A UAE resident looking at the Alcoholics Anonymous website. Image Credit: Devadasan/Gulf News

Dubai: A growing number of young white-collared professionals are attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sessions in the UAE as stress, loneliness and access to easy credit take their toll, members said.

Gulf News attended meetings at a church compound in Dubai early this week. A total of 20 sessions take place every week across the emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, each with averages of eight to 10 persons in attendance, group leaders told Gulf News.

Participants in the Dubai meeting were interviewed on condition of anonymity. One of the attendees, Malek, a smartly turned out professional in his 40s, who is himself a recovering alcoholic and 100 days sober, had worries for his younger colleagues at work.

The same person who was on Dh6,000-8,000 and was happy, is now not happy on double or triple the salary. That says something about the next generation.

- Malek | A participant

“I have 150 people working for me in my business, 50 of whom are white collar, nearly all of whom come from the subcontinent,” said Malek from Gujarat, India.

“All of a sudden they come here and it’s a big change in their life. They come to a much better lifestyle, get carried away and can’t control it.

“The same person who was on Dh6,000-8,000 and was happy, is now not happy on double or triple the salary.

“That says something about the next generation. We warn them about credit cards and personal loans and tell them it is a trap, but we have cases of employees borrowing half a million. They either run, or if they stay and take that pressure, six or seven out of 10 of them will develop some sort of habit.”

20

sessions take place every week across the UAE

Money is how Malek’s own problems started, as he explains alcoholism is just symptom of bigger issues. “My problem came from worry and fear, I think it’s something to do with my nature,” he adds. “I had a financial issue in India that involved a lot of money, it kept me worrying, but if I drank it was fine.”

Arthur, another participant, in his 50s and also from India, agreed: “We don’t face real life. We drown all our emotions in alcohol. Suppose anything goes wrong at work, in the family or financially, our only self-defence is the bottle and we just get drunk.”

Functioning alcoholics

It is a problem affecting all echelons of society, not just the ‘down and outs’, as some people outside AA meetings might perceive, but also — and especially more recently — the young and successful, who you wouldn’t otherwise suspect have a drinking problem, because even they are the last to realise it.

“I didn’t have any problems at work,” added Malek. “My efficiency might have suffered, but I didn’t think I had a problem. Often during work hours I’d sneak out for a couple of drinks, I was what’s called a functioning alcoholic.

“If my wife had not forced me to go to an AA meeting I would have just continued. I was doing perfectly fine at work and home, everything was in order, therefore it’s hard to realise who is an alcoholic and who is not.”

Mohan, one of the group leaders, also in his 50s and originally from India, agreed: “It reflects on the faces of the family, but people don’t admit it themselves. I myself thought I was successful and never suffered emotionally or physically, I had no reason to identify myself as an alcoholic. Others lost their families, but it never happened to me, I never lost my job, rather I prospered, but I still had a problem.”

He confirmed that local sessions were seeing more and more young people in attendance.

“In the global context the average age of newcomers has dropped phenomenally. Locally we have also observed that we are getting younger people come. That’s good because it shows the awareness of alcoholism is there among the youth, but the trouble is they don’t stick to it.

“Usually they come because they’ve lost everything, but when they get it back they think: ‘OK, what’s the point of returning to AA?’ But that’s the biggest danger because alcoholism is a progressive non-curable disease. You wouldn’t quit cancer treatment halfway through, but these people are least bothered.”

Why is the retention rate of young attendees so poor?

“It takes a long time for a person to come out of denial,” said Arthur. “But the fact we are getting younger people, shows that they are hitting rock bottom sooner. Now they are getting more educated and accepting of the fact that you may think you are leading a normal life, but you could still be an alcoholic.

“They get educated, come and then realise if they don’t stop they will end up like the older guys in the group. However, the trouble is that it is very difficult for a young person to accept that they can’t drink again for the rest of their life.

“It’s only with experience, that we, as older members of the group realise, once you admit to yourself that you are an alcoholic, it is not possible to go back.”

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

A support group that holds regular meetings where people suffering from alcoholism can go to discuss their problems in confidence. No records are kept on members, and everything discussed within the group stays in that room.

What happens in these meetings?

Members share their own experiences of battling alcohol, which may be cathartic for themselves or inspiring for new members. Going around the room each attendee is invited to talk, but is not obliged, and they are not pressured to return. Although faith and spirituality may be discussed as an element of healing, you need not be religious or of the same faith as the venue.

How cam I attend?

Visit www.aauae.net to find out the times and locations of a meeting near you and contact the group leader via the number provided.