Conditions in the detox monastery of Wat Thamkrabok in Saraburi, Thailand are said to be liveable at most. With very basic facilities, addicts sleep in large dormitories with many other addicts. As temperatures in Thailand can reach up to 40⁰C (104⁰F) and above, there is no air-conditioning to relieve the hot, humid conditions and for many addicts who come from other countries, just getting through the first 24 hours can be a struggle. But when the Sajja is chanted and the vomiting induced, it takes even more will power for most to remain for the full 8 day programme.
Origins of Wat Thamkrabok
Wat Thmkrabok is a decidedly unique Thai drug rehab, in fact the only rehab of its type known. While most addiction treatment centres offer one-on-one and group therapy combined with medically supervised detoxes and healthy activities to fill their day, this vomiting rehabilitation centre offers 8 days of minimal comfort, vomit-inducing beverages and requires their ‘patients’ to do chores.
Founded back in 1957 by a Buddhist nun and her two nephews, the monastery revolves around a special elixir of 100+ secret herbs, the recipe of which is said to have come to the nun in a dream. Back in the day, the facility treated mainly Thai nationals who were addicted to opium. Now you will find that the majority of those being treated are still Thai, but they are usually treated for ‘yaba’ (meth) addiction. As well, you will typically find a handful of Westerners who have travelled to the monastery to combat addictions to various different drugs including heroin and cocaine addiction.
What Exactly goes on at the ‘Thai Puking Rehab’ Wat Thamkrabok?
Before entering the programme, all participants are required to take a vow of abstinence from drugs. This is essentially a promise to yourself and Buddha (although it can be given to Allah, Christ or the universe depending on your beliefs) that you will do everything in your power to complete the programme and remain drug -free for life.
For the first five days, each participant is required to have a steam bath, take 2 herbal tablets and of course drink the mysterious elixir. All of these actions are said to rid the body of toxins. But while some who have completed the programme say that the steam baths are quite pleasant, they do not feel the same about the elixir.
For the daily vomiting session to commence, each participant is poured a shot glass full of the elixir which they are instructed to down quickly proceeded by chugging a bucket of water – as much as they can possibly drink. With all participants kneeling over what is essentially a concrete vomit trough, the elixir mixed with water causes urgent vomiting for all involved.
Each day is rounded out with an incense offering and a chanting of the sajja which some say is similar to a meditation session.
The final two or three days at Wat Thamkrabok are spent relaxing and recuperating, although the daily steam bath is still required. For those who do not feel they are ready to head home, extended stays are possible but acceptance depends on behaviour shown in the previous week. Once leaving the monastery, however, patients are not allowed back. If they do not keep the vow they made originally, they are not welcome back for a second chance at recovery no matter what.
Success Rates of Wat Thamkrabok
The philosophy of the rehab centre is that this initial treatment is only the first 5% of recovery. The other 95% is done solely by the patient once he/she has left the monastery. The only confirmed statistics that the Thai drug rehab can offer are the amount of patients who went through the programme each year. Otherwise, verified success rates are practically impossible to come by.
How Does it Compare to Other Thai Rehabs?
A free service, despite the mandatory 200 Baht ($6 USD) per day for food, Wat Thamkrabok is definitely a low-cost alternative to other Thai rehab facilities. However, it may be true what they say – ‘you get what you pay for’.
For many alcohol or drug addicts, the detoxification process can be dangerous, and depending on the drug it can even be life threatening. Wat Thamkrabok offers no medical supervision while addicts are purging their toxins which can be very dangerous.
On top of that, addiction is a mental illness that is often caused by underlying issues such as depression, mood and anxiety disorders or traumatic past events. For many, the inability and lack of knowledge on how to deal with these issues is the reason their substance abuse began in the first place. In traditional rehab facilities, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), among other methods, help to arm clients with the skills needed to cope with these issues in a positive way instead of turning to substances in the future.
Without teaching these skills, patients at the monastery may leave without drugs in their system, but what happens the next time they are faced with their previous issues? Will they be able to cope, or will they immediately relapse and turn to drugs once again?
There have been some success stories in the past, but this Thai drug rehab essentially offers a place to stop cold turkey while making a promise to never take drugs again. If this were so easy, traditional addiction treatment centres would not exist. Perhaps the vomiting and steam baths offer a placebo effect, or possibly the sereneness of a Buddhist monastery helps to calm the mind for a short while, but with everything we know about the disease of addiction, Wat Thamkrabok does not offer a conducive environment or effective programme for treating addiction. There is no ‘quick fix’ for addiction – addiction recovery takes a lot of time and effort.