This article is intended to be used by the general public for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a reference for educational research papers, nor is it a reflection of the services available through our Rehab Program in Thailand.

Breaking Free

The Benefits Of Overseas Rehabilitation Centers


By Martin Peters, BA (Hons), Dip HE, RN

Finding the ‘right’ rehabilitation center can be a time consuming experience; it’s important the client is fully invested in completing a treatment program that genuinely suits their needs, thereby empowering them for change. While there are literally thousands of options for Westerners, barriers for choosing to delay or refrain from treatment still remain.

Accessibility and affordability are the obvious treatment barriers, but the individual suitability and compatibility of the rehabilitation environments on offer is also a frequent and often underestimated reason for postponing treatment. For the addict, this can be akin to a catch 22; getting away from their current toxic and negative lifestyle is undeniably beneficial, but breaking free from these environments is difficult – despite the negative consequences, they have become a ‘comfort zone’.

“If I’m honest, booze had become my best friend… my buddy and the glue that held my ‘people’ relationships together. I had forgotten how to function without a drink and the idea of never having one again was terrifying. I knew I had to get help… my drinking was killing me, but letting go of this life was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Donald, USA

Over the past ten years, many addicts have started to seek treatment in rehabilitation centers in countries outside of the traditional strongholds of the global treatment industry; USA, UK and Australia. The main alternatives have been initially South Africa, and more recently, Thailand.

Before helping someone choose treatment overseas, it’s important to follow a few recommendations. NHS Choices, an informative website provided by the British National Health Service suggests, “One way to reduce this risk is to get as much information as possible about your treatment options so that you can make informed choices.” When making contact with a rehabilitation center for a client it is imperative to thoroughly investigate the treatment program, the qualifications/experience of their personnel as well as how aftercare will be provided. People who have led lives within their addiction are often prone to making impulsive and uninformed choices; a good referrer is a counter balance to these tendencies. Given that treatment is an important part of readdressing this behavior, choosing a rehabilitation center with an environment and program conducive to each individual’s recovery is a critical first step.

While there are many good reasons for seeking drug and alcohol treatment overseas, the anonymity afforded is a major benefit. Leaving the comfort of their home environment for a place where it is unlikely that anyone, other than those closest to them, will know they’re seeking help, dilutes and even removes the stigma attached to rehabilitation. Given that shame is a common reason people choose to conceal the damage of their addictive behaviors, this is a powerful motivator. As mentioned previously, being comfortable in their addictive lifestyle, however destructive, is a major barrier to successful treatment. Rehabilitation aside, travelling to a new country with a different culture, climate and food can be an enlightening experience.

“Sure I was embarrassed – nobody wants to admit they’re addicted, especially since I’d been to rehab before. The privacy of DARA was a big attraction and my doctor also felt the break would do me good. I had always dreamed of travelling when younger, but this got forgotten as my addiction took over.”
Susan, Wales

Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction is undeniably a serious business, but an element of ‘fun’ is also important. Providing people with the experience of living and enjoying life without drinking or drugging is critical – this becomes the ‘carrot’ to continue their recovery. Over the last 40 years, research has proven time and time again that environments most conducive to treatment are warm and comfortable, not punitive. If we’re honest, cold clinical environments such as hospitals are not inspiring. Considering addicts often punish themselves for their behavior, an environment which reinforces this is unlikely to result in positive clinical outcomes.

“I’ve been to a UK rehab and it was like a prison; they made me share a room and bathroom with a younger girl who was very difficult; I hated every minute. But Thailand was fantastic – the beautiful weather, amazing food, fun activities and friendly people at DARA really helped my mindset. They made it easy as they could to help me get well – it’s amazing the difference a simple smile makes. I am 100 percent certain the environment helped make my rehabilitation and recovery successful.”
Susan, Wales

Recent research carried at the Peninsula School of Medicine & Dentistry (UK) discovered some interested findings with respect to environment and its impact upon mental health; it also noted the importance of physical exercise, a key component of an Integrated Treatment Model (ITM): “A total of 13 different outcome measures were used to evaluate the effects of exercise on mental well-being, and four outcome measures were used to assess attitude to exercise. Most trials (n = 9) showed some improvement in mental well-being on one or other of the outcome measures. Compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy. Participants reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and declared a greater intent to repeat the activity at a later date” (Thompson Coon J., Boddy K., Stein K., Whear R., Barton J., Depledge M.H., 2011). Not surprisingly, many overseas rehabilitation centers offer outdoor, natural environments where they employ both traditional and alternative modes of treatment. ITM in particular focuses on combining physical, social, psychological and spiritual aspects through a variety of individual and group orientated activities. A study by the University of Michigan also notes the benefits of warmer climates and in my experience, this positively impacts the effectiveness of treatment: “Taking a trip to someplace warm in the middle of winter or lingering outside when spring arrives can be especially beneficial, with pleasant weather improving mood, memory and broadening cognitive style (openness to new information and creative thoughts) as time spent outside increased, researchers found” (M. Keller, 2004).

“The marketing blurb at DARA describes the center as a ‘rehab resort’ and this is spot on. It’s a luxury hotel in the middle of a jungle covered island – you can’t help but relax. There were always activities to keep us busy outside, which I loved. But make no mistake, the rehabilitation work is intensive. DARA broke my addiction and showed me another life. I am a restaurateur, but hadn’t cooked in years – I did a Thai cooking class while at DARA and now cook for my family every night; this has really helped bring us back together.”
Paul, Australia

A major concern for those undertaking rehabilitation overseas is ensuring the aftercare necessary to long-term recovery continues. While referrers, family and recovering peers provide a critical support network, feelings of isolation and abandonment can occur when clients return to their home environments. If unchecked, these feelings can lead them to relapsing into the comfort zone of destructive old habits. The good news is that the ‘global village’ created by modern technology easily allows aftercare treatment to continue long after the client has left the center. Good examples are the Skype aftercare provided by DARA therapists and Lionrock Recovery’s Aftercare Anywhere™ online video conference program. These individually tailored programs allow treatment to continue unimpaired by physical distance.

“When I was dropped at the airport after completing the program, I thought, well it is up to me now and I was a little concerned. Could I do this? Will I be OK? Will I drink again? These things kept playing on my mind, but my therapist had made sure I was not alone – I could call or Skype him if I needed to talk things through, he helped me join a local yoga group (which I tried for the first time at DARA and really enjoyed) and even convinced me to give AA meetings another go. End result, I’ve been sober for 13 months.”
Donald, USA

Medical tourism is an increasingly important source of revenue for Thailand and the Kingdom already attracts a large number of foreigners due to its ease of travel, quality of care, environment, climate, culture, and most importantly, cost effectiveness. As attested by the growing number of clients and centers, Thailand definitely offers some sustainable advantages for those seeking effective overseas rehabilitation.

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