with dependencies, on Tuesday said there are 1.55 million alcoholics in Korea, 2.2 million gambling addicts, 2.33 million Internet addicts and 100,000 drug addicts, making up a total of 6.18 million people with dependencies.

      That adds up to one in eight. The figures were compiled by analyzing research data from studies by universities and government agencies.

      According to the World Health Organization, the alcoholism rate in Korea stood at 6.76 percent in 2010, 1.8 above the global average of 3.6 percent. In Japan, the rate was only 0.62 percent since people prefer beer, which contains less alcohol than the favorite Korean tipple soju.

      The rate of gambling addiction in Korea, according to a 2012 study by the National Gaming Control Commission, was 6.1 percent, more than double the global average and between 2.4 to 4.7 times higher than the U.K. (2.5 percent), Australia (2.4 percent) and France (1.3 percent).

      The number of Koreans placing bets at casinos and other gambling sites continues to rise, from 1.53 million in 2001 to 5.04 million in 2010, while the number of people gambling on horse racing grew from 13.36 million to 21.81 million over the same period. Revenues generated by lottery sales rose from W711.2 billion to W2.5 trillion (US$1=W1,074).

      Addiction Forum attributed the increase to rapid changes in Korean society compounded by other variables. One of the highest penetration rates of broadband Internet connection services in the world and the widespread use of smart devices stoke Internet addiction, while an increasing number of women joining the workforce leads to a rise in alcohol abuse especially among younger women.

      And the prevalence of casinos, and horse or cycle-racing tracks feeds gambling addiction.

      There has also been a surge in the number of people seeking treatment for addiction. Alcoholic patients increased from 72,938 in 2003 to 108,340 in 2010. The number of people being treated for gambling addiction rose from 519 in 2007 to 704 in 2011, up 74 percent.

      According to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, the number of Internet addicts hooked either on online games or social media rose from 1.74 million in 2010 to 2.33 million in 2011, up 34 percent in a single year due to the surge of smartphone users.

      Addiction Forum estimates that the socio-economic cost of treating addictions amounts to W109.5 trillion. That is a high price for society to pay compared to the social cost of fighting other problems such as smoking (up to W5.9 trillion) and cancer (W11.3 trillion).

      But they not only damage the lives of individuals but can also hurt national stability and competitiveness while putting youngsters at risk, Addiction Forum warned.

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