Tackling Alcoholism In A Foreign Land Can Help or Hinder Recovery

A reader has a query about alcoholism in Japan: “How is it generally perceived and what kind of help is available for foreign alcoholics who speak little to no Japanese?”

It will come as no surprise to any Japan resident to hear that alcoholism is a problem in this country, just as it is in other parts of the world. Needless to say, this disease affects not only Japanese but non-Japanese living here as well.

However, many people still believe that alcohol dependency is something that affects only certain groups, such as the homeless, and that it isn’t a disease at all, says Sachio Matsushita, Vice Director of the National Hospital Kurihama Alcoholism Center, the largest treatment center in Japan. Only recently, Matsushita says, have these misconceptions begun to change.

So is it more difficult for English-speaking foreigners to deal with alcoholism in Japan?

Not necessarily, says Andrew Grimes, a licensed clinical psychologist in Japan, of Tokyo Counseling Services. The unfamiliar circumstances in which an expatriate might find themselves in Japan could actually force them to face up to their drinking habits and the issues behind them.

“Because of the lack of support and lack of roots, as it were, it’s actually a place sometimes where people have to confront their problems,” Grimes explains. “Although it can feel like an absolute hell to do so in a foreign environment, sometimes people with alcoholism find it’s easy to avoid facing up to the truth of their addiction while still in their home countries.

“In their own language and culture it’s easier to move around and the addiction knows how to deny and delay the realization that their drinking is the problem.”

TR, a non-Japanese member of Alcoholics Anonymous living in Japan, adds: “In Japan, since there are fewer foreigners around, drinkers may become lonelier faster than if they were, say, lonely in New York where people speak English. Loneliness is kind of a killer and drives many people, like me, to seek help and call AA for the first time. So the lonely factor — the ‘gaijin isolation’ factor — may actually help an alcoholic to ‘hit bottom’ and reach out for help.

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