UAE to fight alcoholism among expats

New Years Eve Dubai - Nasimi Beach PartyA landmark study by the UAE’s National Rehabilitation Center (NRC) recently concluded that 5.3% of all deaths in the UAE are caused by illicit drugs or alcohol. A 2010 survey showed alcohol consumption had risen 30% over the last five years, and in the last decade the number of Alcoholics Anonymous Arabia (AA Arabia) meetings has increased 700%.

Alcoholism is on the rise among locals and expats alike. If you or a family member is suffering or close to dependency we do recommend you consider different treatments for dependency to drugs or alcohol sooner rather than later.

GulfNews recently featured an interview with the NRC’s Head of Health, Training, and Education, Hesham Farouk Al Arabi, in which Al Arabi outlined the Emirate’s strategy for combating substance abuse among both locals and expats. A 200-bed in-patient facility will open in 2014, followed by a slew of clinics, therapy programs and out-patient after-care services. Expats will be eligible for all of these treatment programs, unless they have committed violent offences. Treatment will be organized through the UAE’s existing health system, and cost subsidies for patients are a also possibility.

Al Arabi said the campaign to fight alcoholism among expats is partly intended to ease the cost burden drug and alcohol abuse place on the UAE’s health system. Data indicates the tab for alcoholism runs an average 2% of a given country’s GDP – for the UAE that translates to around USD 4 billion.

Going forward, one key challenge will be identifying what drives alcoholism in the UAE’s expat community. Some speculate the spike in substance abuse is a by-product of an infamously wild nightlife (Dubai’s party scene gives even Las Vegas a run for its money – “God doesn’t look East of Mecca,” someone once explained). One woman interviewed by GulfNews speculated that expats turn to alcohol to cope with being away from friends and family. Another said a surprising number of expats arrive in Dubai as alcoholics, relocating under the mistaken impression that living in a Muslim country will dry them out.

Providing treatment for alcoholic expats is of course only half the battle. The NRC also needs to ensure expats make use of the program once it’s up and running. Hence, the only thing that’s certain is a long and expensive battle lies ahead, not only for health officials but also expats struggling with alcoholism in the UAE.