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Thailand has become a Go-To Destination for Private Addiction Treatment – Why is that?


Over the last 10 years Thailand has arguably become the major destination for residential drug and alcohol treatment outside of the US & Europe. Since 2010, Thailand’s treatment center sector has expanded hugely. This boom has been part of huge growth in a wider sector known as ‘medical tourism’.


Medical tourism occurs when affluent people cannot obtain the facilities they need for treatment in their home country, or face long waiting lists. For example, China has seen waves of wealthy citizens seeking superior quality medical treatment in the USA, UK and Germany over the last ten years. Large numbers of affluent, but less wealthy middle class Chinese have also contributed to the growth of the private health sector in South Korea, Singapore and Thailand.[1] Similarly, citizens of western countries have sought some specialist medical treatments such as cosmetic surgery and dentistry in countries like Turkey and Thailand.


Addiction treatment in Thailand is a case in point. Lower overheads costs, but good infrastructure in the medical and tourist sectors, have allowed Thailand to offer first rate addiction treatment to western clients. So what are the specific features of this infrastructure that are unique to Thailand.


First, there is the hospitality. In other words, the famous Thai smile. This is a cliché but it really is true. Service with a smile seems to be something in short supply these days in Western countries and cities, unless you happen to have the good fortune of meeting a particularly bubbly individual, or you are staying in a particularly high end hotel or shop. In other words, you have to buy good service and the price tag is pretty high. In Thailand, good service is more or less universal.


Don’t underestimate the value of warmth and the effect it has on people in early recovery/detox. During the initial phases of treatment paranoia, defensiveness and vulnerability are at their highest. In this sense, warm and responsive ancillary workers such as gardeners, masseurs, and kitchen staff become as much a part of the healing process as the more central professionals such as counsellors, doctors, nurses and physical trainers.


Secondly, there are the authentic features of Thai culture that can be (and usually are) used as therapeutic techniques within the framework of addiction treatment in Thailand. I call them the three M’s;

1) Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the form of meditation that is usually practiced in Thai Buddhism. The local name for mindfulness is vipassana (which is the Pali word for ‘insight’). Mindfulness has become trendy in the West to treat everything from chronic pain, depression and anxiety, to addiction. But it has its roots here in South East Asia, specifically in the Thervada Buddhist countries: Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

2) Muay Thai

‘Muay’ is the Thai word for boxing but Thai ‘boxing’ is a misnomer, because Muay Thai consists of more than just boxing or kickboxing. It is called the art of eight limbs because it makes use of the hands, feet and lower legs, knees, and elbows.


Muay Thai has risen in prominence as a fighting art in the West over the last 10-20 years due to its prominent role in the development and ever expanding sport of MMA. Specifically, Muay Thai is known as one of the four foundational martial arts which comprise the majority of MMA technique. (The three others being boxing, brazilian ju-jitsu, wrestling).

2 men muay thai boxing
Muay Thai training at The Beach Rehab Thailand

In its raw form, Muay Thai is perhaps the most brutal of all martial arts. Nevertheless, it is also hugely popular in the west now as a fantastic and fun fitness regime. By using shin guards as well as gloves, anyone can get a great cardio workout at the same time as having fun and increasing their flexibility and conditioning (toughness of bones, muscles etc.)

3) Massage

After all that kickboxing and cross-legged meditation, the average resident of a Thai treatment center will be needing a good massage. Luckily, massage is one of the ancient and traditional authentic arts of Thailand. Like Muay Thai, traditional Thai massage in its truest form is not for the faint-hearted.


This dry-type of massage does not use oil, but rather, focuses on increasing flexibility and ironing out the knots caused by manual work. (In traditional Thai society this came, obviously, from working in the paddy fields).

authentic Thai massage

Modern Thai masseurs use oil of course, and are responsive to the somewhat less hardy and flexible bodies of the average westerner. Nevertheless, you should emerge from treatment in Thailand, significantly more flexible, mentally and physically, than you were when you went in!

Are you ready to make a change?

1. Top 8 outbound medical tourism hotspots for China’s affluent. October 2016. Available online. Retrieved June 2019.