Choki Wangmo

He remembers that fateful night in Thimphu with friends six years ago as the beginning of the darkest times of his life. Chasing fun and excitement, and largely out of curiosity, Phuntsho Tobgay, 16 then, tried some psychotropic drugs. The next thing he knew, he had become an addict. He would do drugs in school with his friends and was once suspended from the school for two weeks.

In Bhutan, close to seven percent of youth abuse drugs on a daily basis. This is according to medical experts. The types of drugs abused are mainly pharmaceutical such as pain medicines like Spasmoproxyvon (SP+), sedatives such as Nitrazepam (N10), marijuana and cannabis, inhalants and solvents like dendrite, paint thinners, and correction fluid.

In the ensuing years, which Phuntsho looks back on as the lost years, his addiction gave rise to problems at home. He had even begun stealing for money to buy drugs. Fortunately, he had not lost himself altogether to drugs. Time had come to make a u-turn and he did.

Now 22, Phuntsho works for Aleenta Resort and Spa in Thailand.

“I was powerless over my addiction and my life had become unmanageable. I had to stop,” he says. “I wanted to see my parents happy.”

With support from Lama Shenphen Zangpo, Phuntsho Tobgay went through rehabilitative procedures in Siliguri. He said that Lam knew him from the streets and had been trying to help him for a long time.

Rehabilitation centre was the beginning of a new journey. Phuntsho knew it and promised to himself that he will kick the habit. “After listening to my friends, I was motivated to change my life and stay away from drugs and alcohol,” he said. “I regretted a lot for not being a good person, but I now had a new problem to face.”

Just how to begin life anew, Phuntsho wasn’t sure. He was even scared but he tried his best. He had to regain the trust of his family and relatives. How he was able to hold one gave him strength. After rehab, Phuntsho worked for Ambient Café in Thimphu and there, he knew that he wanted to be a chef. He then worked as a trainee chef at Le Meridien.

“It was exciting to learn new things but I was careful because as a recovering addict, if I made mistakes, it would be difficult for everyone. I worked really hard,” says Phuntsho whose hard work was recognised and got to train as a chef in Thailand.

“I’m grateful to Lam Shenphen Zangpo. Without his help and support, it would have been impossible for me to get back on the right track,” says Phuntsho. “I have been living a healthy and happy life for some time now. Gone are the days I used to live like a street dog in the streets of Thimphu.”

Addiction is not the end; there are ways with which people could help addicts quit their habit, says Phuntsho. “Give them a chance.”