Alcohol, Internet Gambling Addictions Skyrocket in Japan

By Paul Gaita 08/21/14

A recent survey showed a sharp rise in addictions that are further exacerbated by social stigma.

pachinko machine.jpg
Pachinko machines. Shutterstock

According to a recent study, Japan’s affinity for alcohol, gambling and technology has also spurred a sizable increase in the number of individuals addicted to these particular pastimes.

A survey sponsored in 2013 by the country’s health ministry shows that an estimated 5.36 million people in Japan or roughly 4.8% of the country’s adult population, exhibit compulsive behavior in regard to gambling. The rate for many other countries stands at “more or less around 1% of the adult population,” according to a member of the study group that conducted the survey.

Gambling is an accepted everyday occurrence in Japan, where pachinko halls proliferate through the urban landscape, while programming devoted to racing of every type, from horses to motorbikes and speed boats, are regularly aired on weekend television.

Japan’s fascination for technological development has also sent the rate of Internet addiction to record-high levels. According to the study, some 4.21 million adults qualify as addicts in regard to Internet use—a number that has risen by 50% over the course of the last five years.

In 2012 alone, online users spent more than $5 billion on mobile gaming. Increased quality of digital content and the relative ease in accessing it through newer models of smartphones is considered the likely culprit. Internet addiction among junior high and high school students has been a subject of great concern in the Japanese media over the last few years, with government panels finding some 518,000 students in schools nationwide struggling with addiction.

Alcohol addiction has also seen substantially elevated numbers. The survey noted that more than one million people may be addicted to alcohol, compared with an estimated 830,000 just a decade ago. Little has been done to slow these rising rates or offer counseling and treatment for the growing number of addicts. “There is an absolute lack of preventive education for (gambling) addiction,” said Noriko Tanaka of the group Society Concerned about Gambling Addiction.

The issue is also rife with social stigma. Addictions are considered a dishonor to family names, and as such, are not openly revealed. “We are not calling for a ban on gambling,” said Tanaka. “But we must also discuss [its] negative economic and social impacts.”

Japan has taken strides to address Internet addiction among young people though “fasting camps,” which provide outdoor activities and counseling for children deemed to be online addicts.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.