Medical and Social Approaches to Alcoholism in Post-WWII Japan

Akira Hashimoto, History of Psychiatry, Aichi Prefectural University, Japan

“Medical and Social Approaches to Alcoholism in Post-WWII Japan”


Presented to the conference:

Alcohol, Psychiatry and Society

St Anne’s College, Oxford, 29-30 June 2017

See: All ‘Alcohol, Psychiatry and Society’ conference podcasts

Abstract: Alcohol consumption in Japan after the Second World War dramatically expanded by economic growth, increase of the national income and the change of the lifestyle, which was followed by drinking problems over the country. While the temperance movement, which had an enlightening and moral intention, gradually declined, the problem of deviant behaviour by alcoholics came to the fore after the war. From the 1950s a drug for the treatment of alcoholism, Disulfiram (Antabuse), was introduced also in Japan, but it does not seem to have been so effective. In 1961, the government stipulated by law that an annoying act and violence to the public by drunkenness should be controlled. In 1963, the government established Kurihama Byoin in Kanagawa as the first national hospital for psychiatric treatment of alcoholism. In contrast with the former closed mental hospitals, where alcoholics were not welcome as they were thought to be a “difficult” case, Kurihama aimed to “respect the human rights of the patients” and to “help them recover from alcoholism through collaboration between staff and patients”. The patients participated in a three-month rehabilitation-oriented program based on group therapy, and its daily treatment schedule was strictly controlled. It would be said that a hospital treatment model for alcoholics in Japan was established in the 1970s by “Kurihama method”.

On the other hand, the activity of Danshukai, a self-help group for alcoholics, became active from the 1950s and was indispensable to the care for alcoholics, for its regular meeting was believed to help them stay sober outside hospital. The early organization was modelled on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) established in the 1930s in America, but Danshukai later needed to be reorganized or to be "Japanized" in order that it might be widely accepted by Japanese patients and their family members. In 1963 Zen’nihon Danshurenmei was founded as the national self-help organization for alcoholics.

Both Kurihama and Danshukai played a crucial role of the treatment of alcoholism in post-war Japan. In a way, they had a complementary relationship. But according to the statement in the 1980s by the psychiatrist Saito Satoru, Japanese psychiatrists involved in alcohol medicine fell into therapeutic nihilism and were still dependent on Danshukai.



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