South Korea: Addiction Mutates and Permeates Korean Society

A revolting incident caused by the internet addiction has recently shocked South Korea, and the government and non-profit organizations are rushing for solutions. Korean bloggers share their analysis on the uphill battle against addiction.

Last week, a couple who starved their baby to death were sentenced to a year and six months in prison. The couple committed a negligent homicide by spending hours playing an online game where they raised a virtual child, while abandoning their real kid. Bloggers and mainstream media have expressed their disgust over the news and poured out worries about internet addiction.

One of the IT power bloggers from Computernlife shared his story of internet addition, hoping to help some of his audience who may have same issue. The blogger pointed to the enormous stress Korean society imposes on the individual that has driven people to addiction and that the Korean society’s intoxication with alcohol has turned into internet addition in case of younger generation.

일반 사회에서는 엄청난 스트레스가 존재합니다. 학생에게는 맨날 학교를 가서, 어른과 선생님과 존대를 해야되고, 친구들 사이에서 묻히지 않게 노력해야 하고, 성적을 잘 받아야 합니다. 직장에 다니는 경우에는 상사에게 안 찍히게 조심해야 되고, 압박을 견뎌내야하고, 가족을 걱정해야 하며, 동료들과의 경쟁에서 이겨내야합니다. 이런 것들 말고도 각자의 나이나 상황에 따라 너무나도 견뎌내야할 것들이 많습니다. 하지만 온라인에서는 책임감이 필요없고, 자신이 어떤 직책이나 의무를 가진 것이 아니기 때문에, 마음껏 활동을 할 수가 있습니다.

In real society, there is enormous stress you face. The students have to go schools everyday and pay respects to all the adults and teachers and at the same time try hard to keep up with his peers while still manage to get decent grades. In the work place, employees must struggle not to upset their bosses, survive from the pressure, worry about their family and win the competition among colleagues. There are so many things they have to bear in each respective age and situation. But in online space you don’t have any responsibility, duty and assignment imposed on you, you can do whatever you want.

술이 인터넷으로 대체된 것 뿐… 사회에서 주는 스트레스 해소의 수단 변화. 한 국은 다른 나라와 달리 상상도 못할 술 문화가 존재합니다. 이미 술 소비량이 다른 나라보다 훨씬 높다는 사실은 알고 계실 것이라 생각됩니다. 결국 사회에서 요구하는 압박이 엄청 심하고, 많은 사람들이 스트레스를 술로 해결 한다는 소리죠. 근데 요즘 세대는 그 술 문화가 인터넷 문화로 변화된 것이 아닌가 생각해 봅니다. 1990년대 인터넷이 보급되기 전 까지만 해도 한국은 부탄가스, 본드 등 청소년들의 약물 남용으로 문제가 심했습니다. 하지만 요즘은 완전히 싹 사라지게 되었습니다. 그 이유는? 인터넷의 등장 시기와 일치한 다는 점에서 판단하시길 바랍니다.

Alcohol’s place in stress release has been replaced by the internet. An unimaginable(-ly extreme) alcohol culture exists in Korea. Alcohol consumption is among the highest in the world. Korean people have been releasing enormous stress thrown on them from society by drinking alcohol. But when it comes to this young generation, the culture of heavy drinking mutated into internet addiction. In the 1990s when the internet was not popularly used, young group of people had drug issues of inhaling chemicals like Butane gas and glues. And now this group has evaporated. The reason? Consider that the time in which it vanished coincides with the spread of the internet.

A blogger Ccwwgg copy-and-pasted a news report from the Munhwa newspaper defining the mutation of addiction in Korean society.

사이버, 쇼핑, 주식, 성형,성(性) 등 신종 중독현상이 빠른 속도로 확산되고 있다. 이들 신종 중독은 마약 등 기존의 ‘약물형’ 중독과 달리 실생활에서 쉽게 빠져드는 ‘생활형’ 중독 형태를 띠고 있다. 경쟁과 스트레스에서 벗어나기 위한 과거의 수동적 중독과 달리 즐기기 위해 적극적으로 찾아나서는 능동적 중독 현상을 보이는 것도 주요한 특징중 하나다. 특히 기존의 중독층인 40, 50대만이 아니라 20, 30대는 물론 10 대까지 중독에 빠져들고 있다는…

Cyber(Internet), shopping, plastic surgery and sex addictions, these types of new addictions are permeating our society at a rapid speed. These new intoxications are different from the conventional ‘chemical addictions’ like the use of drugs. These new types are easily accessible in our everyday life and can be categorized as the ‘daily life addictions’. In the case of previous, passive addictions, people used to cling on to certain subjects to get away from stiff competition and stress. The new, active addictions, however, people so voluntarily search after these to enjoy themselves with these. While the majority of addicts were in their 40s and 50s in the past, now, people in their 20s and 30s and even teenagers are turning into addicts….

The destructive power of internet addiction is magnified by its’ alliance with gambling. While only one percent of the world population are believed to be gambling addicts, gambling addiction reached over four percent in Korea. Last week, the Korea Prevention and Cure Center for Gambling Problems told reporters that counseling requests for gambling addictions have doubled in recent months.

A blogger Hoo629 who is involved in the center’s work gave a disturbing picture of an internet gambling addict whose life got wretched by the online game.

Client: 35세, K씨…1남 1녀를 구고 있는 가장이며 인터넷 블랙잭 게임에 대하여 문제를 느끼고 전화상담을 요청한 사례이다. 내담자는 2달 동안 하루에 2-3회 정도 게임을 하였으며, 잃은 금액이 8천만원 이라고 하며, 8천 만원은 본인이 가지고 있던 돈과 대출받은 돈이라고 함.

Client: age 35, Known only as Mr. K…who has one son and one daughter. (He) Contacted the center about his addiction to internet Blackjack. He said for the past two months he gambled two to three times a day and lost around 80 million Korean won (USD 66,000). That money were his assets and loans.

Many bloggers are offering explanations on why Korean people are prone to addictions. A blogger Bminl commented that addiction fills voids created by Korea's ‘saving face’ culture and collectivism. Korea, like some other Asian countries, is believed to be a society where people tend to give too much consideration to the judgments of their families and acquaintances.

글로벌컨설팅기업 타워스 왓슨은 `2010 글로벌 인적자원 보고서(Global Workforce Study)`를 통해 한국 직장인중 `자신의 업무에 완전히 몰입하고 있다`는 응답은 6%에 불과했다. 전세계 수준인 21%에 크게 못 미치는 수준이었으며, 자신의 업무에 몰입하지 않거나(38%), 마지못해 회사에 다니는 직원(10%)은 48%로 전세계 수준인 38%를 넘어섰다…우리 사회는 실은 자기가 원하는 삶을 살 수가 없다. 누가 정해서, 누구의 강요에 의해서, 어쩔 수 없어서, 그래서 살고 선택하고 그 일을 하는 경우가 많다. 어린 시절부터 어디 공부가 좋아서 공부를 했는가? 학교에 갈 때는 그 전공이 좋아서 선택을 했는가? 그냥 외부적인 요인들 (성적이나 부모의 강요나 사회적 명성 등)에 의해서 실은 전공을 선택한 경우가 많다. 직장도 마찬가지다. 그 이후의 삶도 실은 이 눈치보고 저 눈치보고 이 사람 생각하고 저 사람 생각하다가 정작 본인이 무엇을 좋아하고 무엇을 원하고 무엇을 중요한 가치로 생각하는지 자신이 원하는 삶이 무엇인지 모르고 선택하고 살아간다. 그러다 보니 대부분 만족할 수가 없고, 다른 곳에 다른 무엇이 있는 것 같고, 그래서 현재 자기가 하고 있는 것에 눈을 두지 못하고, 자꾸 다른 곳을 기웃거린다… 그래서 모두 재미없게 살고 있는 것이다.

A global consulting firm, the Towers Watsons released the 2010 Global Workforce Study. In the survey, only six percent of Korean employees responded that ‘they are totally focusing on their jobs’. This percentage is way below the global average of 21 percent. (Negative) answers from the survey were ‘I don’t concentrate on my work’ (38 percent) and ‘I go to work because I have no other options’ (10 percent). This 48 percent (of negative answer) is higher than the global average of 38 percent… In our society, people can't have the lives they want. Often a life is chosen and imposed by others and formed as it is only because there is no other alternative. When they were young, no one studied purely because they liked it. They have chosen their majors not because they liked those majors. There are so many external reasons (like their grades, parents’ decisions and social status) played parts in decision making. And people get their jobs in a similar way. People always study others’ faces (when making decisions) and take other people’s opinions into consideration and eventually forget what they really like, and what they want, and what is most important to them, and continue living that way. That is why people cannot be satisfied by looking at what is outside from what they have. They don’t pay attention to what they are currently doing and look around for other things…And (almost) everybody ends up having a boring life.

The government and NGOs are working to help addicts. But in the Korean life situation where people are so focused on ‘saving face’, even the first stage of admitting problems with addiction is not an easy step.


  • Jireh Wilfred

    I really want to learn more and more about the Asian Pacific culture as well. Thank you for the article and please keep on informing me about this specific issue.


  • I am a recovering alcoholic, gambler, and other addiction problems. I published a book, Gripped by Gambling, where the readers can follow the destructive path of the compulsive gambler, a prison sentence, and then on to the recovery road. I am currently publishing a second book, Switching Addictions, that describes the challenges the addict encounters as they work toward recovery. I also publish an online newsletter, Women Helping Women, which has been on-line for more than ten years and is read by women around the world. I would like to suggest you add the link to the newsletter to your link page. (


    Marilyn Lancelot

  • Heath

    It’s articles like this that infuriate people of the west and encourage smug attitudes based on the belief in superior human rights, including people’s rights to use the internet as and how they please, whether or not those comments are unnecessarily rude (which itself, is not a crime or indictive of some made-up “moral decay”). Should we assume that there is a terrible addiction problem in China because recently a man went in with knives and brutally murdered a group of pre-school aged children? These are isolated incidents and truly not representative of the wider population… your attempts to smear the entire Korean population as being “deviants”, “addicts” who have been corrupted by having the privelige to be able to live in a <> society with a <> internet, are really patronising and one-sided. There is no discussion, or indeed, mention at all, of the positive benefits that the <> internet has brought the korean population and facilitating their interconnectedness, their <> of <> and other <> <<<>>> endevours. Instead, what we here, ad infinitum, is the same tired, recycled crap (excuse me, I will take the liberty of expressing myself bluntly while I still can) that the <> of “western” “style” freedoms inherently lead to “moral decay” that requires (whether it is directly mentioned or not) some form of “intervention”, and of course, “re-education”. People raised in countries that are taught to read between the lines, get really tired of the same repetitive, badly researched and badly argued writings that attempt to smear people simply for having the freedom, to decide for themselves <> what morailty it and isn’t, and what addiction is and isn’t. Sincerely, opinionated and <<<<<<>>>>>>> Australian.

  • Heath

    Excuse me, the previous post has seemed to have ‘removed’ automatically the words I wanted to emphasize most, which are in the following:


    Yeah, there’s a bit of a theme to those words.

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