Covid-19 increases smartphone use, reduces drinking

Song Soo-youn  Published 2020.07.01  11:55  Updated 2020.07.01 16:19


The new coronavirus has made Korean people drink less alcohol but spend more time on online gaming and social media on smartphones, a survey showed.

The survey, conducted by the Korean Addiction Forum (KAF), aimed to find how the Covid-19 outbreak affected the use of addictive drugs and behaviors.

Celebrating its eighth anniversary, the KAF conducted the poll on 1,017 adults across the country from May 20-29 with the help of Hankook Research and released the results on Tuesday.

The results showed that after the Covid-19 outbreak, people drank alcohol less frequently. Compared with 54.2 percent of the respondents who said their overall drinking decreased after Covid-19, only 7.5 percent said their drinking increased.

The proportion of people saying they did not drink increased from 19.7 percent before Covid-19 to 31.3 percent after the pandemic. People drinking less than once a month also increased from 26.3 percent to 30.1 percent. On the other hand, people who drink two to four times a month decreased from 31.5 percent to 24.2 percent.

Covid-19 also affected the quantity of drinking. Forty-five percent of the respondents used to drink fewer than four glasses of alcohol, but the proportion rose to 52.9 percent after Covid-19. In contrast, people who drink more than 10 glasses shrank from 23.3 percent to 17 percent.

The pandemic forced people to spend more time on smartphones. While 44.3 percent said their use of smartphones increased after Covid-19, only 4.1 percent said their smartphone use went down.

The primary purpose of using a smartphone was “to communicate.” About 49 percent said their time using social media for communication increased, and 47.2 percent, on reading news, 34.6 percent, on mobile shopping, and 29 percent, on photos and videos.

People went on online gaming more, too. About 24 percent said they spent more time on internet games after Covid-19, compared to 16.3 percent who spent less time on online games.

Those in their 20s, in particular, said their time on online gaming increased. Among those in their 20s, 36.6 percent said their online gaming expanded, versus 16.7 percent who said it fell.

Covid-19 also affected gambling behaviors. The proportion of the respondents who said they spend more than one hour on gambling went up from 34.6 percent to 41.7 percent after Covid-19. Those who spend over three hours on gambling more than doubled from 3.9 percent to 8.4 percent.

By type of gambling, the use of lottery increased the most (68.2 percent), followed by stock speculation (27.3 percent), skill-based gambling (13.6 percent), screen horse racing (9.1 percent), and illegal internet games (9.1 percent).

The use of adult content, such as pornography, also increased after Covid-19. There was almost no change in the proportion of people who watched adult content less than once a month, but those who did so three or four times a month consumed more adult content.

Unstable mental health status, such as depression and anxiety, affected the use of online gaming or smartphones, the survey showed.

More than 45 percent of the respondents said their depression worsened after Covid-19, while 4.9 percent said their depression faded.

While 50.7 percent of the severely depressed group said their smartphone use increased, 43.9 percent of the mentally healthy group said the same.

About 45 percent of the respondents said their anxiety level got higher, versus 6.6 percent who said anxiety decreased. Anxiety also made people consume more online gaming content and use the smartphone more.

Covid-19 compromised sleep quality as well. Around 40 percent said their sleep quality worsened after the pandemic, but only 3.5 percent said it improved.

“The results show that shifting to non-contact society worsens depression and anxiety, which leads to excessive use of digital media and deterioration of mental, behavioral health such as addiction,” the KAF said.

The group called for measures to keep society connected face-to-face, such as programs to prevent addiction, increase healthy digital media activities, restrict gambling and graphic content marketing, and guarantee balanced analog activities.

Lee Hae-kook, a psychiatrist who serves as executive director of the KAF, introduced the survey at a WHO webinar during the presentation, “Republic of Korea: COVID-19 Pandemic & Change in Addictive Behaviors,” on Tuesday.

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