Cocaine addiction in Hong Kong: Why are people leaving Hong Kong to travel to Thailand for rehab?

Cocaine addiction in Hong Kong: Why are people leaving Hong Kong to travel to Thailand for rehab?


Every culture addresses mental illness, substance use, and addiction differently. At Lanna Rehab, the majority of the clients we have from Hong Kong are seeking help for cocaine addiction. In this article, we consider why cocaine addiction appears more prevalent in Hong Kong and why people who live there are seeking help overseas, in Thailand.

Is cocaine legal in Hong Kong?

No, along with other drugs, including marijuana, cocaine is very much illegal. Repercussions of being caught with drugs are serious. For expats living in Hong Kong, or tourists visiting, even a small quantity of drugs being found on their person can lead to fines, jail time and deportation. For Hong Kong citizens, the laws are also strictly applied and jail time is a very real likely outcome. Though it is not legal, Carol Gordon MSc, BSc (Honors), says “it seems to be more common in some sectors than in others. The clients we treat from Hong Kong are typically male, in high-powered, fast-paced roles.”

Pressures from work, including long hours and, Carol says “a burn-out culture. Where, as Hedge Fund Managers, as an example, they are working tirelessly. They have jobs where they can make or lose tens of millions of dollars in a single day. The stakes are high. The pressure is on.” Noting that regardless of cocaine being illegal, “it can be socially acceptable within the finance industry to have a line at lunchtime or with clients after work.”

How to stop doing drugs when everyone else at work does

At Lanna Rehab, our clients work hard to achieve sobriety but after their treatment, they do worry about relapse. Returning home to the place you used drugs can feel risky. If you have a job that includes habitual drug use in the office – or at social events surrounding work. How do you survive sobriety?

“In some cases, people choose to leave their jobs and make a change so they are not exposed to drugs as part of their day to day life. But, most of the time they have families to support and lifestyles to maintain, and they want to keep their extremely well-paid jobs.”

Carol continues on, “we see drug-use glamorized in movies like ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. Drinking whiskey goes part and parcel with the high powered, well-dressed tv characters in shows like ‘Suits’. Part of the process we encourage clients to see is that success in their jobs does not equal drug use or alcohol consumption.”

Why leave Hong Kong and travel to Thailand for rehab?

Mental health and addiction are not viewed the same way in every culture. In Hong Kong there are less support systems for mental health and addiction treatment than there are in other countries. This does not mean that there is not a problem though. A recent survey measuring stress, anxiety and depression levels, found that 1 in 3 young people had mild to extremely severe stress levels. Anxiety levels were even more concerning (38.7 percent).

When clients leave the country they live in and travel to Thailand, they are given an additional level of privacy. This means they can choose to disclose their treatment when and if they are comfortable to do so.

Privacy can be an extremely important factor when making the decision to seek help.

Practical advice for people who are exposed to drugs at their workplace

If you have taken a month, or more, out of your life to attend rehab you do not want to go home resume your normal life and relapse. At Lanna Rehab, we treat every client as an individual and that includes creating a unique treatment plan and customising it to their real-life situations. We want them to be successful when they leave rehab. We recognise sobriety is ongoing work so it is about giving them practical tools that they can take with them.

  1. Find what else brings you happiness

“For people who are using cocaine in high pressured jobs, they want something that brings them the same rush. It’s about finding what exhilarates you and gives you pleasure,” says Carol. In some cases, people can use drugs their entire adult life and find it hard to know what they like without them, but Carol says “if they don’t remember what brought them joy before drugs, then it’s about discovering new things. Part of the reason we take our clients on weekend excursions to elephant sanctuaries, water theme parks, and kayaking, is to show them they can experience joy, drug and alcohol-free.”

2. Incorporate your new hobbies into your daily routine

“One client I have, who has returned to a finance role in Hong Kong, took up squash. He schedules his games after work and practices at lunchtime. Amongst other healthy habits he has taken up, he finds these give him an out of situations he should avoid i.e. when drugs or drinking is likely to happen. If he is taking out clients he limits the entertaining aspect of his job to dinners, rather than nightclubs.”

With the communication skills and confidence our clients develop at Lanna Rehab, we teach tactics that our clients can apply in real-life situations. This includes ways to exit situations that put them at risk of relapsing.

Carol continues, “by planning a dinner, and then an exit strategy ahead of time, it means there are fewer pressures and temptations.”

3. Don’t develop a cross-addiction

A cross-addiction is where you replace one thing for another. Carol says “it may seem perfectly fine to stop using cocaine and start cycling twice per day, but what happens if you have an accident and can’t exercise for weeks?”

Rather than being too dependant on a single thing, it’s advisable to have multiple activities that bring the same pleasure. Carol says “it’s about filling the time and giving yourself a burst of energy that cocaine gives you. Exercise is wonderful but other pleasurable activities could include going to the theatre or the movies. It could be learning a new language or skill.”

4. Spend time with people you feel safe with

When you are in recovery, you need to find a support system that works for you. Lanna Rehab can help you establish a relationship with NA or AA groups within your own community. Regular meetings can offer a safe environment to combat temptation. We can also help you make connections with local therapists to continue your treatment. Give yourself a safe place, and safe people, you can go to who won’t be using drugs or drinking. This could simply be spending time with family. In other cases, it can mean making new circles of friends.



Anne Lazarakis joined the Lanna Rehab team in 2019, from Sydney, Australia. She writes about addiction and mental health as a global issue, often focusing on our own client experiences and linking these to broader social trends. Before joining our team, she worked for several health services with a focus on equality of care, including the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Royal Hospital for Women Foundation. Mental health - particularly addiction - is often stigmatised. Stigmas associated with these areas prevent people from seeking help and recovering. Barriers can be gender, religion, or culturally-based. In some parts of the world mental health is not even recognised as a health condition. By sharing people's stories, and making information more readily available, Anne advocates for accessibility of care for all.

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