Case study - drug use

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, used to be at the top of my game at work. Then I got injured in a training accident – stuffed up my back jumping out of a chopper – and all the crap hit me at once. The army was good at first. They got me the best treatment, a couple of operations and loads of physio. But it gradually dawned on me that I wasn’t ever going to be fit enough to go back to my unit or to 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 it spiralled downhill from there. I didn’t have a job, didn’t have anything to do with my time except sit around the house watching DVDs and feeling useless, so the dope and the pills helped it 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. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved a drink! But the bottle never got the better of me the way pills and dope did. After I got discharged I really hammered the dope, got stuck on pills too – Valium and Oxycontin. I got them from my doctor the first time to help me deal with my stress and back pain. Pretty soon I was shopping doctors to get more of the pills, and I even bought them off the net without a script.

The more time and energy I put into getting off my face, the more things fell out of my life. I used to run about 3 clicks a day, but pretty soon I couldn’t climb three flights of stairs without coughing up a lung. I started to stack on the weight. I was unsociable, angry – 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 earlier this year and I don’t blame her. My kids keep asking why the missus and I split, but I reckon they’re better off without me.

Taking action

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. I called the VVCS, with my ex 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. 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. He linked me in with their doctor who could help me wean off the pills I was taking. Those were hard months, but I made some progress. I stopped smoking the dope 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. I’m getting some physio for my back injury and I’ve even had some sessions with an Occupational Therapist to help me get back into some normal activities and 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. Who knows, I might even be working again soon.

Helping yourself

Seek help if you or someone you know is affected by drug use. Start by visiting a GP, as they can refer to specialists and 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 families as well as group-based programs. Call VVCS on 1800 011 046.