Expat Alcohol & Drug Problems

There are many positive aspects to the expat lifestyle – exciting job opportunities, the chance to experience a new culture – however, settling into life in another country can be challenging and frustrating. Dealing with a new culture, language barriers and homesickness can be hard, particularly if you have left behind family and a large network of friends.

Alcohol and Drug Risk Factors Among Expats

There are a number of factors or situations that place the expat at risk of dependence on alcohol or drugs. Primarily, there may be a family history of addiction and therefore a genetic susceptibility. This combined with new environmental challenges increases the risk for the development of addiction.

  • Company directors and executives may be expected to entertain clients and colleagues in bars and restaurants;
  • Many expats studying or working abroad may find themselves part of a circle of friends or colleagues where life revolves around bars and parties;
  • Young people studying abroad are also removed from home influences and parental supervision;
  • Pressure to meet high expectations at work can lead to coping mechanisms such as self-medicating with prescription medication, or alcohol and the use of recreational drugs;
  • The stay-at-home partner may feel isolated, lonely and depressed;
  • Wives with young children and partners of busy executives may find themselves stranded in a new country without their usual network of friends and family with whom to share their concerns and burdens;
  • The teenager at school abroad might experience peer pressure to try new drugs and visit bars;
  • Living in a country where alcohol is substantially cheaper than back at home can entice one to drink more;
  • Casinos and gambling machines may be more prevalent than back at home.

It is easy for alcohol to become a part of a daily routine and the prospect of giving up drink raises the prospect of being cut off from one’s friends. However leading this lifestyle puts individuals and their families at risk.

“One of the most significant predictors of alcoholism is occupation. Since expats, (who may be company directors, engineers, diplomats, and in general people who live or travel abroad) are dislocated from their homes, family and other support networks, this places them more at risk,” says Dr Margaret McCann, Chief Executive of Castle Craig.

Finding Alcohol and Drug Advice Abroad

Finding help can also be a problem. Workers might find it hard to discuss the problem with superiors at their company for fear of losing their job. They may be too ashamed to talk about their problem to friends or acquaintances who don’t really know them. They might be living in a country where English is not the main language and therefore worry about being able to communicate properly with a doctor or a therapist.

For ex-pats living in Eastern Europe or the Middle East there is less tolerance and understanding, even among the medical profession, of addiction and mental health problems. In many Arab countries alcohol is banned and there is no tolerance of alcoholism; in others the policy towards alcohol is erratic, and even asking about professional help for an addiction could be risky.

Addiction Treatment for Expats

Lead Therapist at Castle Craig, Tom Bruce, originally from the USA, says, “Substance abuse in the life of expats is as treatable as it is for those living in the same country all their lives. It is a matter of identification and a willingness to do something about the problem at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The good news for those who have moved abroad and are experiencing problems with addiction is that there is a worldwide network in the form of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Gamblers Anonymous (GA), Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and others. There may also be groups in English set up by other expats in your country.

What to do if you find you need addiction help for yourself or a family member abroad:

  • Look online (http://www.aa-europe.net/links.htm) or in the local newspapers to find your local AA, NA or GA group;
  • If you are worried about a family member contact our Admissions Department for advice about alcohol and drug addiction;
  • Find an English-speaking doctor. Most family doctors have experience dealing with addiction and can refer you to an English-speaking treatment provider;
  • Ask about therapists, psychologists or psychiatrists who have experience in treating addiction (in some countries this might be difficult);
  • If you can’t find the right treatment in your country or want to come to the UK for treatment then consider a residential rehab clinic such as Castle Craig.

Contact Us

Addiction is classified as a disease and is usually funded by private health insurance companies. Call Jillian Johnstone, Admissions Manager at Castle Craig to see if residential treatment can be arranged through your insurance plan.

News Articles Reporting on Expat Addiction:

Europe: http://www.expatica.com/nl/lifestyle_leisure/lifestyle/Addicted-expats_17073.html

Ireland: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article5992941.ece

Spain: http://www.eyeonspain.com/spain-magazine/expats-drinking.aspx

Switzerland: http://battlingforhealth.com/2010/10/expat-life-and-alcohol/ 

Barcelona: http://www.barcelona-metropolitan.com/articles/the-drinking-sickness/page-3.html

South Korea: http://www.koreaherald.com/lifestyle/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20110308000625

Iraq: The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/alcohol-returns-to-baghdad-862969.html