How to Recognize Alcoholism

Some 5 million Koreans between the age 18 to 65 were alcoholics according to 2001 figures by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. That was a massive 15.9 percent of the entire population, or 25.2 percent of men and 6.3 percent of women. Heavy drinkers who depend upon alcohol to the extent of losing their job or suffer alcohol-driven ailments account 2.5 percent. Experts estimate that the number of patients is likely to be nearer 30 percent of men if those who are in denial are included. So if you have a terrible urge to drink after just a day of staying sober and habitually go for a second round, it is safe to assume that you are one step closer to becoming an alcoholic. And those who feel that they can manage more than a couple of glasses of hard liquor are most likely fall under the medical criterion of alcohol addiction. Is Korean society too lenient on alcohol?


How do you know if you are an alcoholic? The following screening test for alcohol dependence -- widely known as the CAGE questionnaire -- could offer a much-needed hint. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking? Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking? Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking? Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (an "eye-opener")? If you said yes more than once, you may have a problem, and if you answered yes more than twice, you may already be an alcoholic in need of professional help. According to a survey by the Samsung Economics Research Institute in 2004, as many as 23 percent of 4,231 office workers were alcoholics -- men accounting for 23.7 percent and women for 14.7 percent respectively.

Stages of addiction

Alcohol addiction usually has four stages of development. In the initial stage, people start to drink more often and heavily with a tendency to drink whenever they are under stress. After five to 10 years of such behavior, they develop alcohol addiction and drinking becomes the norm. They then progress to the second stage, where they develop various alcohol-related diseases as well as depression, psychological insecurities and problems at home due to their heavy drinking. Once the second stage prolongs for two to three years, people begin to develop a physical dependence on alcohol, withdrawal symptoms and alcohol-driven complications. If they remain unchecked, people start to show withdrawal symptoms after just one or two days of abstinence and finally enter the last stage, where they cannot stop drinking at will. While alcohol addiction can be overcome to a certain extent with the patient's own determination in the first two phases, in the later two hospital treatment is needed.


Once people become addicted to alcohol, they become self-centered, arrogant and excessively sensitive to external stimulus. They pity themselves, fall into depression, are unable to accept reality and ultimately lose control over alcohol. Alcohol addiction also brings about an array of physical ailments, especially of the liver (e.g., fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver cancer), as well as sexual dysfunction, high blood pressure, diabetes, gastritis and ulcers. In the worst-case scenario, mental illness such as alcoholic dementia can result, while morbid suspicion about a partner's faithfulness and alcohol-driven personality disorders will slowly but surely isolate the sufferer from family, job and the rest of the society.

source: Chosun Ilbo