Every time her mobile phone rings, Sonam (name changed) gets worried. She breathes a sigh of relief when the number is known.

Sonam’s brother is in rehab. It keeps her on her toes, day and night.

The 31-year-old private employee, a single mother, said the last few years of her life has been difficult after her youngest brother started abusing thinner. “I had to borrow money and take advances to bail him out and pay his thrimthue,” she said.

As the eldest in the family, she said her mother and siblings stay with her after their father left them. “I worked hard to make a living and support my family.”

Two years ago, she heard her brother, a 12-year-old, was abusing thinner. She couldn’t believe it. Later that year, police arrested her brother for abusing thinner and shoplifting.

“My mother refused to accept this has happened. No one believed he could cause so much trouble,” she said. “But the worst affected was me and my son. As the main bread earner, I had to look for money to bail him out. I couldn’t give attention and love to my son.”

Once bailed out, her brother was thrown out of school. He became violent at home. She said when they tried to explain, he promised he would change, but things became worse. He even sold the things at home and his clothes to buy thinner.

After changing two schools, he was again arrested earlier this year. As a teenager, he was sent to Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA) for counselling. BNCA officials then sent him to a rehabilitation centre.

Sonam said it is much better when her brother is in the rehabilitation centre. “I feel he is safe and he is changing his habits but I also worry that he might relapse once he comes out of the centre.”

She is not alone.

With more than 1,000 people detained for abusing substances in recent years, many families are affected.

An 18-year-old student, whose stepfather abuses drugs, said her mother and siblings work hard to make life comfortable only for the stepfather to ruin everything. “I stay with my aunts most of the times. It’s difficult to live in my house.”

Her mother said it’s difficult living with a person who abuses drugs. “He can be a good husband sometimes but he doesn’t care about the family most of the times.”

She said everyone blames her for marrying an addict and causing her own misery. “I really want to get out of this relationship but I feel things would get worse for him if I leave him.”

A rich landlord in south Thimphu has her only daughter in prison for drug trafficking. The single mother was devastated when she came to know about her daughter, said a neighbour. “This is what drugs can do to people.”

Recently, when police arrested a 23-year-old university graduate and sent to a rehab centre, the father, a corporate employee, did not even want media to write about their story fearing repercussions from the son’s friends.

“My son is a graduate and he was arrested for abusing marijuana,” the father said. “He is not an addict but got involved because of his friends.”

Parents, whose children are into drugs, agree that they fall out with each other over how to deal with the situation.

“We blame each other for our son’s behaviour,” a parent said. Their 16-year-old son came in conflict with the law several times for drugs offence. “We give too much attention to him but he always lets us down. Our other three children get neglected.”

He said their neighbours look down at them, questioning their parenting skills. “Some even suspect our relationship, as many children who are into drugs come from broken families.”

Tashi Dema