Case study - alcohol use

Mark, a 38 year old East Timor & Afghanistan veteran

I left the ADF 12 months ago and have found it tough going. 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 that having a couple of drinks helped me relax a bit, but 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, for a while, anyway. To be honest, 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 to relax like it used to. My wife keeps saying how she’s worried about me, and I know my kids don’t like me being angry all the time.

Taking action

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 – made me realise I was drinking at least 12 cans a night – and talked a bit about how cutting back might make me feel less stressed and angry. He even gave me some advice about how I could cut back a bit. One thing I thought sounded like a good idea was setting a goal for how much I wanted to drink; I thought "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 only having two beers. My GP suggested that writing down how much I drank each day would help me keep track.

I thought keeping a diary like that and slowly cutting back would be enough to get me on top of things, but after a few weeks I had a look through my diary and it was obvious I was still drinking exactly the same amount as before (and 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. I didn’t like being lumped in with druggies, I can tell you. I’ve never thought of the grog as a drug, but maybe it is. Anyway, we saw this 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 grog altogether for a few months, then I can go back to occasional drinks if I want. 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. This social worker said the best thing to do would be to get some counselling, and I liked the sound of VVCS – Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service, because they might be able to help my wife and kids as well. And they understand veterans like me. We all agreed that I’d give them a call, and my wife came with me to my first appointment. It’s early days yet, but I’m learning some other ways to relax. I haven’t had a drink for thirteen days (who’s counting?). It’s tough, especially in the evening, but I’m hanging in there. And cuddling the kids makes me determined to stick at it.

Helping yourself

Seek help if the amount of alcohol consumed by you or someone you know has increased. Start by visiting a GP, as they can refer to specialists or help you make a plan.

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

The Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) supports defence members, ex-serving members, veterans and their families with counselling for individuals and group-based programs. Call VVCS on 1800 011 046.