Deaths from excessive alcohol use surged during pandemic in Korea

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Deaths from excessive alcohol use surged during pandemic in Korea

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The number of people who died in South Korea as a result of alcohol addiction surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, with solitary deaths accounting for half of that figure, a survey showed Thursday.

The Korean Academy of Addiction Psychiatry collected the data from local addiction treatment facilities nationwide, which keep records of patients with alcohol use disorder.

Excessive alcohol use 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 solitary deaths among the patients with alcohol use disorder accounted for 51.2 percent.

KAAP noted that limited access to addiction treatment facilities and decreased government support for the patients with alcohol use disorder during the pandemic are associated with the high mortality rate and solitary deaths.

Professor Lee Hae-kook from the Catholic University of Korea, also the KAAP chairman, argued that patients with alcohol disorder, who heavily rely on public health services, have been hit hard by decreased access to medical resources, many of which had been focused on tackling COVID-19.

During the two-year period, South Korea maintained strict social distancing measures. The country first imposed social distancing measures in March 2020, and most had stayed in place until May this year.

KAAP insisted that the country should strengthen its medical system to better support patients with alcoholism in the future as well as to prevent deaths from excessive alcohol use.

“There are only eight hospitals specializing in alcoholism, the government’s annual budget related to alcoholism has hovered around 1.4 billion won ($979,000) since 2010,” Lee said.

The number of local addiction treatment facilities currently remains at around 50, unchanged over the past decade, according to Lee. The facilities are also short-handed, with an average of four workers at each center.

According to separate data collected by Statistics Korea, the number of people who died of alcohol-related diseases reached 5,155 in 2020, with the mortality rate of 10 deaths per 100,000 people. It was the highest mortality rate associated with alcohol consumption, according to the statistics agency.

Among those deaths, people with alcohol-related liver disease reached 3,941, accounting for 76.4 percent of the total. The number of people who died of alcohol-related psychological and behavioral disorders accounted for 21.1 percent.

By Shim Woo-hyun ([email protected])


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