From vacation to addiction backpackers returning home as alcoholics

Travelling for a summer after university is commonplace with today’s youth. They grab a backpack and head to continents unfamiliar in search of adventure – and usually parties. And the rate of these travellers returning home with an addiction to alcohol is rising quickly – which travellers are at risk?

How extended travel can lead to an addiction to alcohol 

When a person thinks about vacations and travel, the word alcohol may be included – but rarely is addiction or alcoholism. However, when it comes to extended travel, addiction and alcohol must be thought about. This is because, in the most popular destinations for youth (Southeast Asia, South America, Eastern Europe), alcohol is widely available and is quite cheap when compared to western countries. Thus, travellers drink more, and in turn, more and more young travellers are returning home from their gap year or extended vacation with an addiction to alcohol.

Short Term Travel

These young travellers (often called ‘backpackers’) leave their homes for an extended vacation, travelling from one country to the next, meeting new people, partying, and getting drunk. Once they are ‘free’ on vacation, drinking alcohol does not have to mean only on Fridays and Saturdays. With this new freedom, it can be every day; morning until night. This may seem like fun and a once in a lifetime experience, but what is going on in the traveller’s body is a different story. Each time a person consumes alcohol, their body builds a tolerance to it; meaning that the next time they get drunk, they will need more alcohol to get the same desired feeling. This building of a tolerance will continue until they stop consuming alcohol for a period of time.

Longer Travel

As the traveller’s vacation continues on, their partying often does too. Each and every place they go to has new people to meet and new places to party at. Consuming alcohol can make communication easier, which allows travellers (often travelling alone) to build up that ‘liquid courage’ to mix and mingle more than they might otherwise. And, now that a traveller has been on vacation for quite some time, they will probably need a larger-than-average amount of alcohol to get them drunk. To them, however, it’s ok; because the price of alcohol is not a problem and ‘they are on vacation’. If they have been drinking on a consistent basis since they left home, it can be said that by this point they are abusing alcohol and may be bordering on dependence. Addiction to alcohol however, is most likely not on the traveller’s mind and is the least of their concerns at this point.

Extended Travel

After five or 6 months, or even a year – the partying often has still not stopped. There always seems to be a party to attend, and alcohol to consume. Their vacation photos are mostly of them with a drink in their hand. Their tolerance level for alcohol has skyrocketed and they no longer have hangovers. However, the days that they do not drink, the traveller feels irritable, anxious, or even depressed. They may experience shakes and tremors on these days, and their mind will feel very cloudy. When they have reached this point, they may not only be dependent upon alcohol, but they may be addicted.

Returning Home Addicted

When the vacation finally comes to an end, the traveller must indeed return home. In extreme scenarios, they may have spent each and every cent they have and must ask family or friends for money so they can get to the airport. Or may have had the misfortune of having had their belongings robbed when they were drunk. The travellers who still have money might board the plane for the long flight home – and without even thinking about it – order an alcoholic drink, and wind up drunk by the time they reach their destination. They reach their house, fall asleep, and wake up in the morning thinking about having a drink. The vacation is over – but their drinking habit has a mind of its own. It is likely that they have developed alcoholism. Alcohol addiction can take over a person’s willingness and self-control. Once someone has an addiction it can be extremely difficult to break, but if they get help as soon as it is noticed, they have a good chance at a successful recovery.

Some Do Not Control Themselves

Not all travellers who experience time abroad will become dependent on alcohol. Not by any means. But those who are drinking in excess each and every day – have a strong chance of developing the chronic disease.

Especially while on vacation, partying every day can seem like the norm. But it’s important to listen to your body and mind – does your body feel ‘funny’ if you haven’t had a drink yet today? Do you think about nothing else until you get your first drink of the day? Are you drinking at breakfast? If this is happening to you, you may be losing control of your alcohol consumption, and you should ask for help.

If you know someone who has just returned from a trip like this and can’t seem to stop drinking – be sure to approach them. Allowing them to continue this behaviour without stepping in, is called enabling. Addicts of any substance will spend a while in denial – so be prepared for that when you choose to talk to them about it.  Just know that you’re doing the right thing. And if you don’t think you can handle it on your own, contact a professional to walk you through the process.

And be sure to share this with anyone you know embarking on extended travel this year or next – knowing the signs beforehand is a good way to stop it from happening in the first place.

About the Author

The Cabin Clinical Team

The Cabin Clinical Team

Our team boasts over 10 years of experience working with individuals struggling with addiction and mental health challenges. This extensive experience allows us to provide comprehensive assessments, develop personalized treatment plans, and deliver evidence-based interventions tailored to meet your unique needs.

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