In South Korea, the number of deaths caused by alcohol addiction rose significantly during the pandemic, half of which were solitary deaths.
Data collected by Statistics Korea revealed that the number of people who died of alcohol-related diseases reached 5,155 in 2020, with a mortality rate of ten deaths per 100,000 people. This was the highest mortality rate ever recorded associated with excessive alcohol consumption. In addition, the number of people who died of alcohol-related psychological and behavioral disorders reached 21.1 percent.
On the other hand, the Korean Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (KAAP) also gathered data from local addiction treatment facilities nationwide. Based on KAAP’s research, excessive alcohol intake was responsible for 204 deaths in 2020 and 215 in 2021, up by 30.8 percent and 37.8 percent, respectively, from 156 deaths in 2019. In addition, the number of solitary deaths of patients with alcohol use disorder accounted for 51.2 percent of the total in 2021.
KAAP also noted that the decreased government support for alcohol use disorder patients and the lack of addiction treatment facilities contributed to the high mortality rate and solitary deaths. KAAP Chairman Professor Lee Hae Kook of the Catholic University of Korea pointed out that most patients with alcohol disorders were dependent on public health services and have been hit hard by the decreased access to medical resources, which were mostly refocused on dealing with COVID-19.
There are only eight hospitals specializing in alcoholism, and the government’s annual budget related to alcoholism has hovered around ₩1.40 billion KRW (about $979,000 USD) since 2010.
— Professor Lee Hae Kook
Local addiction treatment facilities have remained at 50 for the past decade, with an average of only four workers in each center. As a result, KAAP called for strengthening the country’s medical system to better support patients with alcohol disorders and prevent deaths resulting from excessive alcohol use.
A large study on alcoholic consumption conducted in Korea with 4.5 million participants aged 40 and up revealed that “individuals who increased their alcohol consumption regardless of their baseline drinking level had an increased incidence of alcohol-related and all cancers.”
According to the American Cancer Society and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol consumption increases the risk of six types of cancer: mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast in women.
For each of these cancers, the more alcohol you drink, the higher your cancer risk. But for some types of cancer, most notably breast cancer, consuming even small amounts of alcohol can increase risk.
— American Cancer Society