The life of an expatriate can be incredibly rewarding, exciting and challenging. However, it is a new life that is characterized by a massive upheaval and culture shock. The comforts of home, the friends and family members around and the ease of knowing how things work is something that expats react to differently. Embracing a culture that is different or going into a new job with no familiar faces is hard and many respond with significant emotional distress, insecurity and homesickness. For others, it is exciting and rewarding.
To deal with the hurdle of a new life, some people will turn to alcohol or drugs to quell their feelings and fears. This is true for people within their own country or those who are overseas on assignment. The pressure of meeting performance expectations, succeeding in the job and new life is magnified by the loneliness and isolation that expats experience. This can push some expats to abuse alcohol or drugs. For others, the life overseas offers them a hard-to-resist lifestyle where they can drink and use drugs to excess without being watched or criticized by others.
Expats face many challenges when they are living in a foreign country. Language differences, cultural differences and even food that is not like what a person is used to can be daunting. In addition to this, expats face separation from friends and family which can cause a person to feel isolated, lonely and bored. These emotional reactions are known to be factors in the development of a substance abuse problem because people use alcohol or drugs to silence fears and overcome boredom. Acknowledging that these emotions are triggers is one way that the expat can avoid abusing substances and have the courage to ask for help.
Expectations for Expats
Expatriate assignments often involve extensive networking as part of the role. It is often the job of the expat to facilitate and participate extensive social functions such as lunches and dinners as the representative of the company they are working for. These events typically involve alcohol and lots of it. Some may even involve use of other illegal drugs though this would be behind closed doors. These functions are used as a way to strengthen the ties between organizations and individuals and break down some of the cultural barriers. However, they are also very dangerous for a person who may be using alcohol too much to quash social anxieties or getting a boost from substances to deal with stress.
In some countries, such as Japan, the drinking culture is incredibly important to business and co-worker relationships. Declining to attend a social function or can be met with criticism and may impact on opportunities. This can cause significant stress for people who are unsure of the cultural traditions and can see that alcohol is integral to business. It is important for expats getting involved in these cultures to understand that it is ok to decline and say no to consuming alcohol. The importance of these social functions is to be present and develop good strong bonds in a social rather than work setting. One drink does not have to lead to a binge on alcohol.
Comfort in a Foreign Land
Alcohol and other drugs can provide comfort to an expat in a foreign country. Access to alcohol in particular is usually very easy and in some countries prices are very low. Many find comfort in having a drink and socializing when influenced by alcohol. In moderation, this is not harmful but if the drink becomes depended on for confidence, to help sleep or even to get through a weekend, problems can begin to form. Drinking is a common way to meet other people which is an important aspect of living in a foreign country. Alcohol breaks down some of the personal anxieties and help people to get over language or cultural barriers. But relying on a bar as the only way to socialize with people can lead to the development of an addiction or dependency. Expats should realize that there are other, healthier ways to meet people. Most countries with high expat numbers have social groups that can be joined and events to participate in. An internet search will show many listings and forums for these groups.
Prescription Medication and Expatriates
Prescription medication is a danger also with drugs that are under strict control in a home country being readily available and cheap. All a person has to do is go to any pharmacy and ask for whatever they like, no questions asked. Prescription medication abuse is one of the most serious public health concerns around the world. Prescription drugs may relieve some of the anxieties that a person is feeling as they are living overseas. It may also be misused to treat pain, sleeplessness or help elevate energy levels. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise and over-indulgence in alcohol can cause all of these problems. Using prescription drugs rather than focusing on natural ways to fix these problems is incredibly dangerous. In America, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom abuse of these drugs is known to be very harmful and may cause significant health, personal and emotional problems.
Continuing an Addiction Abroad
There are some people who make the decision to move to a foreign country while they are suffering from a substance addiction. They make the choice to move to begin a new life away from the temptations, lifestyle of abuse or to avoid unwanted criticism or family intervention. It is an easy choice to move overseas to avoid personal, financial or even work problems and have a new identity overseas. The overseas lifestyle can be incredibly rewarding for their addiction. Cheap and readily available alcohol, prescription drugs without needing a doctors visit or illicit drugs on hand can mean the addiction can grow steadily and unchecked.
Traveling vs. Expatriate Substance Abuse
Living in a foreign county can mean that the holiday never ends and that the party can be all day, every day. The constant supply of new faces, new friends and new places can be tempting for those who struggle with substance abuse. People might not notice changes when they are only visiting for the short term. New found friends are willing to put up with bad behavior, pay for drinks and celebrate with the party guy or girl. Nobody tells them what to do or when to do it. They can hang out with people who are also into the same life path of abusing themselves and their body. Unfortunately this can also mean that having close friends or family members to get support from is difficult. Additionally, cross-cultural language barriers can mean that there is a difficulty in getting professional help in a foreign country.