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Korea reports lower alcoholism rates

Written by | 16 Mar 2012 | All Medical News

World Health Matters – South Korea – by Gary Finnegan – A new study by researchers in South Korea has found lower rates of alcohol use disorders (AUDs), nicotine use, and mood and anxiety disorders among the Korean public compared to a sample of the US population.However, the research, to be published in the April 2012 edition of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, also shows that alcohol-dependent Americans are more likely to seek treatment than their South Korean counterparts.

This reluctance of Koreans to discuss their relationship with alcohol could lead to under-reporting of alcoholism.

The project was prompted by growing anecdotal evidence of increased binge drinking in Korea. As global power and economic might shifts east towards fast-growing Asian countries, officials are concerned that the rise in disposable income plus the pressure to increase productivity will fuel an explosion in alcoholism.

“People in low to middle-income countries are experiencing a lot of stress due to rapid industrialisation and urbanisation and are therefore likely to use substances more to relieve their stress,” explained Hae Kook Lee, associate professor at the Catholic University of Korea and corresponding author for the study. “Furthermore, westernisation might weaken the taboo for female drinking, especially in Eastern countries.”

Lee and his colleagues used nationally representative samples of the US and South Korean general populations to compare rates of AUDs, nicotine use, and mood and anxiety disorders between the two countries. Study authors also examined the rates and comorbidity patterns among individuals with AUDs who sought treatment in the preceding 12 months.

“Results showed that the prevalence of AUDs among Americans was substantially greater than among South Koreans,” said Lee. The 12-month prevalence of AUDs, nicotine addiction, and any mood and any anxiety disorders were 9.7%, 14.4%, 9.5% and 11.9% among Americans, compared to 7.1%, 6.6%, 2.0%, and 5.2% among South Koreans.

“The differences in overall prevalence of AUD rates between the two countries was largely due to prevalence among females, that is, drinking by women has historically been tempered by Confucian culture in Korea even though it is increasing rapidly now,” said Lee.

Howard Moss of the US National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) said cross-cultural epidemiologic studies like this are “extremely valuable”.

“Despite over thirty years of research emphasising the biopsychosocial nature of a wide variety of mental disorders, we see an over-emphasis of the neurobiological underpinnings of addictive disorders,” he said.

He said the comparison of South Korean and US data reveals the importance of appreciating the personal distress felt by addicted patients.

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