Thailand's Monastery Rehab Offers to Break Your Addiction – For Free
Generally speaking, the quality of addiction treatment has been steadily rising as the world comes to better understand the challenges of addiction. Yet this trend towards extravagance is by no means universal. One Thailand rehab monastery is standing out by sticking to tradition – a tradition that is as intriguing as it is uncompromising. Its no-nonsense approach, where everything old is indeed new again, attracts a steady stream of addicts searching desperately for a path to sobriety… however uncomfortable it might be.
Abandon All Drugs, Ye Who Enter Here The Methods of Wat Thamkrabok
North and slightly east of Bangkok, just past the frequently visited historical region of Ayutthaya, is the province of Saraburi. The province contains a rather special Wat (temple) known as Thamkrabok – run by Buddhist monks and nuns, yet famous (or infamous) as an alternative drug rehab centre (also known as “extreme rehab” and “vomit rehab”). Visitors are often struck by the cultural and religious beauty of the setting, yet this beauty hides a severe tradition of purification rituals that are increasingly at odds with commonly accepted forms of treatment.
This Thailand rehab monastery has been treating addicts for more than half a century, and prior experience has led the institution to develop strict rules for entry. Reading materials are allowed, as is a disposable camera; but all communication devices and outside clothes must be surrendered upon entry – and consumable items are forbidden unless they remain in their original packaging.
Living Conditions at the Buddhist Drug Rehab in Thailand
As might be expected from a rehab in Thailand where monks and nuns are in charge, meals are unspectacular and prepared in the local style. The food (and any extra beverages) are the only part of the programme that needs to be paid for; the entirety of the stay and treatment are otherwise free, although donations to the monastery are welcome.
Modern comforts at this Thailand rehab monastery are few and far between, and people entering addiction treatment are encouraged to bring their own long socks (as a guard against mosquitoes) and an extra blanket or sheet for a better sleeping experience.
What to Expect from buddhist rehab in thailand
How Thailand’s Extreme Rehab “Cures” Addiction
There’s no getting around it: Thailand rehab monastery’s reputation, and the reason that perhaps 100,000 people worldwide have come here for addiction treatment, revolves around their secret formula for purging the body of its toxins.
Physical Detoxification - Vomit-Inducing Solution
Drink the mystery concoction together with a few bowls of tea-infused water, stick your finger down your throat, and vomit. This is the daily afternoon routine at Thailand rehab monastery, yet it isn’t as simple as it sounds. The mixture is so potent that it causes continuous vomiting for extended periods, as if to wake the body up from the nightmare of addiction.
Spiritual Purification - Taking a Vow
Other elements of this Buddhist rehab in Thailand likewise reflect its origins in tradition. Participants must take a Sajja (sacred vow), which aims to re-connect addicts with the force of their own willpower. To this end, a Katah (sacred word) is assigned to each participant – to focus the mind on, to meditate on, and to use for inspiration during difficult moments.
These central pillars of purification, and the regaining of one’s willpower, are combined alongside a daily routine of simple living and service work. Such an approach is informed by a distinctly Buddhist worldview, and while it is certainly not for everybody, many former addicts have credited Wat Thamkrabok with helping to turn their lives around.
Pros & Cons of Buddhist Rehab in Thailand
Many people addicted to drugs or alcohol have lost a large part of their savings as a direct or indirect result of their addiction, and are scarcely able to pay for traditional high-quality treatment. The Thailand rehab monastery of Thamkrabok offers free treatment as well as accommodation (although food has to be paid for) – and this single fact alone makes it worth serious consideration for those who have few other options.
Even if ultimately effective, however, few will enjoy the experience. Very strict rules, a lack of creature comforts, and generally mediocre living conditions make for a less-than-ideal stay. Moreover, as we discuss below, professionals in the field of addiction treatment fear that treatment of the kind given at this Buddhist rehab in Thailand may merely treat the face of addiction itself, rather than the underlying causes which created it in the first place. Such treatments are considered incomplete according to a modern understanding of addiction, as they open the door to an increased likelihood of relapse.
A side-by-side comparison of monastery rehab vs quality residential rehab can be illustrative of the different choices that these two disparate approaches represent.
|Monastery Rehab||Residential Rehab|
|Accommodation||Bare, minimalist, crowded rooms||Private and sharing beds (possibly in dorm)|
|Length of stay||Minimum 7 days||Minimum 30 days|
|Cost||Free (plus food and donation)||From $6,000 to $60,000 – depending on quality, location, and length of stay|
|Treatment model||Intensive purification techniques based on a Buddhist understanding of imbalance||CBT, medical attention, and a holistic approach to addressing underlying causes|
|Rules||Austere; not based on the social / emotional needs of the participants||Allows personal freedom as long as it does not interfere with the likelihood of successful treatment|
|Peer support||Fellow addicts provide moral support by cheering and singing spiritual songs during detoxification||Group therapy, including AA / NA meetings|
|Supervisors||The programme is administered by the monk and ex-addict assistants||Trained, certified and experienced addiction counsellors|
|Setting||Traditional Buddhist temple||Isolated locations, often with a natural backdrop|
|Detox process||Time and emetics||Careful monitoring by certified professionals, over time|
Traditional vs buddhist approaches to addiction
Is this Buddhist Rehab right for you?
- Are comfortable with basic accommodation and amenities
- Do not have complex co-occurring disorders which require a multidisciplinary approach
- Have no health complications that may require medical support
- Have an addiction to opioids and stimulant drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine
- Tried and failed to get clean at several traditional rehab clinics (Wat Thamkrabok might be worth a shot)
- Can’t afford treatment in a traditional residential setting, although here you will only get detox alone and no psychological therapy
- Are ready and willing to change – the treatment only works if you are serious. The vow taken at Wat Thamkrabok is considered unbreakable; there are no ‘second chances’ given in case of failure
Final Thoughts on monastery rehab
Although other elements exist, this monastery rehab in Thailand essentially offers a physical detox without directly addressing the underlying causes of addiction. The monastery’s approach to detox may work in some cases, if the participants bring sufficient determination and commitment to get clean. But it nevertheless fails to neutralise the psychological dependency that is at the heart of addiction. Even a successful detox may be vulnerable to relapse without follow-up therapy or peer support.
Despite these caveats, many who came to the extreme rehab for treatment insist that it saved them. The spiritual dimension added by the monastery’s Buddhist approach may have benefits akin to the ‘belief in a higher power’ that is a central pillar of the traditional approach taken by AA.
It is worth adding that this detox, though extremely uncomfortable, may be effective for those with an addiction to stimulant drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, or amphetamine. Coming off of these types of drugs only requires stabilisation – meaning that the emphasis should be on getting lots of sleep and regaining one’s appetite.
Detox from central nervous system depressants such as alcohol, opioids (heroin or morphine), and Benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium, Temazepam) is not recommended with this method. Attempting the Wat Thamkrabok method in such cases could be very dangerous and even life-threatening, as detox from these substances require substitute drugs, which then need to be tapered off rather than forcing the addicted person to go cold turkey.
“Classifying Drugs by Their Effect on the Central Nervous System.” Australian Government: Department of Health, www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-publicat.htm.
“General Information about Wat Thamkrabok.” Wholehearted Living, hungryghostretreats.org/thamkrabok-assistance-and-recovery-advice/wat-thamkrabok-general-information/.
“Wat Thamkrabok.” Official Wat Thamkrabok Homepage, wat-thamkrabok.org/.