A problem shared: drug and alcohol rehab in Thailand

Surrounded by the mountain ranges of the Thai highlands, The Cabin offers a five-star refuge for those looking to kick the habit in style

Massimo Morello
June 21, 2012
A problem shared: drug and alcohol rehab in Thailand
The Cabin offers five-star facilities to addicts who wish to combine rehabilitation with Thailand's natural beauty

“It works,” says Hans Derix, a former cocaine addict of 13 years. “If I hadn’t gone through it, I wouldn’t be here saying it.” Since kicking his habit, Derix has completed the arduous journey from junkie to healer.

Now a mindfulness and meditation coach at The Cabin, a drug and alcohol rehab centre on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, he is using his years of addiction to help others beat their drug dependence.

An essential component of rehabilitation at The Cabin is working with specialists who have defeated their own addiction; their power to overcome giving strength to another’s weakness. “I’m a living example for the people that come here,” says Derix. “They think: ‘Hey, maybe I can make it, too.’”

Life at The Cabin is a gentle experience when compared with Thailand’s other well-known rehabilitation centre, where Hans ‘made it’. Tham Krabok is known as the ‘vomiting temple’, where addicts partake in a daily ceremony that involves ingesting a mysterious drink brewed to induce vomiting. Living conditions at the upmarket Cabin are anything but monastic, however. Originally designed as a boutique resort, spacious teak bungalows are engulfed by gardens that run down to the banks of the Ping River, lending it its nickname: ‘the river of recovery’.

“Our ideal is that you need to be tough with the addiction, but not with the practice,” says Adrian Crump, one of The Cabin’s founding partners. “Of course, toughness is relative: it all depends on what you’re used to. The centre is comfortable, but it doesn’t spoil you. There is some luxury here, but it’s not necessarily the luxury you might be looking for. Many centres ban the internet, phones and TV. We have limited access. We also allow patients to interact with their jobs for a few hours. When they go back to the real world, they have to face everything. It would be wrong to cut off all connections.”

In a country commonly associated with hedonistic indulgence and excess while simultaneously lauded for its tranquillity and beauty, it is perhaps no surprise that ‘rehab tourism’ is on the rise in Thailand.

“Our guests are businessmen, professionals, highly paid manual workers, and their sons and daughters. They come from all over the world. And that’s not counting the local expats. All counselling is done in English,” says The Cabin’s sales and marketing director Ben Moller, who is keen to stress that Thais only account for a small percentage of visitors. “Thailand is not any worse or better than the rest of the world when it comes to drug and alcohol problems.”

While fame and rehab is a concoction familiar to many stars in the West, the only Thai celebrtiy to be embroiled in a drug scandal to date was Seksan ‘Sek Loso’ Sukpimai, who joined the list of foreign celebrities – including English musician Pete Doherty – to have checked in to one of the country’s rehabilitation centres.

While pickings are disappointingly slim for Thai tabloid buffs looking for a series of Priory-esque celebrity scoops, there is always a chance that their favourite personality has discreetly come and gone. Privacy is held in the highest regard at The Cabin, allowing clients to focus on the task at hand.

“People are unlikely to be doing nothing: if they don’t commit we send them back home,” says Alastair Mordey, programme director and head counsellor, of the unique pro-rata refund offered to clients who leave early.

Those who go the distance will have dedicated themselves to meditation, yoga, rafting, trekking and even traditional martial arts such as the stick fighting practiced by local hill tribes. But the basic treatment is a religion-free mixture of cognitive-behavioural therapy, which aims to help change the way you think, and the 12-step programme.

“You have to focus on the fact that you have emotions, but your emotions are not you,” says Mordey. “You aren’t running away from anything. You have to be able to face up to what is happening, and get used to focusing your attention on your problem. It’s not so much what is actually happening to you, but what you think is happening to you.”

Detoxing takes on average between six and ten weeks, with the centre boasting a 96% rehabilitation rate. However, this impressive claim is not the only draw to the centre: price and surroundings have proved to be equally important.

“We have chosen to place our centre here not only because of the cost savings we can achieve, which allows us to provide the same high standard of treatment on offer elsewhere at a much reduced price, but also because of the beauty and tranquillity of the area in which we are located,” says Moller.

The Cabin charges less than a third of the rates offered by similar centres based in the West: about $12,000 for 28 days compared to $40,000. Based in the north of Thailand, Mordey says its location is crucial to breaking the dependence cycle: “The distance helps. The further away the client is from the origin of the issue, the better. The client has to detach from his or her usual lifecycle. The method fits better with the cultural context in Thailand. Imagine using meditation in London… it’s more meaningful here.”

It is a formula that appears to be working. The luxury rehab centre is currently running at full capacity, with a four-month waiting list. As the centre begins looking for a new site, Mordey says the secret to The Cabin’s success is that its founding members do not only see it as a business: “We represent a value. A value expressed in one question: Do you want to be a human being or just a drug user?”

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