Expats and Addiction: Risk Factors for Destructive Substance Use

Expats and Addiction Risk Factors for Destructive Substance Use

Expats generally live in a challenging environment with less options for support than at home – which can lead to an increased risk for addiction. Here are the top 5 reasons expats may be more prone to alcoholism or drug addiction.

No one is immune from the destructive nature of addiction, but is the lifestyle of an expat particularly susceptible to substance abuse and addiction? All over the world expats live outside of their comfort zones – it can be exciting, lucrative and fulfilling. It can also be challenging and lonely, which could lead to substance abuse, often at a rate and intensity greater than at home. With increased substance abuse comes increased risk for addiction. Expats with addictive tendencies may quickly find themselves stuck in a destructive pattern.

These factors may put expats at risk for developing an addiction:

Predisposition: A genetic predisposition to addiction is a significant risk factor for anyone. When expats with this predisposition turn to alcohol or drugs to help them cope with the stress of acclimatising to a new life; or gain easy access to these substances – it often leads to disastrous consequences.

Stress: Moving abroad is stressful. Expat heads-of-family commonly have demanding careers, and their families are forced to start over in an unfamiliar culture. Language barriers make it difficult to meet new friends and find a sense of community. Pressure on families to make a good impression on locals and other expats in order to fit in is high. For the wives, it is often the responsibility of having to frequently cater to business parties and social gatherings with different cultural norms, find the right schools, and keep up appearances that creates stress. Previously routine tasks such as banking, transportation, and grocery shopping become time consuming and challenging. Even retirees, students, and young go-getters will find adjusting to a new culture stressful at times. Escaping the stress through substance use may take the edge off, but for some it can become compulsive and lead to addiction. Social Environment: Alcohol is a major part of social and business environments all over the world. Unlike the West, in Asia hard liquor and long, heavy drinking sessions are a characteristic part of business networking and client meetings.  In Japan, daily after-work drinking is practically a lifestyle. While throughout Asia it is seen as rude to refuse a drink, especially from someone respected or senior. Also, when feeling lonely expats may think that a bar or pub is a good place to go out and meet people, and unknowingly find themselves indulging in drinks much more often than they would at home – which could lead to addiction. Isolation: Isolation and addiction go hand in hand. Expats are often isolated from any close support network of friends or family. Constantly feeling different and out of place can be depressing and lead to further isolation. Stay-at-home spouses may become especially lonely in a new culture, and vulnerable to self-medicating with substances. Isolation makes it easy to hide behaviours and hard to find and reach out for support. It also provides the opportunity for an addict to delve deeper into addictive patterns without having to face friends and family. Accessibility: Depending on the location, expats may find that alcohol and even illicit drugs are cheaper than back home. With a lower cost of living, financial pressures that influenced the amount of drugs or alcohol one could use at home dissipate, leading to heavier consumption. Less restrictions on prescription drugs also put risk for prescription drug abuse high. While these risk factors are present at home, life as an expat compounds their intensity. Especially when a problem with drugs or alcohol is already present, a move abroad could trigger a more harmful and destructive pattern of using. Luckily there is help available for expats struggling with addiction that doesn’t always involve going home. At The Cabin we provide addiction treatment to a wide range of international clients. Contact one of our counsellors today if you are struggling with your substance use.