The number of Koreans who sought medical help for the condition has increased from 2008 to 2012, from 63,821 to 75,925. The total cost spent to treat the condition increased from 136.3 billion won ($124.5 million) in 2008 to 217.5 billion won in 2012.
According to Dr. Lee Seon-gu at the National Health Insurance Service Ilsan Hospital, the elderly, especially those who have been drinking heavily for many years, are most susceptible to the condition, which can lead to auditory and visual hallucinations in severe cases.
“Seniors who are not active socially and economically have a higher chance of developing the condition,” he said.
|Men in their 60s and women in their 40s are most vulnerable to alcohol-induced mental conditions among all Koreans, a state-run health research institute says. (TNS)|
Women who experience depression during menopause can develop alcoholism, the doctor said. The most common reason why Korean women in their 40s and 50s sought medical help last year was for alcohol-related mental conditions, the doctor said.
“Women experience hormonal changes during their menopause years and it takes time for their bodies to get used to the declining levels of estrogen,” he said.
“The hormonal changes can cause many symptoms including mood swings, insomnia and depression. During menopause, it is common for women to feel anxious, or overly nostalgic for their younger days as they realize their child-bearing years are coming to an end.
“And some women turn to negative coping strategies such as alcohol abuse, which can in fact actually worsen many symptoms during menopause,” Lee continued.
“While alcohol can appear to help people deal with insomnia and stress in the short term, it is in fact a depressant.”
A depressant can block some of the messages traveling between the brain and the body. This can ultimately alter an individual’s movement, vision, hearing and even perception as it harms the brain and leads to depression, he explained.
Alcohol abuse is considered the second leading cause of dementia worldwide. According to South Korea’s Health Ministry, a heavy drinker is 7.42 times more likely than a person who does not drink to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
South Korea is notorious for its culture of binge drinking. In a report released by Euromonitor, a London-based market intelligence firm, last year, South Koreans drank 13.7 shots of liquor per week on average last year.
This makes them the heaviest drinkers in the world, beating Russians and Thais, according to the study.
In 2011, the health expenditures from alcohol-related diseases totaled 2.43 trillion won here, which made up 6.5 percent of all medical spending.
As dementia is considered a threat to Korea’s future economy, the Health Ministry announced plans last year to ban alcohol sales and drinking at universities, as well as alcohol ads on public transportation and outdoor properties.
Health authorities expect that the number of dementia patients will exceed the number of those aged 65 and older by 2024.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)