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In a bid to reduce drinking in Japan, a health ministry team is conducting the country’s first nationwide study on the hazards of alcohol consumption on health and human relations, researchers said Wednesday.

Japan is considered a nation indulgent toward drinking, with a traditional belief that consuming spirits can be good for health.

But amid the prolonged economic slump, many people are concerned about an increase in the number of alcoholics and worsening cases of drunken driving and sudden deaths after binge drinking. Many people become physically ill, and others get violent when drunk.

The study, being conducted on 3,500 randomly selected adults nationwide, is scheduled for completion by next March. The researchers will make house calls to find out how frequently and how much alcohol the interviewees drink.

They will also gather information on the interviewees’ family and employment conditions, as well as their record of illnesses.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry researchers will ask questions to determine if those surveyed are alcoholics and to see if alcohol had any impact on their daily lives, such as on their relationships with family members and coworkers.

“People who repeatedly drive drunk are likely to be alcoholics,” said Susumu Higuchi, head of clinical studies at the government-run Kurihama Hospital and leader of the research team.

“Education and treatment are necessary, instead of just imposing criminal penalties,” Higuchi said. in Japan, those measures are still inadequate.

“I believe this survey will show the public the negative side of alcohol and also serve as the basic data for policymaking,” he said.

According to a national survey on nutrition the ministry conducted in fiscal 2001, 7.5 percent of male adults consume an average of three or more “go” servings of sake a day and 0.8 percent of female adults do so. One “go” is about 180 ml.

The 2001 survey estimated there were over 2 million alcoholics in Japan. But no data are available on the exact number or conditions related to alcoholism in the society, which is known for being lenient toward drunkards.

In 2001, about 13,000 people were taken to hospitals in ambulances for severe drunkenness.