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How common is alcohol in Korea?


Alcohol consumption has been a common practice in many cultures for centuries, and Korea is no exception. The country has a rich drinking culture that dates back to ancient times. The consumption of alcohol plays a significant role in both social and business settings in Korea. However, the excessive drinking habits of some Koreans have caused concerns about the negative effects of alcohol on public health and safety. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of how common alcohol is in Korea, including its cultural significance, consumption patterns, and government regulations.

Korean Drinking Culture

Drinking is an integral part of Korean culture, with many Koreans considering it a way to bond with one another. For instance, business deals are often sealed over drinks, and weddings and other celebrations are marked by drinking parties. Additionally, Koreans have a term for this phenomenon called “hoesik,” which refers to the practice of drinking together with colleagues or superiors after work. Hoesik is seen as a way to build relationships and show respect to others.

Types of Alcohol Consumed in Korea

Koreans consume a wide range of alcoholic beverages, including beer, rice wine, soju, and makgeolli. Soju is the most popular alcoholic drink in Korea, accounting for more than half of all alcohol consumed in the country. It is a clear distilled liquor with an alcohol content ranging from 16% to 53%. Makgeolli, on the other hand, is a traditional Korean rice wine with a lower alcohol content than soju.

Alcohol Consumption Patterns in Korea

The drinking patterns in Korea vary depending on the age and gender of the drinker. According to a survey conducted by the National Health Insurance Service in 2017, men aged 20-29 were found to drink the most frequently (5 days a week on average), while women in the same age group consumed alcohol the least frequently (2.4 days a week on average). However, women aged 60 or over consumed alcohol more frequently than men of the same age group.

Alcohol-Related Harm in Korea

Despite its cultural significance, alcohol abuse is a serious problem in Korea. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), Korea has one of the highest rates of heavy drinking in the world, with more than 20% of the adult population engaging in binge drinking. This has resulted in numerous alcohol-related health problems and social issues, including liver diseases, traffic accidents, and domestic violence.

Government Regulations on Alcohol

The Korean government has implemented several measures to combat alcohol abuse in the country. For instance, it has raised taxes on alcohol products to discourage excessive drinking and imposed stricter penalties on drunk driving. Moreover, it has launched various campaigns to raise awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol and promote responsible drinking.

Drinking Etiquette in Korea

Drinking etiquette is an essential aspect of Korean culture. Koreans have specific rules and customs when it comes to drinking with others, such as pouring drinks for each other and using two hands to receive or give a drink. Additionally, there are certain phrases that Koreans use when drinking together, such as “gunbae” (cheers) and “one shot” (drinking an entire shot glass in one gulp).

Alcohol-Related Traditions in Korea

There are several traditional events and rituals in Korea that involve drinking. For instance, during the Lunar New Year holiday, Koreans drink “sul” (alcohol) with their families as a way to welcome the new year. Another example is the “Bokbulbok” game, where players take turns trying to guess what is written on a piece of paper while drinking shots of soju.

Alcohol Advertising in Korea

The Korean government has strict regulations on alcohol advertising to prevent excessive drinking among the youth. For instance, alcohol advertisements are banned from being broadcasted on television before 10 p.m. Additionally, they are not allowed to use celebrities or sports stars to promote alcoholic products.

Alcohol Consumption Among Young People in Korea

Korea has been facing an increasing trend of underage drinking in recent years. According to a survey by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), the percentage of high school students who have consumed alcohol has steadily increased from 22.5% in 2008 to 28.5% in 2019. This has raised concerns about the negative impact of alcohol on the physical and mental health of young people.

Korean Alcohol Industry

The Korean alcohol industry is a significant contributor to the country’s economy, with several domestic and international brands operating in the market. Some of the most popular domestic brands include Jinro, Chum-Churum, and HiteJinro. Additionally, Korean alcohol exports have been growing rapidly in recent years, with China and the United States being the top importers.


In conclusion, alcohol consumption is deeply ingrained in Korean culture, with drinking playing a significant role in both social and business settings. However, excessive drinking habits have caused serious health and social problems in the country. The Korean government has implemented several measures to combat alcohol abuse, but more needs to be done to raise awareness about responsible drinking among the public. It is essential to strike a balance between enjoying alcohol as part of cultural traditions and maintaining public health and safety.

What percentage of Koreans drink alcohol?

In 2018, 60.6% of adults in Korea (aged 19 and above) consumed alcohol within the previous month, with 70.5% being men and 51.2% being women.

Do South Koreans drink a lot of alcohol?

South Korea is a country that has a strong drinking culture and is known for consuming alcohol at high levels. Drinking is a common activity that takes place in both informal and formal settings, such as with friends, family, and colleagues.

Do Koreans tolerate alcohol?

Drinking alcohol is generally accepted in Korean society, which has resulted in some people experiencing problems related to alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, many of these individuals are not even aware that they have an issue with drinking.

Why is drinking so normalized in Korea?

According to Korean culture, drinking alcohol is seen as a way to form closer bonds with others. Whether it’s building personal friendships or professional relationships, sharing a drink together is believed to strengthen the connection between individuals.

Why is drinking culture so big in Korea?

In Korean culture, alcohol is consumed during significant holidays and seasons, such as New Year, Rice Planting, and Day of Thanks, as part of a ritual to honor ancestors and elders. This tradition has been in existence since before 1000 AD, when foreign influences introduced alcohol to Korea.

Who drinks more Japanese or Korean?

The World Health Organization reports that South Koreans are the biggest drinkers in Asia, with those over 15 years old consuming an average of 10.9 liters of alcohol per year. South Korea’s per capita alcohol consumption is far higher than any other country in the region.

Future Outlook

Despite the challenges posed by alcohol abuse in Korea, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. For instance, there is a growing trend towards healthier and lower-alcohol options, such as non-alcoholic beer and fruit-flavored soju. Moreover, there are efforts to promote a more diverse drinking culture that emphasizes moderation and responsible drinking.

Impact of COVID-19 on Alcohol Consumption

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on alcohol consumption in Korea, with many people staying at home and drinking more frequently. According to a survey by the Korean Society of Addiction Medicine, the percentage of people who reported increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic was higher among young adults and those with existing alcohol problems. This highlights the need for continued efforts to promote responsible drinking habits during these challenging times.

Alcohol Policy Challenges

While the Korean government has implemented several measures to combat alcohol abuse, there are still challenges that need to be addressed. For instance, some critics argue that the government’s focus on punitive measures, such as raising taxes and imposing stricter penalties on drunk driving, may not be effective in changing long-term behavior. Thus, there is a need for more comprehensive and evidence-based policies that address the root causes of alcohol abuse.


In conclusion, Korea’s drinking culture is a complex and multifaceted issue with both positive and negative aspects. While excessive drinking habits have caused serious health and social problems in the country, alcohol consumption also plays an important role in cultural traditions and social bonding. Moving forward, it is essential to strike a balance between enjoying alcohol responsibly and maintaining public health and safety. The Korean government and society as a whole must continue to work together to address the challenges posed by alcohol abuse and promote a more diverse and responsible drinking culture.

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