Youth in focus: Hi Lam, here is my situation: I graduated class 12, but was a drug abuser from class 8. I recently went to rehab and completed the course a few weeks ago. During my first few days home I felt full of life and was happy to move on, but now I feel low. I tend to sleep late, and am irritable and angry most of the time. I’m not depressed, but feel frustrated about life. I’m afraid I’ll relapse. I know it’s my problem, but what can I do?

Worried recovering addict, Thimphu

Well, I’m not a counsellor or a psychiatrist, but it sounds to me that you might be suffering with a syndrome that is commonly known as ‘dry drunk’. Basically, you have stopped using drugs but not dealt with the underlying issues that caused you to become an addict in the first place. While quitting drugs is a major step to regaining your life, it is not enough. You also need to entirely overhaul your lifestyle and change your way of interacting with the world.

Actually, many people with dry drunk symptoms deny that they have a problem and instead blame their circumstances. “My mother nags me, I can’t find a suitable job or my family doesn’t understand me” are common justifications for not progressing in life. You have not done that, but instead acknowledged that you yourself have a problem. This took courage and is a major step to moving forward. However, you now need to deal with the issue.

In this respect, you should remember that the way we see the world depends on our mindset. Take a sunny day as an example. If you are feeling content, you will enjoy the warmth and be inspired by the people you meet. If you are feeling irritated, the heat may appear oppressive and the people you encounter will be a source of annoyance. In reality, the world remains the same. It is our state of mind that defines how we relate to it. Therefore, if you want to make positive changes in your life, you need to work with your mind.

As a recovering addict, the first step to do this is to conscientiously work through the twelve steps programme that you learned in the rehab. In addition, take an active role in local NA meetings and identify a trustworthy senior recovering addict with whom you can frankly and honestly share your feelings. In NA/AA, this person is called a sponsor, and he or she will play a major role in your on-going recovery. Remember that recovery is a life-time journey of discovery and that NA should be your partner along the way. You cannot walk it alone.

In addition to working with the programme, find a job that requires discipline and gives you a sense of humble dignity. In particular, avoid working under a relative or friend as it is too easy to manipulate this kind of relationship. As an option, consider a job in a standard hotel. The discipline and clean environment will help raise your energy level and inspire your outlook.

Reaching out to others is also a great way to raise your spirit and develop a positive mindset. As HH Dalai Lama has said: “Compassion naturally creates a positive atmosphere and as a result you feel peaceful and content.”

Also, I suggest that you adopt healthy activities. Cycling, yoga and martial arts will all raise your physical and metal levels. In addition, learn meditation – not only will meditation help develop your spiritual life (which is part of the NA programme) but will also help you to be aware of how you use excuses, such a blaming others and self-pity, to avoid dealing with difficult situations.

Actually, we all feel helpless at times, and feeling lost is nothing to be ashamed of. In most cases, we can work through problems ourselves or with the help of our NA fellowship. However, if you feel that nothing is working, then I strongly suggest that you return to your rehab for a follow-up.  Actually, all of us have shortcomings – It is part of being human – but when these defects dominate our life and trigger unhealthy habits, then we need to take action, and a counsellor’s input will be invaluable in this respect.

Finally, I think it is important for you to bear in mind the NA slogan: “While quitting drugs will certainly take you out of hell, it will not take you to heaven.” Basically, you need to understand that rough and pleasant times are like mountains and valleys. We cannot have one without the other and that both are equally part of human life. In this respect, avoid craving for one situation and avoiding another, and instead accept every encounter as a learning experience, and, at the same time, recognise that all situations (good and bad) will pass.

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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