Chris Ball, a managing partner at a Dubai-based financial advisory, has experienced a complicated relationship with alcohol. At 25, when he relocated to Dubai as a budding entrepreneur and a new father to twins, the high-paced lifestyle, characterized by frequent evening events and parties, quickly became routine. He noted, 'In the UK, I might have gone out once or twice a week, but here it was much more frequent, and alcohol was integral to socializing.' Ball found drinking a convenient stress reliever, given his demanding job in wealth management and the lack of family support for his young family.

Both alcohol and caffeine offer immediate relief from stress and anxiety, though their impact on mental health extends beyond addiction, affecting even occasional users. Amy Glover, a clinical psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia in Dubai, clarified, 'There's a difference between substance abuse and dependence or addiction. Even without addiction, substances affect our bodies, cognition, and emotions.' Alcohol, often viewed as a social facilitator or a relaxant, is actually a depressant that can disrupt neurotransmitters, leading to mood swings, especially with prolonged and excessive use. Similarly, caffeine, a stimulant, enhances alertness but can exacerbate anxiety symptoms and disrupt sleep.

The consumption of these substances can alter emotional responses, leading to increased anxiety or guilt, which negatively impacts mental health. Glover added, 'Various factors like age, genetics, and environment influence addiction, but generally, substance use can trigger anxiety, depression, or other disorders.' Ball recognized the negative effects of his regular, though not excessive, drinking on his productivity, anxiety levels, and relationships. He emphasized the importance of self-awareness in recognizing unhealthy substance use patterns.

In 2019, Ball abstained from alcohol for a year and a half, now drinking occasionally and mindfully. He found healthier coping mechanisms like fitness, which he credits for improving his stress management. As the head of Hoxton Capital Management, with over 250 employees globally, Ball ensures his teams have access to mental health support through employee programs and health insurance benefits. He believes in providing expat employees with healthy coping strategies to manage their mental health without resorting to substances.