One in eight Koreans are addicted to something, according to the Korean Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.
The spread of smart devices offers increasing temptations into addiction, from online games to simply staring at the devices themselves every two minutes and checking social media updates.
Prof. Cho Hyun-seob of Chongshin University said, "With more people using smartphones than ever, we see many middle-aged and elderly people who are addicted to shopping, social media and games."
A survey by the National Information Society Agency showed that 12.9 percent of people in their 60s confessed to excessive dependence on smartphones last year, up from 11.7 percent in 2016.
People in this age group are mostly addicted to messenger apps and reading news.
Why do people get addicted late in life? "Housewives whose children grew up and left home, people whose presence at work is under threat or who are recently retired, and the elderly who live alone -- these people tend to feel lonely and are vulnerable to addiction, as well as people who like new things like early adopters," said Noh Sung-won at Hanyang University Medical Center.
"When you are older, you tend to have more time and money to spare. It starts off as a hobby, and then people get hooked and spend more money, time and effort on it until it becomes an addiction," he added.
Older age groups have more access to a wide range of things they can get addicted to as they have more time and money. "In case of middle-aged people who get counseling for addictive disorders, we find they are addicted to a whole range of different things, from social media to mountain hiking, tennis, and pornography," Cho said.
These addictions are not always easy to recognize. Alcoholics simply crave drink and often evidently ruin their life and health with alcohol, suffering clear signs of intoxication and obvious withdrawal symptoms. But what about tennis, or texting? Here anxiety when separated from the addictive activity is often the only clue.
Breaking out of addiction requires more than sheer human will. Even the most confident people who swear they will never do it again easily end up relapsing. This is because constant stimuli dull the pleasure centers of their brain and compromise their ability to remember and make judgments.
Rehabilitation from addiction has to be accompanied by counseling or medication.