YOUTH IN FOCUS: My brother went to rehab about a year ago. After discharge, he did ok for a while, but about two months ago he started hanging out with his old friends and is now using again. My parents have totally given up on him now.  What can I do? Should I also just give up and let him go his own way.

Worried Sister, Thimphu    

Dear worried, it is important to understand that addiction is a relapsable disease. Like high blood pressure or diabetes, it cannot be cured but it can be controlled.

When a person has diabetes or high blood pressure, they visit a hospital where a doctor advises them on diet and lifestyle and prescribes medication. If they follow the doctor’s guidance, there is a high chance that their disease will be controlled. However, if they ignore it, there is every possibility that the ailment will return.

It the case of addiction, a person stays in a rehab, not a hospital, and he or she receives guidance from counsellors rather than doctors. However, like the advice given to the diabetic or the person with high blood pressure, the rehab programme has to be followed for it to be effective.

Basically, people need to realize that a rehab is not a magic wand that instantly banishes addiction. It is more like a college of life skills where people learn how to live a healthy and drug-free life.

Among the different kinds of advice given to an addict, the ABC rule is one of the most important. ABC means ‘Avoid Bad Company’. It is essential that a recovering addict does not hangout with his old user friends. Ignoring this rule is one of the main reasons for relapse and, from what you tell me, it is the cause of your brother starting to use again.

In respect to your brother, you should definitely not give up on him. Although an addict may resist help, he is in a living hell. He is like a person who licks honey from a razor blade. Even though the blade is causing him much pain, he is addicted to the sweet taste and so unwilling to stop. I realize that your brother’s behaviour may be annoying and frustrating, but he is suffering and so needs you now more than ever.

Anyway, I advise you to persuade your brother to return to the rehab and undergo a relapse course. This time, the counsellors can specifically focus on the reasons for his relapse.

As I wrote above, addiction is a relapsable disease, and so it is not uncommon for someone to start using again after one stay in rehab. However, it is very important that your brother takes the programme seriously. In particular, he should follow the ABC rule and regularly attend narcotics anonymous meetings. If he does not do this, staying in a rehab is of no use. He will be like a person with high blood pressure who receives advice from a doctor, but ignores it.

Furthermore, when you offer help to your brother try to do so with a big heart that comes from a deep understanding of his situation. In this way, you will avoid taking a superior role in your relationship with him. I don’t know if this image will help, but think how the sun radiates light and warmth. It has no expectations, no discrimination and no morals to impose on others. It just expresses its nature to shine brightly. This is actually how we should reach out to others. If you can do this, you will never give up on your brother, no matter how many times he relapses.

Finally, I repeat that that your brother is in pain and needs your support. Try to understand his situation. Also, when he returns from rehab, your family should avoid bringing up the past and nagging him. This will just create resentment and depression. Instead, support him to move forward in a positive way.

With regard to getting help, I am personally always ready to assist anyone with drug problems. In addition, there are several drop-In-centres (offering advice on addiction) and reputable rehabs in the region:


YDF, Thimphu: (02) 333-303

Chithuen Pendhey, Thimphu and Paro: (02) 333-111

Jakar: (03) 631-627

Mongar: (04) 641-217

P/ling:  (05) 251-260


Nazhoen Pelri Rehab Centre (YDF), Thimphu:  admission after attending hospital detox programme.

Sahayata Rehab, Siliguri (mostly Bhutanese clients): (+91) 9609996661,

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

Email to for any queries


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