Expats Drinking To Excess

Published on 12/03/2008 in Expat Life

I come across it all the time, expats who are just drinking bottles of wine every night and sometimes during the day. It is so widespread, it seems that everyone is heavily drinking without a second thought. For some people, it is genuinely for the taste as an accompaniment to their evening meal but others are really passing the day thinking about where their next drink is coming from.

You can understand how it is easy to get into in Spain as the wine is so cheap. You can get a decent bottle for around 6euros, so what was once a luxury reserved for the weekend, has now become a regular indulgence with many people easily polishing off a bottle or two a night. It’s all part of the living the dream to have a nice bottle of wine with an evening meal. It is regarded as acceptable and seen as adapting to the Spanish way. But when the bottle gets opened earlier and earlier every night and you are needing to pour a glass as soon as the kids get in from school, its time to question the balance.

 The constant drinking that goes on isn’t just associated with the Banus partying lifestyle. On the contrary, it is often done with the utmost civility and grace. It is such an integral part of the expat lifestyle in Spain that you are no longer offered a cup of tea when you drop into see someone. The very hint of a visitor is enough cue for people to grab their corkscrews.

Reasons behind the drinking will vary but a lot of it is associated with the loneliness of expat life. The reality is many wives feel lonely abroad far from their families and friends. Their husbands are preoccupied with new jobs so they are having to do everything at home, often more than they did in the UK without their support network in tow. Once the children are tucked up in bed and the hubbie still hasn’t returned from work, bearing in mind that working hours are later, the glass of wine is an aid to unwind. It starts to get really serious when the drinking takes place during the day to numb the feelings of isolation in a foreign country. On the other side, the husband may be drinking lots more than usual as doing business in Spain requires far more entertaining and ‘grooming’ of potential clients etc. So, it really is a double edged sword of the lonely wife at home ‘relaxing’ at home with a drink whilst the husband frequently goes out for drinks with clients, colleagues and fellow expats.

Having said that, the need for alcohol isn’t just linked to loneliness, many people find themselves drinking more in the company of others. Young couples are not the only ones who ‘up’ the alcohol intake when they move to Spain. Retired people find themselves with lots of time on their hands so either drink together throughout the day or meet up with other couples to socialise around more drink. Where in the UK, they were too tired from work to go to the pub often, the same people are in the bars nearly every night in Spain.

The truth is living in Spain gives expats a sense of freedom that they never had in the restrictive UK. Too much freedom and lack of constrictions isn’t such a good thing if you can’t achieve a level of moderation. It may be perfectly acceptable to frequently enjoy a drink or two but just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t make it right. I just wonder how long it will be before the alcohol consumption begins to take its toll on people’s health out here.

Written by: Susan Pedalino

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Women In Spain

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HybridAnglo said:
15 March 2008 @ 17:24

With all due deference to the author of the article and the supporting comment, I should like to take issue with the hysteria surrounding the health problems associated with social drinking.
Tabloid media, both print and televisual, have taken to scare stories about the dangers of increased consumption of alcohol to fill a page or a spare slot in the schedule - more particularly regarding "Booze Britain", but I'm sure a Trevor McDonald special will focus on the "Costa del Booze" before long.
The truth of the matter is that there exists a far more pernicious threat to long-term health in our midst. That of obesity.
The cost of treating obesity-related disease (in Britain, at least) is spiralling. It exceeded smoking and drinking inspired health costs for the first time last year.
And, while many continue to point out the increased incidence of cirrhosis of the liver as an indication of the evils of alcohol, it should be noted that this particular complaint is common among those with only moderate alcoholic intake, but who are also overweight.
I'm not for a second trying to suggest that there are no medical ill-effects to excessive alcohol consumption; vehicular accidents, violence - both domestic and random - and various other examples of injury are markedly more common where drink has been taken, and not always to excess. However, the idea that a bottle of wine a night will lead to the health issues associated with chronic alcoholism is a myth peddled by the press to support a government-driven agenda.
Nevertheless, the point that the author makes about an individual's increased dependance on alcohol as a crutch for other insecurities in their life is a fair one. But one which we should not use to demonise those for whom a mature and sensible attitude to drink sees it as not only an accompaniment to a meal, but to a Mediterranean lifestyle.

sandra said:
12 March 2008 @ 22:20

I recall,about twenty years ago, a TV programme which highlighted just such problems in Benidorm.
Alcohol and smoking related diseases amongst the retired expat community had stretched the local hospital's resources to the limits. The incidence of these diseases was far above the average numbers expected in that age group.
The wards were full.
Most of the people in there had lost their partners and were completely alone, without family, friends or visitors and (in the main) unable to speak the language.
It was so sad.
You suggested peer pressure as a possible reason for this abusive consumption and I do not think you are far off the mark.
Some peoples' perception of an affluent lifestyle see the unbridled consumption of alcohol and tobacco as compulsory accoutrements to achieving that status. Once in Spain the restraints imposed by the UK government, by way of high levels of taxation, are removed.When it is then seen as more hospitable and 'de rigeur' to offer alchol than a cup of tea to a visitor, it is not difficult to see how the excesses spiral.Sometimes out of control.
You certainly wrote an enjoyable and thought provoking piece.

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