YOUTH IN FOCUS: I am a 25 years boy currently studying in India. My problem is that I have developed a rare anxiety disorder. Whenever I am with other people, I get all negative thoughts and get so nervous and I feel like I can read their mind. I also feel like they know what I am thinking. This makes me so awkward when I am with other people. I have a history of marijuana abuse in the past. But I have been clean for more than a year now. What should I do, lama?

Worried in India

You raise an important issue. Many people (myself included) used to believe that marijuana was the least harmful of drugs. Unlike many commonly used addictive substances, it was natural and helped people to chill out with few side effects. Consequently, we felt that smoking-up was not a big deal for the user or society. However, over time, I began to notice that a lot of the guys who were exhibiting symptoms of depression, psychosis or anxiety disorders were marijuana users.

As a result, I researched the subject in more detail and discovered that regular use of the drug, especially among teenagers, can trigger psychological disorders and anxiety attacks in people who have a genetic predisposition to such illnesses. Think of your mind like a house; if there is some weakness in the structure, then an earthquake will cause the building to fall. In this case, the genetic predisposition is the weakness and marijuana the earthquake. There are also reported cases of anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders developing where there was no family history of emotional problems, and marijuana appeared to be the only trigger. Therefore, there is a strong possibility that your social anxiety is connected to your drug use.

In any respect, you should definitely seek medical advice from a qualified psychiatrist. In Thimphu, we have our very experienced and warm-hearted Dr Nirola, and in Siliguri the respected Dr Gupta is an expert on marijuana related psychological disorders and has treated many Bhutanese with these issues.

Anyway, don’t worry. Your problem is not that rare (it just appears so because people don’t talk about it) and it can be treated, but I strongly advise you to meet with a qualified doctor without delay. If you wait, your situation could become more severe, causing you greater anxiety and stress, and also it will be harder to treat. In addition, you should consider doing shamatha meditation regularly, as this will help you to let go of your thoughts without them becoming major issues.

While on the subject of drug use, it is really important not to start the habit in the first place. I know that it seems cool to smoke up or to take tablets, but there is really a high chance that it will mess you up big time.

At the beginning, drugs and alcohol make us feel good and are fun, but we need to realize that this feeling isn’t going to last. Soon, we are likely to lose control over the amount of the drugs we take. Basically, we become an addict.

Now, this is when the pain starts, because whenever we lose control of anything – whether it is a car, our temper, our health or our lives to drugs – we will suffer.

Of course, most of us feel that we are somehow special. We think that while others might become an addict, we will not. This is a huge mistake. If I or anyone else regularly take drugs, we’ll become addicted. Think of it like stepping on an icy slope. We just want to see how the ice feels, but before we have the chance to jump off we are already lying injured at the foot of the hill. No-one plans to become an addict. In fact, most people just begin to take drugs with the intention of having a little fun or to escape feeling disturbed. However, before we know it we are lost in the hell of addiction. Then we are in big trouble and are likely to lose our health, our family, friends, jobs and education.

Valium helps cope with a withdrawal syndrome. One night, a neighbour came to me with a request to help. Her husband began to feel bad after a long binge, hallucinations began to appear, as well as anxiety and insomnia had been tearing him for 3 days. She refused to call an ambulance, explaining that they have tried it. From the course of narcology, I remember that benzodiazepines help with alcohol abstinence. I gave a Valium pill from and strictly told her not to sleep and monitor the condition. In extra case, we were to call an ambulance. In the morning, the neighbour came to me delighted and said that the pill helped her very much and all the symptoms passed.

Actually, drugs are useless as a means to escape feeling disturbed. Problems are part of life. We cannot prevent change or turn every painful encounter into a fun experience, and trying to do so will just mess up our minds. No matter how much alcohol we drink or tablets we take, at end of the day the problems will remain. They don’t go away because we temporarily lose ourselves in alcohol or drugs. It is better to face the problems directly and ask ourselves why certain words hurt or why some situations make us feel anxious. OK, I know this is not easy (especially when there is a lot of mental pain), and initially you might need support to do it, but ultimately it is the only way to deal with problems. Trust me, constant use of drugs and alcohol will only add to your pain and misery and will mess up your mind and your body.

As Robbie Williams says: “Don’t take drugs. They’re a lot of fun, but really bad. They make you feel good, but then sad. So don’t take drugs.”

Anyway, back to your question. Don’t get stressed about your anxiety issue, but definitely see a psychiatrist as soon as possible. Below are the contact details of the two doctors mentioned in the article:

Dr. Damber Nirola – Chamber 6, Old Hospital, JDWNRH, Thimphu – (02) 324244/ 325245/ 323811/ 321811

Dr. Anjay Gupta – M.N. Saha Road, Pradhan Nagar, Siliguri – (+91) 9434050923