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Alcoholism Rising Amid Severe Economic Downturn

Posted January. 19, 2009 03:04,   


A man in his early 50s “Kim” visited an alcoholism clinic in Uiwang, Gyeonggi Province. Though wearing a somber face, he clearly explained his situation.

Kim was CEO of a viable construction company until last year. His company became cash-strapped in the latter half of last year due to the weaker won and rising raw material prices, and finally went under following the bankruptcies of partner companies.

His son was also forced to stop studying abroad and return home due to Kim’s aggravating financial situation.

Kim then turned to the bottle. He said that when drunk, he turns violent and uses abusive language. After much persuasion from his wife, Kim visited the clinic and was diagnosed as an alcoholic.

○ Rise in alcoholism

Feeling the pinch from the economic slowdown, more people are trying to drown their sorrows through booze, raising the alcoholics.

According to the National Health Insurance Corp., the number of alcoholics increased 23 percent the past two years from 147,886 in 2006 to 171,308 in 2007 and 182,000 last year.

Between September and December last year, when the global financial crisis began spreading to the real economy, the number of those dependent on alcohol rose 7.4 percent to 64,215 from the same period the year before (59,785).

Kim Seok-san, director of Dasarang Clinic which specializes in alcoholism, said, “The number of people who sought counseling for alcohol dependency rose to 1,805 last year from 1,063 in 2007. The number of hospitalized alcoholics almost quadrupled from 147 in 2007 to 679 last year.”

“A growing number of people say they became dependent on alcohol after being laid off and failing to finding jobs.”

○ Bracing for a deteriorating real economy

Alcoholism affects not only low-income earners but also those in the high-income brackets, such as CEOs of smaller companies and former executives of large corporations. The sudden change in status leads them to alcohol.

A case in point is a 47-year-old former department head of a large company. Before being laid off in 2007, he earned an annual salary of 70 million won (73,684 U.S. dollars).

The man struggled to find work thereafter, failing to get a job as a taxi or proxy driver. His marriage ended in divorce. After losing both his job and wife, he turned to alcohol and ended up in the hospital for alcoholism at the end of last year.

When people lose their jobs and fail to find work, drinking is often an escape from their troubles. Experts warn that habitual drinking can result in alcoholism, however.

With the economy expected to further slow down this year, society as a whole should care more about those who suffer from alcoholism, they said.

Park Woo-gwan, chairman of Korea Christianity Prohibits Alcoholism Headquarters, said, “The number of potential alcoholics who need immediate attention is three million. That of alcohol abusers who pose problems at any time is six million to seven million.”

“If the real economy deteriorates further, the number of alcoholics will rise. So countermeasures on a social level are needed.”