x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Wake-up call for Obaid was night in jail

Counsellors say they are treating alcohol addiction in almost twice as many 20 to 30 year olds as they did five years ago. As Obaid's story reveals, alcohol addiction has a devastating effect on every aspect of a young person's life, Colin Simpson reports

DUBAI // Obaid was driving home after a night's heavy drinking when, on a desert road near the Ajman-Sharjah border, his Mercedes ML struck the kerb of a roundabout and started to roll.

He was thrown around violently in his seat as the vehicle spun three times and juddered to a halt with the driver's door facing the ground, trapping him inside and forcing him to clamber out through the sunroof.

"I'd had a lot of drinks and was heading back from Dubai to Sharjah on Emirates Road," he said. "I turned off and found myself in a rural place where the streets were poorly lit. I wasn't driving fast, I was only doing 80 or 90kph. I hit the roundabout and all of a sudden the car went over three times - thank God I was wearing the seat belt.

"The car was totalled - it was a new car, I had only had it for three months - and I had an injury to my foot."

The crash was a low point for Obaid, an Emirati, who had been drinking heavily for some years before the accident.

It was just one of a number of drink-driving accidents he had been involved in.

"I went back home and, to this day, none of my family know I had that accident," he said. "I just told them I'd sold the car."

More young people than ever are seeking help for alcohol abuse. Obaid - not his real name - was 19 when he started drinking, and he soon realised he was an alcoholic.

Now 29, he continued to drink until a month ago when he finally managed to give up with the help of a counsellor.

The decision to start on the path to recovery came after he spent a night in jail when police caught him drink-driving. He was released the following morning.

"I had a number of accidents but I never cared," he said. "All I worried about was my next drinking session. I was expecting to have a deadly car accident, but I still drank and drove."

Obaid said that, for cultural reasons, there was a lack of awareness about the dangers of drink-driving in the UAE.

"It is a problem here, we don't have education about this, we are not talking about it. The government has to educate the people. I have had near-death experiences so many times while drinking and driving, and it's also putting others' lives in jeopardy.

"Some people, if they drink, they have boundaries and take precautions like using taxis, but some people are not aware of the risks of drinking and driving."

Obaid started drinking when he was at college. White wine was his favourite drink, and he would often down two bottles - and sometimes more - every day. He never drank at home, preferring to go to bars and other licensed venues - sitting in national dress.

"When I was 19 I used to hang out with friends in new trendy restaurants - sushi and stuff - and there was always alcohol around us," he said. "Me and a friend, just out of curiosity, thought of trying alcohol. And we liked it.

"My friend wasn't an alcoholic, he only drank at weekends, but he drove after he drank and had accidents. But he was able to stop, and I wasn't.

"I realised I was an alcoholic. I was drinking a large amount almost daily. It was always my plan to have just two glasses and then go home, but I would never have just two glasses. It was always binge drinking."

Obaid is now determined to remain sober, and has taken up hobbies he used to enjoy before alcohol took over his life, such as reading and off-road driving.

"During my drinking days I could never do any of these normal activities. I would just wake up and think about alcohol and the bar I was going to hang out in."

Obaid hopes that by telling his story he will raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol abuse and drink-driving.

However, he is under no illusions about the difficulties of staying off drink.

"When you're an addict you drink regardless of all principles, risks and consequences.

"Addiction is not like a normal disease where you can take medicine for a short period and then you heal. You can't control it unless you have continual treatment for life."

csimpson@thenational.ae