Dr. Prem: From Boozer to Healer


Dr. Prem: From Boozer to Healer

Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam knows all about the pitfalls of addiction – his past included a bout of alcoholism from which he recovered upon treatment. The CEO and Founder of Solace Sabah speaks about fighting the stigma on addiction.

The name of “Addiction Treatment Retreat” was conceived to reduce the stigma on rehab centres. “We do not call ourselves a rehab centre, because unfortunately there is this negative understanding of the word “Rehab”, explains Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam, CEO and Founder of Solace Sabah.

Founded in 2014 in Kota Kinabalu, the retreat specialises in the two families of addiction, substance addiction and process addiction.

“Substance addiction is related all kinds on chemicals that people get addicted to - heroin, alcohol, drugs, while process addiction is for non-chemical things like gambling, internet and sex addiction” says Dr Prem.

I was told things like I lacked willpower and was a nuisance to society. Telling me I had a disease motivated and inspired me to change

While the addiction retreat centre has clients from around the world, half of them are from Malaysia. The centre can host a maximum of 26 clients at one time, but Dr Prem advises against that.

“16 to 18 clients is a good number to focus on when we have clients on site for treatment. Each of our clients has a team of professionals to work with them on their specific issues.”

Dr Prem knows the struggle with addiction. “I struggled with alcohol for many years. I could not find treatment. I lost friends, family and pretty much everything around me.”

After hitting rock bottom, Dr Prem explains that a simple revelation changed his mindset and helped him start his road to recovery. “In the latter stages of my life I was lucky enough to be exposed to treatment, and that is when I realised recovery is possible. Because I was told that what I have is a disease.”

The realisation that being an addict was a disease put things into perspective for Dr Prem. “This was a life changing moment for me because no one told me that. I was told things like I lacked willpower and was a nuisance to society. Telling me I had a disease motivated and inspired me to change.”

After recovery, Dr Prem decided to head back to university to study and start helping others recover the same way he did. “I supposed my obsession to alcohol shifted to something much different, which was to help others see the recovery I had.”

Now at Solace, Dr Prem is trying to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health in the country. “We used to push addiction and addicts away. We rather punish addicts than treat them. If addiction is a disease, shouldn’t we treat the disease rather than punish the person suffering from it? “Dr Prem asks.

Having seen the increase in the number of public talks and conferences on addiction in Malaysia, Dr Prem encouraged but warns that there are still many challenges to face. “We are getting there, but even though there is so much awareness going on, the number of substance abuses is also increasing."

"So, this becomes a battle that we have to win to solve the problem.”

Watch the whole interview below: