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Expat Drinking Culture

Expat Drinking Culture

This following is a brief informative article written by Leigh Matthews, Australian Psychologist and Founder of Therapy in Barcelona,  in response to the story “Calling ‘Time’ on Drinking Culture” by Adrienne Walder in the wonderful and enlightening collection of expat women stories “#Living The Dream: Expat Life Stripped Bare” 

 

 

Do expats drink too much?

Though data on the prevalence of alcohol abuse amongst expats is limited, both anecdotal and clinical evidence suggest expats drink more frequently and excessively than their counterparts in their home countries. Roughly 24 out of every 219 (11%) internationals who complete our initial questionnaire at Therapy in Barcelona select “addiction” as a primary concern for which they require support. 

If you are an expat or aspiring to be one, it is critical to be aware of the expat vulnerability to imbibe excessively.

Numerous studies have shown stress in any population contributes to an increase in alcohol consumption. Culture shock, work pressure, dislocation from family and friends, homesickness, language barriers and isolation can all lead to challenges in expat adaptation. Substance abuse, including excess drinking, reflect the emotional toll expatriate life can incur and are by-products of expat attempts to cope and socialise. Add on more liberal approaches to alcohol consumption in expat destinations and a higher prevalence of mental health issues in the expat population and, et voila, you have your expat drinking problem. Paradoxically, excess alcohol consumption magnifies those mental health issues in the long run and individuals who come to the expat party with a family history of alcoholism are at a greater risk.

The ubiquity of booze in most cultures enables drinking problems to remain covert. Even when drinking is a staple of daily life, expats won’t necessarily think of it in terms of problematic consumption. The stereotype of the rock bottom alcoholic veils the common white collar problem drinker.  As with any population, expat willingness to disclose the problem of alcohol abuse is the first step to creating a culture of support in place of a culture of drinking. Ignorance, denial, shame, and secrecy are all factors that perpetuate the problem. 

As with any population, expat willingness to disclose the problem of alcohol abuse is the first step to creating a culture of support in place of a culture of drinking.

The lure of alcohol and drugs as panaceas for the loneliness and the disruption of expat life is real.

Prevention requires an eyes wide open approach to expatriation. Seek information or therapy to develop a complete awareness of and develop healthy coping strategies for the shocks and stressors that come with the territory of expat life. Expatriate with intention. Choose alternative avenues for meeting people beyond bars: Meetups, sports clubs, creative classes or book groups. Choose a different path to the “work hard play hard” culture you may be tempted to succumb to. Learn strategies to disconnect and relax sans alcohol. Select your network in your host country wisely: a sober crew is recommended. Preempt the possibility of getting trapped in booze culture by researching alternative paths before hitting your destination. Swap lychee martinis, cervezas, or sake for sparkling water or nonalcoholic options. Mocktails can camouflage your self-preservation in the face of peer pressure. Choose better quality, expensive options and moderate consumption to appreciate the nuances of each drink. Commit to showing up for yourself, not for Happy Hour.

If you suspect you might have an issue with alcohol, know that you are not alone. You don’t need to hit rock bottom to seek help. Locate an expatriate therapy service of which there are plenty around, including online services. Look for AA meetings in your host country or join an AA Facebook Group. If you’re not sure, try taking the AUDIT test to assess your relationship with alcohol https://auditscreen.org/

Check out WHO’s Self-help Strategies for Cutting Down or Stopping Substance Abuse https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/self-help-strategies-for-cutting-down-or-stopping-substance-use-(assist)

In Barcelona, you can find AA meetings for English speakers here 

For NA meetings in Barcelona click here 

If you need professional support, some of our team of english-speaking therapists work with issues of mild addiction. Alternatively, we can offer you suggested resources in our community.

By Leigh Matthews Australian Psychologist and Founder Therapy in Barcelona

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