Shenphen Zangpo works with the youth and substance abusers. He has counseled many youth, helped them enter rehabilitation programmes, and later find employment. He spoke to Kuensel’s Phub Dem on substance abuse.

1.   What does Buddhism say about drug and substance abuse?

The sole aim of Buddhism is to wake people up to reality. In this respect, anything that hinders a person achieving this goal is considered negative action. Furthermore, when a person excessively takes drugs or alcohol, they are unable to make clear decisions. As a result, they are at risk of hurting themselves and others, which, in turn, creates negative karma.


2.   What has been your experience of interacting with young substance abusers?

I find that most of the youth who heavily abuse drugs have been mentally hurt by circumstances and are confused about life. However, after receiving rehab treatment and given support and training opportunities, the majority do very well in their careers and become good human beings.

3.   What was the age group of the substance abusers you encountered? Why are they abusing?

I guess the age ranges from around 12 years of age to late 30s, but the majority are in late teens and early to mid-20s. Many come from broken families and homes that lacked adequate parental guidance and support.

4.   What according to you is lacking in dealing with substance abusers and helping them recover? What are your strategies?

Well, personally, I believe that it is important to start focusing on the causes of mass drug abuse, rather than merely dealing with the results. In this respect, we need to research why so many of our youth are turning to drugs. Then, once we can identify a pattern, policies can be implemented to address the root causes.  I don’t have any strategies to work with the addicts. I just enjoy hanging out with them. I like their straightforward and direct way of relating with people – I guess when you have been hurt and looked down on by everyone, you have less pretense and are more genuine.

5.   What is your opinion on visiting rehabilitation centers and giving motivational talks to recovering abusers?

Well, in rehab, the drug abusers already receive a lot of input from the counsellors, who, themselves, are mostly recovering addicts, and so it is probably not so necessary.  However, I believe it can be helpful for recovering addicts to visit schools and colleges to talk on drug abuse. Anyway, irrespective of where the talk is given, the important point is to emphasize that being an addict does not make that person bad, certainly not worse than the person giving the speech. At the same time, it should be stressed that drugs are going to mess them up and that they need rehab treatment in order to quit and regain their lives. Basically, talks should be pragmatic and accepting, not moralistic and judgmental.