Help is at hand for recovering alcoholics in the Emirates

Although Alcoholics Anonymous has been present in the Emirates since 1977, many Arab and Muslim alcoholics and recovering alcoholics prefer to get help abroad to avoid the risk of their anonymity being exposed.

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DUBAI // The cultural and religious stigma attached to alcohol and alcoholism is preventing Emirati, Arab and other Muslim sufferers from seeking the help they need in the UAE.

Although Alcoholics Anonymous has been present in the Emirates since 1977, and has more than 200 members attending 30 groups here, many Arab and Muslim alcoholics and recovering alcoholics prefer to get help abroad to avoid the risk of their anonymity being exposed.

That can mean people in need of help to control and overcome the addiction are going without the support they need.

Alcoholism is a disease that is “cunning, baffling and powerful” and affects Emiratis and expatriates, men and women alike, said John, chairman of the AA Asia and Oceanic Service Meeting, who, like other members, is referred to by only his first name.

“AA works because one alcoholic carries the message to another. The bravest thing a person can do is attend their first meeting. It is terrifying. But we want to get the message out that there is help in this region.”

More than 200 delegates representing AA groups from across the Asia Oceania region will meet in Dubai for the first Middle East Regional Committee of the AA forum of its kind on November 6 and 7 to show what support is available for recovering alcoholics.

The conference, to be held at the Grand Excelsior Hotel, will include an information event open to doctors, clergy, schools and counsellors to learn more about providing help and advice.

Andrew, a recovering alcoholic from Scotland who has lived in Dubai for seven years and runs regular AA group sessions in the emirate, said despite alcoholism affecting all nationalities, there were not enough numbers coming forward to ask for help to support Arabic-speaking meetings.

“When one person comes in, then it will spread the word and encourage others to follow,” he said.

Hamish, who has been sober since 1987, thought long and hard about moving to Dubai for work because of a perceived lack of support for recovering alcoholics here.

“A challenge is the stigma attached to alcoholism, particularly with Muslims,” he said. “Emiratis are particularly wary of the anonymity issue.

“Many Emiratis, Saudis and Qataris would rather seek out help in London.”

Financial pressure, work stress and loneliness are key factors behind alcoholism. Andrew said the average age of AA members in the emirate had fallen to about 35.

“There are a lot of single people in Dubai who may be lonely or away from their families and there is the ‘Friday brunch’ culture,” he said.

“The lunchtime drinking culture in England is gone now.

“In America, alcohol consumption has tumbled, but in Dubai, there are more ways of getting alcohol and a greater density of bars than in some European cities.”

To register for details of the Middle East AA convention next weekend, visit mercaa2015dubai.wix.com/dohd.

nwebster@thenational.ae