Case study - drug use

A training accident and medical discharge were the catalyst for Dan's drug use. Talking to a counsellor was the first step to recovery.

Time to read: 5 minutes

Dan, 35, was in infantry for 15 years until he was medically discharged

I never thought I’d be one of those guys with a drug problem. I used to be really fit, and I was always on top of my game at work. Then I was injured when I jumped out of a chopper. In a heartbeat, it turned my life upside down.

The army was good at first. They got me the best treatment, a couple of operations and loads of physio. But then it gradually dawned on me that I wasn’t ever going to be fit enough to go back to my unit or deploy.

I got more and more down. Being a soldier was the only thing I knew how to do. If I couldn’t do that, what use was I?

Eventually I was medically discharged and my life spiralled downhill from there.

Downward spiral

I didn’t have a job, and I didn’t have anything to do with my time except sit around the house watching DVDs and feeling useless.

But I did have access to drugs.

Weed and pills made the time seem bearable. It got to a point where all I could think about was drugs: getting the cash together, getting on and getting out of it.

When I was a young bloke I’d smoked the odd joint with mates, but when I joined up, the job provided all the buzz I needed. I still loved a drink, but the bottle never got the better of me the way pills and weed did.

At first I got Valium and Oxycontin from my doctor to help me deal with my stress and back pain. Pretty soon I was doctor-shopping for pills. I even bought them off the net without a script.

The more time and energy I put into getting off my face, the faster my life fell apart.

I used to run about three clicks a day, but pretty soon I couldn’t climb three flights of stairs without coughing up a lung. The I started to stack on the weight. I was unsociable, angry – I turned into a right bastard. And it was costing us a fortune.

We had an investment property when I left the army and that went pretty much up in smoke as they say. My partner kicked me out of the house and I don’t blame her. My kids keep asking why dad left, but I know they’re better off without me.

In the end, the wakeup call was almost losing access to my kids.

I’d missed too many access visits and my ex had had enough.

Luckily, she had been getting some help for herself and the kids already, and knew where I could go to get sorted out.

She put me onto VVCS (now Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling). She even took me there to make sure I didn’t bolt at the last minute.

The first time I actually opened up about everything that had happened in the last few years was tough.

I’d never really put everything together, but the counsellor was pretty good, and helped me work out where the wheels had fallen off, and how things had gotten gradually worse over time.

I’d really avoided facing up to things. I guess I was living in a bit of a fog.

The road back

It was really hard to own up to everything that I was using, including the pills. In the end I got a referral to see a specialist drug and alcohol counsellor who could help wean me off the pills. Those were hard months, the worst of my life, but I made progress.

I stopped smoking weed straight off – it was rough for the first ten days – and I’m taking some different pills. Now I only take them when I’m supposed to – not gulping down a handful whenever I get pissed off.

Instead of painkillers, I’m getting physio for back injury and I’ve even had some sessions with an Occupational Therapist to help me get back into some normal activities so I can look after myself properly.

It’s going to be a long road to getting through a day without thinking about using anything. But I have good days now, and I know I can do it.

I don’t expect my family is going to forgive me overnight and take me back straight away, but at least we are talking about it now. It feels good to be in control again.

TAKE ACTION

If you or someone you know needs help due to drug use, a good first step is to speak to your GP. Your GP can refer to support specialists and help you make a recovery plan.

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

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