October 21, 2022
SEOUL – The number of people who have died in South Korea as a result of alcohol addiction has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic, with lonely deaths accounting for half that number, a survey showed on Thursday.
The Korean Academy of Addiction Psychiatry collected the data from local addiction treatment facilities across the country, which maintain registries of patients with alcohol use disorder.
Heavy drinking was responsible for 156 deaths in 2019, according to KAAP. The figure increased to 204 in 2020 and 215 in 2021, up 30.8 percent and 37.8 percent, respectively.
In 2021, the number of lonely deaths among patients with alcohol use disorder accounted for 51.2 percent.
KAAP noted that limited access to addiction treatment facilities and decreased government support for alcohol use disorder patients during the pandemic are associated with the high mortality rate and lonely deaths.
Professor Lee Hae-kook of the Catholic University of Korea, also president of KAAP, argued that patients with alcohol disorder, who are highly dependent on public health services, have been greatly affected by declining access to medical resources, many of which had been focused on addressing COVID-19.
During the two-year period, South Korea maintained strict social distancing measures. The country first imposed social distancing measures in March 2020, with most in place until May this year.
KAAP insisted that the country should strengthen its medical system to better support alcoholism patients in the future, as well as to prevent deaths from excessive drinking.
“There are only eight hospitals that specialize in alcoholism, the annual government budget related to alcoholism is around 1.4 billion won (US$979,000) since 2010,” Lee said.
The number of local addiction treatment centers currently stands at around 50, unchanged over the past decade, according to Lee. Facilities are also sparse, with an average of four workers at each center.
According to separate data compiled by Statistics Korea, the number of people who died from alcohol-related diseases reached 5,155 in 2020, with a mortality rate of 10 deaths per 100,000 people. It was the highest death rate associated with alcohol use, according to the statistics agency.
Among those deaths, those with alcohol-related liver disease numbered 3,941, accounting for 76.4 percent of the total. The number of people who died from alcohol-related psychological and behavioral disorders accounted for 21.1 percent.