Tokyo’s Doug Berger – Psychiatrist Considers Substance Abuse Among Expatriates

Tokyo’s Doug Berger – Psychiatrist Considers Substance Abuse Among Expatriates

Thanks to the increased ease of travel and the emergence of multinational companies, there has been a significant surge in the number of expatriates, i.e. people living outside of their home country. The global number of expatriates, or “expats”, now exceeds 50.5 million and is expected to grow to roughly 56 million in the next year and half.

While these increasing numbers reflect in many ways today’s borderless world, they hide the cost some expats pay living hundreds or thousands of miles away from friends, family and the life they once knew.

For the 1 percent of the population that make up the diverse array of expats, living far from home presents a unique set of challenges that are not limited to language and cultural barriers.Enjoying_dinner_on_the_first_evening_of_LGM_2014

A series of reports in The Wall Street Journal beginning in October 2015 highlight how alcohol abuse has become a silent epidemic among expats around the world.

“There’s definitely a higher risk and prevalence of alcohol abuse in the expat bubble. The expat subculture is a drinking culture,” noted therapist Dhyan Summers.

According to the report, alcohol abuse has become prevalent among expats because they face a variety of unique challenges, which directly put them at a higher risk for alcohol abuse. Some of these challenges include the stress of working in a high-pressure job in a foreign country, long hours and frequent travel, no set routine, as well as the need to “wine and dine” clients, all factors that play a role in expat alcohol consumption.

“Because regularly consuming large amounts of alcohol is common among their peers, expats are also less likely to see their drinking as a problem,” said Summers. “No one comes to me specifically for alcohol abuse, it’s a part of the lifestyle.”

While expats face these challenges, some expats in Japan, most of which are in Tokyo and are not attached to a governmental or corporate entity which has sent them here, have reported a deep sense of alienation and aloneness, also a contributing factor to alcohol abuse.

In a December report, Giovanni Piliarvu, an Italian native, recounted the difficulties he had assimilating to the Japanese culture during his ten-year stint in the country.

“I didn’t go anywhere for three months,” Mr. Piliarvu said. “It took a lot of time to make friends. Japan is “not an easy environment to make friends.”

Tokyo-based psychiatrist Doug Berger has heard this story before from expats he treats at his Meguro Counseling Center in Tokyo, Japan.

“I often hear patients tell me about feelings of loneliness and isolation while living abroad,” explained Dr. Doug Berger, who is one of the few bilingual psychiatrists in the city.

As Doug Berger also pointed out, these feelings are often compounded around certain holidays or milestones.

“We are social beings, so when people lose their entire social network, they often feel extremely depressed or saddened,” continued Dr. Berger, who has provided counseling in Tokyo for a number of years. “In addition to being a support system, family and friends are often the people who bring a substance abuse problem to light. So without them, some people living abroad can find themselves spiraling out of control, with no one to check or balance them.”

For expats, Dr. Berger advises reaching out to friends and family via Skype, telephone or email.

There are also a number of expat organizations and agencies that hold mixer events and meet-and-greets, so those living abroad can begin building a new network in their temporary home.

Moving to a new country can be exciting and thrilling. However, it can also be overwhelming. Taking the time to recognize signs of depression can help alleviate the symptoms before they turn into a deeper issue or a substance abuse problem.

You can read further articles by Dr. Berger here.

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