In binge-tolerant Japan, alcoholism not seen as disease

Sun Nov 15, 2009 11:20pm EST
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By Yoko Kubota

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - When Japanese civil servant Yoshiyuki Takeuchi saw himself lagging behind his peers at work, alcohol was the only thing he felt he could turn to, becoming the latest victim of an addiction poorly understood in Japan.

"People who started after me would go further in their careers just because they finished college," said Takeuchi, 50, who had to quit university as his family couldn't afford it.

"I tried to stop that sense of 'why always me?' by drinking."

As liquor consumption grew sixfold over the last 50 years in Japan to match its economic affluence, alcoholism became a growing but poorly grasped problem.

Alcoholic beverages are readily available at convenience stores and vending machines, liquor ads are often on evening television and building work ties by going drinking is common.

Katsuya Maruyama of Kurihama Alcoholism Center, a leading hospital for treating alcohol dependency, said Japan is too tolerant when it comes to drinking too much, which makes it hard for both society and alcoholics to realize they have a problem.

"There is no proper teaching on how alcohol can be dangerous, so no one knows alcoholism as a disease," he said.

That was how Takeuchi felt when he returned to work after six months in the hospital. Demoted and ignored by nearly everyone for a year, he said: "There was no understanding."   Continued...