Most addicts in UAE travel abroad for treatment
Customs officials inspect seized drugs in Dubai. Despite an increase in seizures, the number of dedicated rehabilitation centres are very less in the country.
Dubai - Majority of expatriates tend to be seeking treatment for alcohol abuse.
With few independent facilities to treat addiction available in the UAE, overseas rehabilitation resorts continue to be the only alternative for some drug and alcohol abusers here.
Between 2017 and 2018, Dara Thailand, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation resort with three centres in Thailand, received 80 admissions from Emirati clients travelling from the UAE; and about 40 from UAE expatriates.
Speaking to Khaleej Times Martin Peters, group programme director at Dara, said when it comes to Emirati clients, 80 per cent are male and the majority are aged between 21 and 35 years.
"Across the board, we usually see about six Emirati clients at any one time. We also get quite a few clients who work within the Emirates (expatriates); maybe 40-50 a year."
In terms of reasons for presenting at the rehab, the majority of expatriates tend to be seeking treatment for alcohol abuse. While Emirati clients are most often treated for prescription drug abuse, as well as hashish addiction.
Although Dara has some referrers working within the UAE health sector, most referrals come from family members who have previously been in treatment.
"I guess there is still some taboo around drug and alcohol addiction in the UAE. As such, being away from home and that environment is a good thing for overseas clients. Also, many can say they are just on vacation or travelling, without having to divulge details of their whereabouts."
Typically, Peters said Emirati clients tend to stay for the full treatment period, which lasts 10-12 weeks; whereas expats usually stay for less.
"For expats, we find they tend to stay for about four weeks as they cannot get the time off work. Financial circumstances and annual leave allowance definitely dictate duration of stay."
Reasons for addictionIn terms of reasons leading to addiction, many factors can be to blame, he said.
"It's easy to get caught up and say addiction is all about drugs and alcohol. But clients who come to us usually have deeper issues. We call it co-occurring disorders coming from trauma or relationship issues. Abandonment is another case we see from the UAE, where teens are being sent overseas for education. That can lead to addiction."
While talk of drug and alcohol abuse was once little discussed in the Middle East, in recent years, the UAE's policing authorities as well as government health officials have been moving past the stigma and looking for ways to tackle the issue head on. Despite that, only a handful of dedicated rehabilitation centres exist across the country, including Erada Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation and Ownak, both in Dubai.
Over the last nine months, the Twin Rivers Addiction Recovery Centre in South Africa has treated four clients from the UAE. Although admission numbers may be lower than most, drug trends appear to remain the same.
"Alcohol and prescription medication, plus 'black market' pain pills such as Tramadol are the addictions trends we see from UAE clients," David Briskham, clinical and development director at the centre told Khaleej Times.
With all international clients encouraged to stay at the Twin Rivers for three-month treatment periods, Briskham said the centre also arranges comprehensive aftercare packages for local as well as international clients.
"All admissions from Dubai have since completed their programme and have returned to the UAE for aftercare, which includes on-going support with a therapist."
Though drug rehab centres in the UAE offer a family inclusive approach to clients, Briskham said that is not something they practice.
"Twin Rivers has experienced two female enquiries from the UAE and a family member wanted to come with them and live nearby which is not an approach we can support. The idea of residential treatment is to be distanced from family for a while. That's not such an issue for male clients."
Discussing the reasons as to why UAE residents may choose treatment abroad rather than at home, he said it could be to do with sensitivities in the country.
"The fear element of being 'discovered' may halt some potential clients from seeking help as it could put their visa or job at risk. I have recently created 'Dragonfly Interventions' whereby I am employed as a professional interventionist and travel to family homes anywhere in the UAE and assist the family in getting the client into a residential treatment centre of their choosing."
A psychologist's point of viewWhile overseas options may seem like the preferred approach to addiction treatment for many, Dr Fabian Sarloos, clinical psychologist, German Neuroscience Centre in Dubai, said the chance of relapsing on their return to old surroundings could increase.
"The distance element may appear to be a safe haven for some drug addicts, but I believe it is important to engage family. Most people take drugs for escapism or to numb the body due to family issues. When they come back from overseas treatment, that family situation hasn't changed, everything is the same, that's where the risk of relapse comes in. It has to be inclusive."
Currently treating about 10 patients for drug or alcohol related addiction, Sarloos said party drugs like pills and cocaine seem to be the main culprit. The majority of his patients are aged between 20-35, and like Peters noted, alcohol abuse is common among western expats, whereas Arab nationals tend to steer towards drugs.
"I have some clients considering rehabilitation abroad. They tend to choose a beach destination, somewhere with an organic experience, but I would advise a more psychiatric approach. Somewhere which requires daily group sessions, medical checkups. From my experience, those who go to Europe for treatment come back in a much better state."
In most cases he treats, Sarloos said addiction has stemmed from "sensation-seeking, boredom, and curiosity", but going forward, viewing addiction/mental health as a stigma is a no-no.
"I do believe the society is opening up now, especially with young people. They are open to treatment, psychology and psychotherapy. It's slowly increasing; and that's positive."