'It started at work when a colleague offered me a line of coke for free'
HIGH up in the mountains, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, between the woodlands and the valleys, lies a rehab centre with a difference. The Forest is where Ireland's elite go to cure their addictions.
Entrepreneurs, business executives, doctors, solicitors, barristers, psychologists, councillors, lecturers and university students; they've all been through these doors.
And of course celebrities have availed of The Forest's services too. So when Colin O'Driscoll, Senior Psychologist and Centre Manager tells me that people fly in from the UK to attend the clinic, one can only guess who hides in The Forest.At ?16,400, the price-tag for the three-week course is not cheap by any standards but it does buy you anonymity. The luxury clinic houses 10 guest rooms. Each has its own writing desk, which looks out onto breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, a television, a leather chair and foot rest, a generously-sized bed, a wardrobe and an ensuite shower room. Inside the main area there is a spacious living room, and the walls are adorned with expensive artwork that the clients can purchase as they wish.
Over 50 per cent of the client base is made up of middle-aged women who are addicted to wine - some of whom had been consuming up to two or three bottles a day.
"More women are beginning to surface with this problem. With the introduction of wine into our culture, our consumption of wine has increased massively in the past 10 years, so that drinking two bottles in one night wouldn't be unheard of," according to Mr O'Driscoll.
He explains how the odd glass of wine with friends can slowly turn into a serious problem. "It starts at dinner parties or drinking with friends and gradually it progresses further. Usually the turning point is when the person becomes emotionally dependent on a substance, in that they use it for confidence, self-esteem or for the fact that it helps them to switch off. Then it starts to become a problem and they begin to drink alone or in secret.
"For some reason there's a lot more stigma attached to it [treatment] for women. We're very good at hiding things as a nation and there is a sense that we put on a front for the Joneses."
Mr O'Driscoll has seen the effect of widely used and readily available class-A drugs. "Cocaine is certainly growing in acceptance and availability. In certain circles it's treated like alcohol now and I think most young professionals would say they have either encountered it or taken it themselves." He says that if cocaine is being used as a self-medicating drug to treat some sort of emotional process then it's much more likely to become anaddiction."
The treatment model used by The Forest is "motivational intervention" where the client finds their own reasons to change. "It is a non-confrontational treatment style and we are very respectful of our clients' decisions."
He explains how, unlike the majority of treatment models in Ireland and the UK, The Forest doesn't try to confront a client about their problem or force a particular way of thinking upon them.
"Ambivalence is the key area of what we address. When a person comes to us, at the same time; they do and don't want to change. And sometimes people can spend many years like that. We help people explore the prospect of treating their addiction in a non-confrontational style that they won't resent. We don't tell them what to do. We are completely objective when they come to us, we aren't on either side of the fence, we simply walk through the possibilities with them."
Dave 26, became heavily addicted to cocaine two years ago and turned to the clinic for help. "It started off at work when a colleague offered me a line of coke for free. From then on I just kept going back to him, asking for more. In the end I was spending ?1,500 a week to feed my habit. Money wasn't a problem for me at the time but I know if I kept going the way I was I would have been broke after a year.
"Gradually, family and friends started to notice and I began seeing the effects it was having on my life, especially my mother. She was getting very upset at the way I was keeping to myself and not calling around to her as often.
"Eventually I knew I needed help and a year ago I came across The Forest on the internet. I went in for three weeks and I found it very good but it didn't fully work for me because three or four days after coming out I was back on the stuff again."
Nine months later, Dave decided he needed to go back to The Forest and he stayed for four weeks. "It was absolutely brilliant. It's like going back to nature. During my stay I did an awful lot of walking, I could go out for two hours a day and it was like it centred me again. You sweat an awful lot during it and that's one of the key things about it too.
"They do a lot of classes like yoga and art which takes your mind off your next hit and then both the one-on-one and group sessions were a really big help too. Whatever they said, it made so much sense and it changed my way of thinking about drugs and the reasons why I needed them. It really helped me get to the root of the problem."
So was the hefty price tag worth it? "It's worth every penny," says Dave. "VHI cover it as well but if it was twice as much I'd still pay it. To know that you are away from people for a while on a break to get your life sorted and that you're not going to bump into anyone you know was very important to me."
"My family are delighted too. They see a massive change in me. My reactions are quicker now and I take more pride in my appearance again. I make more of an effort in life." For those who find themselves with an addiction, Dave says there's help out there but you have to want to get help yourself first. "My life is so good again. I'm finally back on track."