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The South Korean Drinking Problem

While Russians are often portrayed as the heartiest drinkers of liquor, surprisingly, they aren’t a match for South Korea. South Korea sits on the Korean peninsula that is near the north east border of China to Russia. It isn’t much of a boat ride between the two countries, but it’s actually astonishing that South Koreans drink twice as much liquor as Russians. The average South Korean of drinking age takes 13.7 shots of liquor a week while a regular Russian of drinking age only takes 6.3. The average American drinks 3.3 shots of liquor per week.

The drink of choice in South Korea is a fermented rice known as soju. Soju is normally between 25 percent ABV (alcohol-by-volume) and 45 percent ABV. Their alcohol consumption is beyond insane, but it hasn’t gone unpunished. South Korea actually has the highest rates of alcoholism also. It’s estimated that the annual cost of alcohol-related harm is $21 billion. Also, 40 percent of violent crime in the country is alcohol-related. But South Korea hasn’t done enough to control many of these problems that are plaguing the country.

When it comes to drinking in South Korea, there are actually rules based around a night of drinking. Generally, there is recreational partying with friends, but many South Koreans partake in a night of drinking each month for bonding. This is called hoesik, and can even be as common as every week. It generally involves Korean BBQ and drinking soju and beer with elders in the business. It’s a fantastic situation for people who want to learn more about each other, in fact, many Koreans only open up when they’re drinking.

There is even social pressure when coworkers are at the bar. For example, it’s disrespectful to deny an elder if they offer a pour of soju. It can be a mood killer if someone says no to alcohol. There’s a whole CNN article about the rules if you’re interested in learning more.

What’s even worse is that even celebrities are out promoting alcohol and drinking on television. A Korean idol. Jung Chaeyeon admitted she drinks alone very frequently on a TV show. The infamous kpop star PSY has also appeared in ads and music videos promoting soju to wide audiences, including a music video with American rapper Snoop Dogg.

The South Korean drinking problem has partially arisen due to their work ethic, but also due to their history. It’s up to them to see what happens next. But for now, they are facing the brunt of low birth rates and high alcoholism. They’re a very interesting experiment for the future.