Expats fight addiction and find new lives at Thai monastery

Published:  18 Dec at 6 PM
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Rising drug addiction and alcoholism rates regularly hit international news outlets, but finding affordable, effective treatment seems to be beyond the skills of most Western health services.

Whether it’s hard drugs or alcohol, the effects of addiction can be literally mind-blowing and frequently fatal, especially for those unable to afford the luxury of treatment at a private clinic. In the majority of Western countries, both kinds of addiction are running riot, with local government-funded clinics unable to help the majority of their patients. Addiction isn’t just a serious problem in the West, it’s deadly for many in developing countries where state help is either unreliable or non-existent.

Expats in far-flung locations are easy prey for alcohol abuse, with local, home-made brews favoured for their fast effects and cheapness. In Thailand, for example, there is little in the way of state help and the very few private clinics are financially far out of reach for the average expat and especially for rural people at the bottom of the economic ladder. However, Thailand has one unique solution which has produced amazing results for expats, desperate visitors and poverty-stricken locals alike.

Wat Thamkrabok is a Buddhist monastery set north of Bangkok in Saraburi province, and is dedicated to its world-renowned drug and alcohol rehabilitation programme. The programme began in 1959, and has treated over 115,000 addicts to date using its iconic combination of natural herb medicine, meditation and Buddhist practice. The Wat attracts a good number of overseas addicts who’ve read about it, heard about it or checked out its website, many of whom return from time to time for meditation and some of whom have stayed and become Buddhist monks.

Everyone is welcome, and there’s just a small charge for food and accommodation. One highly-paid German tech worker with a cocaine addiction woke up in a pool of blood and realised his life depended on finding a way out. He arrived at the Wat, went though the programme and still visits regularly although he changed his name to Monk Alato at his ordination. The Wat, he says, changed and saved my life.

Another Australian addict lost his heroin addiction through the programme three years ago and hasn’t relapsed. Henry, a British heroin addict, had tried several rehab clinics without success, saying the Wat was his last chance. Wat Thamkrabok and its treatments aren’t exactly popular with the owners of expensive private clinics, including one in Northern Thailand. Conventional clinics’ experts say it’s not possible to advocate the Wat’s treatment as there hasn’t been any research into it or any solid evidence it works.

The general view in the exclusive clinics seems to be that addicts are prone to relapse without continuing equally expensive therapy and peer support, but the Wat’s more than 58 years of treatment and its many successes mean there’s certainly something very real about its ‘affordable to everyone’ way of dealing with addiction. Perhaps recovery from addiction, whether it's to drugs or alcohol, shouldn’t just be the exclusive prerogative of the wealthy.
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