Create agencies to treat addictionsThe bill on prevention, control and treatment for addictive behaviors is a basic law to help fight various addictions.
It does not target the gaming industry as some might believe. It includes rhetorical terms that could restrict access to computer and online games, but various other existing laws on promoting the gaming industry and that market can counterbalance any potential damage.
Administrative regulations and punishment alone cannot treat addiction. It can be contained through comprehensive treatment and a rehabilitation framework based on a public health and welfare perspective. The new law is aimed at establishing a state-sponsored health and welfare system to protect, treat and rehabilitate compulsive behaviors.
Advanced societies put forth major funding, manpower and resources toward fighting addiction and the problems associated with it.
South Korea severely lacks professional workers and facilities. Resources and regulations are spread out over various public offices, and measures are limited to administrative regulations. It is necessary to create an administrative control tower to deal with addiction.
The law can be used as a basic guideline for the government to better attend, respond to and coordinate policies, and come up with actions to address problems associated with addiction.
Gaming addictions have been included in the law because addictive behaviors like compulsive gambling can generate similar symptoms, contributing to violence and depression, just like addictions to drugs and alcohol.
A gaming addiction is not simply a reference to passion and preoccupation with a certain subject. It refers to clinically obvious changes in one’s mental state, which includes an increase in the neurochemical known as dopamine in the brain. Addiction and dependency deepen when a person gains psychological reinforcement and craves for more.
Just as substance abuse, addicts cannot stop voluntarily and experience uncontrollable cravings as well as anxiousness, anger and depression when they feel deprived.
Excessive gaming can lead to serious social withdrawals and poor social skills. Addicts can be easily defined among drinkers. There is a clear difference between a person who drinks for merriment and a compulsive drinker who needs professional help. Game addicts require similar supervision and therapy.
Whether it is biological or environmental, an addict experiences a change in brain chemistry. Once that activates, one cannot cut off oneself from the addiction independently.
The law does not aim to regulate the majority of people who play for pleasure. It does not interfere with individual choices and freedom. It targets those who are powerless to addiction to ease the pain and burden on their families. It is misleading to claim the law is placing gaming and harmful drugs in the same category. Gaming addiction has been included in the law because neurochemical and clinical symptoms similar to those seen with addiction occur.
South Korea is one of the world’s leaders in information technology and the game industry. It must be pre-emptive in its efforts to protect against harm and ill effects from technology. Games that do not cause clinically addictive symptoms are unrelated to these regulations. Addiction from compulsory drinking and gambling generates astronomical social and economic costs. Prevention and treatment to ensure the mental health of a growing generation is important.
Addiction will pose serious health and welfare challenges for our society in the future. We need a basic law that goes beyond regulation and constraints to comprise prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and management of addictions.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor in the psychiatry department of Incheon St. Mary’s Hospital, the Catholic University of Korea.
By Ki Sun-wan