Addiction in Arab countries in the Middle East lends itself to an interesting sociological and health phenomenon. Arab countries often encompass troubling dynamics in which drugs, the drug trade, religious principles and ideals, and addiction interact. Within many countries, like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan, laws ban alcohol (Mayton, 2012). This ban is derived from Islamic law. Here is a quote from the Quar’an Al-Ma’idah 5:91, talking about intoxicants:
“Shaitân (Satan) wants only to excite enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants (alcoholic drinks) and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allâh and from As-Salât (the prayer). So, will you not then abstain?”
I won’t pretend to be an expert on the Qur’an or Islam by any means. Based upon my rudimentary research, this seemed to be a stronger statement about the use of alcohol than many other mentions of intoxicants. Additionally, there were several instances from the Hadith – Bukhari that discuss prophets, an apostle, and others beating drunk individuals. One prophet taught that it was not in order to shame the individual as a “disgrace of Allah,” which would only lead him closer to Satan. This implies that beating the individual was done as an attempt to help them in some way (Muttaqun.com).
Despite the fact that many of these countries may have laws based in conservative religious notions and conservative governments, the populations are simultaneously more heterogeneous about the issue than it may seem. People with liberal and progressive views that may contradict the government’s views and policies often partake in using alcohol. Also, many younger individuals are drawn to the experimentation with drugs and alcohol.
Basically, regardless of the laws, it doesn’t mean that the intoxicants aren’t there (Braude, 2011). One study estimates that alcohol consumption in Arab countries increased by 72 percent between 2001 and 2011 (Mayton, 2012). Whether it’s moonshine, imported, or obtained within “compounds” for Westerners where alcohol is permitted, even Saudis are able to get alcohol (Braude, 2011). One silent contributor has mentioned that the price of the imported alcohol becomes quite high in comparison to what it would be in the United States for a full-fledged alcoholic.
Drug trafficking and production is common, with different countries having different specialties. Afghanistan earned a reputation for producing and exporting heroin. Iran, in particular, has a problem with that heroin. Some estimate that 10 percent of Iran’s youth are addicted to heroin. While many blame this on Westerners and Jews, there are also elites in Iranian society that profit from this economic route (Braude, 2011).
While the elites may be profiting, the actual traffickers face high risks. In October of this year, Iran executed ten drug traffickers through hanging. Those involved are not guaranteed the right to a fair trial under the anti-narcotic laws in Iran (Your Middle East, 2012). Elsewhere, drug production is increasing. In Morocco, mass quantities of marijuana are being produced, and hashish has become a favorite. In Yemen, khat, a stimulant, is locally produced. Basically, you can get anything anywhere in the Middle East provided that you have the monetary means and sufficient motivation (Braude, 2011).
The rate of individuals using drugs and alcohol is higher than the average rates of addiction in many of these countries, like Saudi Arabia. Many experts believe that individuals may turn to substances in an attempt to cope with the limiting and oppressive environment imposed culturally and politically (Braude, 2011). It’s hard to imagine the difficulties of living in the Middle East. Let’s just take a look at the recent highlights: Arab Spring, Syrian revolt, Iraqi insurgency, Lebanon getting involved in there, Palestine’s official state status, Israel being Israeli, and now Morsi is making a move towards authoritarianism.
I’m not saying that it’s all one state. There is diversity, different governments, philosophies, etc. At the same time, it is a region, and it is not exactly peaceful. Basically the social unrest, upheavals, and violence seen in some communities is also likely play a role in individuals’ experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, and, thus, having an increased propensity to develop alcoholism. Expatriates, refugees, and those who have gone through wars and military conflicts are particularly at risk for complex mental health issues (Yahia, 2012).
Arab governments and institutions reflect a view of addiction that is based around the alcoholic being immoral and abandoning or disregarding Islamic heritage in order to adopt Western culture and disease (Braude). Among the population and medical professionals, there is too often a “stigma and ignorance” around the mental health problems (Yahia, 2012). Journalist Joseph Braude reported that, generally, Saudi Arabian and Iranian cultures, which are more religiously governed, recognize addiction less than the more secular Arab countries, such as Lebanon.
That being said, Braude stated in an interview that he spoke to a doctor in Lebanon who favored giving addicts prison sentences and “50 lashes with a whip,” while a Saudi religious leader actually took addicts into his mosque to encourage recovery (Braude, 2011). Often individuals struggling with mental health may seek a religious leader to help remove the “evil eye” (Yahia, 2012). However, some very Western methods of dealing with addiction are there, too. Narcotics Anonymous is more widespread per-person in Iran than anywhere else (Braude, 2011). Simultaneously, there was one post online from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Jordan that said they were the only face-to-face AA meeting they knew of in the country.
While the stigma often prevents individuals from being diagnosed with chemical dependency and other mental health disorders, even when the dependency is overcome there is a marked lack of mental health care treatment specialists, especially in poorer regions of the Middle East. Education of medical professionals is an obvious step; nonetheless, there is a question if the Euro-American-designed psychiatric model is culturally inappropriate to be applied to the Arab world (Yahia, 2012).
Regardless, it is clear that addiction and prolific drug use exists within the Middle-East. If treatment is not available to individuals in their countries of origin, there are a variety of ways to get sober. Treatment centers abroad may be an ideal option for inpatient care. There are treatment centers in Lebanon and Egypt, and likely other places in the Middle East. Additionally, the United States has a vast array of treatment centers that can help individuals set up treatment care and travel arrangements.
Braude, J. (2011, July 19). Inside Islam’s Druggy Underworld. (M. Rosham, Interviewer)
Mayton, J. (2012, September 3). Alcohol use on the rise in Middle East.
Muttaqun.com. (n.d.). Alcohol. Retrieved 2012
Yahia, M. (2012, July 24). Dealing with mental illness in the Middle East. Retrieved from Nature MIDDLE EAST.
Your Middle East. (2012, October 22). Iran Hangs 10 Drug Traffickers Despite Amnesty Appeal. Retrieved from Your Middle East.
Filed under: Addiction, Substance Abuse · Tags: Addiction, alcohol, Alcohol and Drugs, chemical dependency, Egypt, iran, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, saudi arabia, substance abuse, Syria, The Middle East, Yemen