Published : 2013-09-10 20:51
Updated : 2013-09-10 20:51
Known for their impulsive temper, Koreans may be no less likely than others to be drawn into various patterns of addiction.
Figures from the government and private organizations seem to support this unpleasant presumption. About 3.3 million Koreans, or 6.7 percent of the country’s population, are thought to be addicted to alcohol, gambling, online games or narcotics. Experts say that more than 10 percent of them need immediate treatment ― 220,000 for alcoholism, 50,000 for online games addiction, 60,000 for gambling and 10,000 for drug addiction.
Another alarming estimate puts the number of Koreans exposed to the risk of becoming obsessed with self-consuming substances or behaviors at nearly 10 million.
A characteristic trait alone cannot account for this high inclination toward addiction. More fundamental reasons may be found in the social atmosphere that allows easy access and lacks effective systems of prevention and treatment.
Korea may be the only industrialized country where liquor can be bought ― often even by minors ― at neighborhood stores 24 hours a day. It has the highest rates of Internet and smartphone use in the world. Central and regional governments have run lotteries and encouraged other speculative businesses to widen revenue streams.
It is virtually impossible for an addict to get out of his or her problem without professional counseling or treatment. But there are insufficient facilities to provide such services for addicts, many of whom are also unaware of their problem or reluctant to ask for help. In 2011, 5,521 people, a mere 2.5 percent of those presumed to be suffering from alcoholism, visited alcohol treatment centers across the country. The corresponding figures stood at 706 for gambling and 81 for narcotics. Little specialized help has been offered to those hooked on online games.
Experts estimate that addiction problems cause economic and social costs worth 109 trillion won ($100 billion) a year. They usually push individual patients into depression or other mental disorders, which are often followed by suicide attempts. The spread of various types of addiction is also likely to result in increased crime and reduced productivity.
Given these structural causes and the ramifications addiction has on society, the issue of addiction could be handled more efficiently in the social, rather than individual, context. In this sense, it is disappointing that no substantial effort has been made to tackle the problem since the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye’s administration, which pledged to fight addiction. A bill aimed at introducing tighter measures to handle addiction, submitted by a ruling party lawmaker earlier this year, has been shelved.
Some government officials and lawmakers seem sympathetic to complaints from relevant industries that strengthened regulations will stifle corporate activities, especially in the gaming sector, and hamper the economic recovery.
Surely, a fine-tuned approach is necessary to avoid overregulation, but this cannot be a reason for delaying or stopping the work to address the increasingly serious effects of addiction in a squarer and more comprehensive manner.
Deliberation should get underway now on the bill and government policymakers must work out a more effective system for curing addicts and helping prevent people from developing addictive behaviors. In this course, interministerial collaboration will be needed more than in any other policy area.