23 Apr Japan Drowning under a Deluge of Addiction
Waves of addiction are a public health crisis that all nations must deal with from time to time. For example, in the United States there is currently much concern about the shocking growth in heroin consumption. It is feared this disturbing development may lead the country into a new sordid age of excess, reminiscent of the crack and methamphetamine plagues of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Sudden increases in a particular type of drug abuse or compulsive behavior aren’t all that common, and when they do occur they usually do so in isolation, with only one new trend happening at a time. But the unfolding situation in Japan is breaking all the rules, and the consequences for that country’s society and economy could be catastrophic.
Three Addictions are Much Worse than Just One
Based on the results of a 2013 study carried out by the Japanese government’s Ministry of Health, it appears the nation is undergoing three simultaneous epidemics of addiction. Researchers responsible for this project were alarmed to discover that:
- There are now approximately 5.3 million problem gamblers in Japan, which represents an alarming 4.8 percent of the adult population. To put this in perspective, the normal rate for problem gambling in most countries hovers somewhere around one percent, and even in the gambling-crazy United States the rate was only at 2.3 percent at the time of the most recent measurement.
- The rate of Internet dependency among Japanese adults has risen more than 50 percent over the past five years. At present, Japan has 4.2 million adult Internet addicts, which represents about 3.8 percent of the nation’s population.
- Over the last decade, the number of alcoholics in Japan has increased from 830,000 to more than one million. This represents a jump of nearly 20 percent in relation to an addiction that is known to be relatively stable and unchanging in its frequency of occurrence.
In isolation, each of these dependency problems would present a huge challenge to Japanese policy makers and public health officials. But with everything happening at the same time, Japan is undergoing an epic descent into unhealthy compulsive behavior. Even during the best economic times – which are a distant memory in Japan – the financial resources required to treat and rehabilitate so many casualties of addiction would have stressed the country to its breaking point.
When massive public health problems threaten a nation’s well-being, substantial preventive intervention is the only sensible solution. Even if there are too many addicts to treat effectively at present, it might still be possible to starve these epidemics to death over time by cutting off their supply of fresh victims. But tragically, preventive education and intervention are woefully lacking in Japan, especially with respect to gambling. In Japan, addiction has traditionally been seen as a sign of moral weakness and a source of personal disgrace, and as long as preventive campaigns remain underfunded – to the extent they exist at all – it will be exceedingly difficult for medical authorities and government health officials to break through the walls of silence and secrecy that allow addictive behaviors to run amok.
When Compulsive Behaviors Collide
Compulsive gambling and Internet addiction are not entirely separate problems. Legalized gambling has been widespread for a long time in Japan, but the ongoing explosion of online betting and gaming options have made it easier than ever for Japanese citizens to gamble incessantly without restraint or inconvenience. Smart phones, iPads and tablets have proliferated in Japan, and in 2012 alone the nation’s bettors spent five billion dollars playing the odds on mobile gaming websites.
All in all this sets up a classic interactive dynamic: Internet addiction puts active gamblers closer to temptation on a regular basis, while mobile wagering opportunities give Internet addicts the perfect excuse to get online and stay there for extended periods of time, compulsively involving themselves in an exciting and thoroughly addictive activity.
It is not known how many of Japan’s gambling addicts are also Internet addicts, but the number is believed to be substantial. Common sense would suggest Japan’s gambling and Internet addiction epidemics must be nourishing and reinforcing each other, and there are likely hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens in desperate need of counseling and rehabilitation for both of these problems.
Addiction in the Digital Age
Japan’s descent into the madness of addiction has seemingly been aided and abetted by the country’s fascination with modern digital communications technology. This may not explain the recent increase seen in the number of problem drinkers (unless there is a hidden dynamic at work), but it obviously drives Internet addiction and most definitely makes it harder for compulsive gamblers to stay away from the source of their self-destruction.
Since the digital takeover of planet Earth is continuing, it is conceivable that Japan’s runaway addiction problem will become the world’s problem in the very near future. Internet gambling is notoriously difficult to control through regulation, and the social, cultural and economic forces pulling every nation’s population into a permanent daily relationship with online reality are irreversible and irresistible.
Japan will face serious consequences from its spiraling outbreak of multi-addiction, and how they choose to handle these daunting challenges will set an example for other nations forced to deal with digitally-driven addiction in the years to come. But whether that example will show others what to do or what not to do remains to be seen.
Drug addiction is a progressive and deadly disease.
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