Case study - alcohol use

Mark left the ADF after a tour of Afghanistan. He thought a few beers after work were helping him relax, until he realised he was drinking more than he thought and it was affecting his family.

Time to read: 4 minutes

Mark, 38 years old, East Timor and Afghanistan veteran

I left the ADF 12 months ago and it's been tough ever since.

Ever since I got back from Afghanistan I’ve found it really hard to relax. I feel like I’m constantly on edge and hyped up. I was like that most of the time I was over there, but it made sense then. We had to watch our backs and look out for our mates all the time. But it doesn’t make sense now I’m home.

I’m irritable, always snapping at my wife and the kids. That’s the worst thing. I hate myself when I shout at the kids. It’s not their fault. I found having a couple of drinks helped me relax and I didn’t think it was doing any harm.

We moved to a new city and I’ve been trying to start up a business. I thought it would take my mind off things, give me something to focus on, but it’s really stressing me out.

I’ve always loved a beer after work or with my mates, but over the last couple of months I’ve been drinking more and more. I just feel so tired and stressed out during the day, and a few drinks after work really takes the edge off.

Well, it did for a while, anyway. Now it just makes things worse the next day.

Lately I’ve noticed I’m getting really angry on my way home from work, and for some reason I stay angry pretty much the whole night. The grog isn’t helping me relax like it used to. My wife keeps saying she’s worried about me, and I know my kids don’t like me being angry all the time.

Facing facts

I had to get some injections before we went on holiday, so while I was at the doctor I spoke to him about how I’ve been drinking more than usual. He asked me a few questions and I realised I was drinking at least 12 cans a night.

We talked a bit about how cutting back might make me feel less stressed and angry. He even gave me some advice about cutting back.

All I could think was, "thank God, he doesn’t want me to stop drinking altogether!" I decided I’d cut back by one can a night until I was down to two beers a night. He suggested keeping a tally of what I drank to keep me focussed on my goal. 

I thought keeping a diary and slowly cutting back would keep me on top of things, but after a few weeks I had a look through my diary.

It was a shocker.

I was still drinking exactly the same amount as before ... and to be honest, I reckon I wasn’t even writing down all the drinks at the start. Plus, I was still just as stressed out and angry as ever.

So my wife and I went to a local drug and alcohol treatment place. It was confronting. I didn’t like being lumped in with druggies. I’ve never thought of grog as a drug, but maybe it is.

We saw a social worker and he gave us some more ideas for how I could get my drinking under control.

I’d been a bit worried that I’d have to go into hospital or something so I was relieved when he said I could stay at home with my family.

He got in touch with my GP who made me take some Valium and vitamins in the first week. The social worker said I should try to stay off the booze altogether for a few months, then drink occasionally if I want to.

He also reckoned I might be using the grog to cope with some stuff that happened while I was in the army. Maybe he’s right. That’s certainly when I started to feel tense and uptight all the time.

The social worker said I should get some counselling. A few mates had used VVCS (now Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling) so I gave them a call. Why not? If you've served, it's free. And your family can use it, too. My wife even came with me to my first appointment.

It’s early days yet, but I’m learning some other ways to relax. It’s tough, especially in the evening, because having a drink became a habit. But I’m hanging in there.

TAKE ACTION

If you're concerned about the amount you or a loved one is drinking, specialist help is available through DVA.

If you have served one day in the ADF, you are eligible for:

To ensure you can access the services you're entitled to, register with MyService, even if you;re still in the ADF. DVA services are available to serving personnel, so even if you are in the ADF, you should register.

Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling  supports defence members, ex-serving members, veterans and their families with counselling for individuals and group-based programs. Call Open Arms on 1800 011 046 for free and confidential counselling 24/7.