Why Expats Are at Risk for Addictions and Treatment Options

Soberlink Recovery Circle

Moving abroad presents expats with opportunities for personal and professional growth. However, moving away from your home country and your family is difficult. It also comes with its own set of drawbacks.

expats risk addiction alcoholism

Amidst the excitement and adventure of moving to a new place, there are also feelings of homesickness and not belonging. It is why expats have a hard time adjusting. However, cultural differences and social pressures can put them at risk for mental illnesses and substance abuse or addiction. Today, we focus on the latter. 

Risk Factors for Expat Addiction

Instead of being judgemental, it’s important to empathize with expats and understand what’s causing them to resort to substance use. Factors that may contribute to an increased risk of addiction in those living abroad include:

alone in new country expat

Culture Shock

Moving to a new country means dealing with new cultures, language barriers, and social norms. It can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. All of this combined can lead expats to seek solace in substance use as a distraction.

Peer Pressure

Expats often find themselves in environments where alcohol and drugs are readily available and widely accepted. Socializing may revolve around the smoking or drinking culture, making it easy for expats to develop problematic habits such as alcohol addiction. Many expats also indulge in such habits as means of meeting new people and making new friends.

Job Demands

Expatriate jobs frequently come with high levels of stress and pressure to perform. They usually entail long hours, demanding workloads, and the need to constantly prove oneself in a new environment. All of this can exacerbate stress and increase the temptation to use substances as a coping mechanism.

Easy Accessibility to Substances

In some countries like the United States, alcohol and drugs are more accessible and affordable than in expats’ home countries. According to The Cabin Hong Kong- an outpatient addiction and rehabilitation setup for professionals struggling with addiction, easy access to substances can lower inhibitions. It may also contribute to increased consumption, leading to problems such as alcohol abuse.


The expat lifestyle- living away from family and friends while adjusting to a new environment- can be difficult. Trying to adjust to a new place without any kind of emotional support or support system in place can put one in a position of isolation, making them turn to illicit drugs as a coping mechanism. According to The Cabin, lonely expats or stay-at-home spouses are more likely to develop addictive tendencies.

Financial Pressures

A lot of people move to a new country in hopes of providing a better life for their children and family back home. It puts increased pressure on the expat head of the family to provide. They work long hours and extra shifts and decrease their own living expenses. This can consequently lead to increased levels of stress, leading to substance use for stress release.

Consequences of Expat Addiction:

Now that we know why expats are more prone to addiction, let’s talk about why it’s important to talk about it. Addiction in expats can lead to disastrous consequences. These can reflect in different areas of their lives in the long term. 

Some of these include:

Poor Physical Health

Substance abuse can take a toll on an expat’s physical health in various ways. Firstly, expats spend more money on procuring substances, they have less to spend on nutritious food and medical care. This leads to an eventual decline in physical health. Secondly, substance use itself can cause a myriad of health issues. These include liver damage, heart problems, and impaired brain function.

Decline In Mental Health

Drug addiction can worsen pre-existing mental health issues. In some instances, it can lead to the development of new ones. These include depression and anxiety.

Strained Relationships

Addicts are more likely to neglect social responsibilities, so they may fail to make their routine phone calls to family back home or they repeatedly opt out of social gatherings. All of this leads to strained relationships with family, friends, and colleagues both back home, and in the new place; leading to isolation and social withdrawal.

Professional Consequences

The destructive nature of addiction can eventually jeopardize expats’ careers due to decreased productivity, absenteeism, and unprofessional behaviors. It may lead to demotions, pay cuts, and job loss.

Setting A Bad Example For Children

Like expat adults, expat children are at risk of addiction due to genetic predisposition as well as culture shock and increased accessibility to substances. However, this risk may increase significantly if they see their expat parents indulge in substance abuse. Eventually, it can make them prone to addiction themselves.

Treatment Options for Expat Addiction:

Now that we’ve learned about the grave consequences of expat addiction. Let’s talk about solutions.

The good news is that several countries now recognize the serious problem of expat addiction. They are also actively working to provide professional help and resources to help them navigate the illness. Exhibit A- The Cabin, which we previously talked about.

Here are some ways addicts can seek help:


Individual and group therapy can help expats talk about their problems in depth. It will help them explore issues contributing to their addiction and develop coping mechanisms accordingly.

Medical Help

Medical intervention may be required to manage withdrawal symptoms and underlying health issues. Some addicts may also need prescription drugs as part of their sobriety treatment.

Support Groups

It may be helpful to join support groups such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. It can provide expats with a sense of community and accountability in their recovery journey.

Rehab Programs

There are rehab programs that are tailored for expats. They are prescribed by a medical provider and offer treatment programs that vary with addiction severity. They also offer both intensive outpatient programs and inpatient intensive programs. 

Holistic Approaches

They help by promoting overall well-being. Holistic therapies include mindfulness practices, yoga, and art therapy.

All in all, expat addiction is an important issue that is influenced by a combination of risk factors. By understanding this and establishing addiction as an insidious destroyer of lives, expats can seek help to overcome addiction. They can then thrive in their new country with a better view of life.