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NEWS | Oct. 18, 2017

Success in sobriety: Soldier overcomes battle with alcohol

By Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

“A lot of people are ashamed of it; I was ashamed of it,” he said. “It was the only way that I knew how to numb my mind.”

After U.S. Army Private 1st Class Alex Hogan’s mother passed away, he found solace in the same addiction as his mother—alcohol. Not wanting to follow her same path, he found support through the U.S. Navy’s Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program.  

While in Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Hogan’s mother was diagnosed with liver failure—a result of her alcoholism. His family felt it was best not to worry him with this news during training, either at BCT or Advanced Individual Training at Fort Eustis, where he was learning to be a watercraft engineer operator.

“My mom was all about strength. She even quit drinking for a decade,” he said. “They weren’t aware of how bad it was until it was too late. She died while I was home on Christmas vacation.”

Hogan knew he had to stay focused on learning his craft after returning to AIT; however, he didn’t fully process his loss during those two weeks at home.

Dwelling on what happened, he became extremely depressed. After training days ended and evenings came, he tried drowning out his thoughts with alcohol.  

 “No one knew my mom passed away,” said Hogan. “I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t want to talk about it. I was broken. I held it in.” 

All bottled up

The 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) watercraft engineer operator’s depression worsened and began impacting his daily decision-making; so much so that he didn’t report back to work one day—he picked up a bottle instead.

The reality of losing his mother impaired his mindset, impacting his everyday life.  This abnormal behavior caught his leadership’s attention, which led to Hogan’s enrollment in a substance abuse program.

“I was incredibly depressed and emotionally damaged. I didn’t feel safe talking about it. I didn’t think anyone would care,” said Hogan. “My therapist said that I needed to go to the Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program, not for alcohol, but for learning how to cope. Sending me to SARP was the greatest thing to happen for me.”

Service members like Hogan enter this 35-day inpatient program at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth to deal with addictions or prevent an addiction from progressing. 

“The whole time I was at SARP, we didn’t talk about drinking,” said Hogan. “You talk about what caused the drinking. Drinking is initially the outcome of something.”

For Hogan, the program provided a safe place to cope and talk with fellow service members about similar problems.

“The program was huge in spotting a drinking problem before it could happen. I know that if I didn’t have help, I could have spiraled out of control,” said Hogan. “I was in a bad place. This program taught me not only how to cope with issues on my own, but talk about them as well.”

Defeating the disorder 

After completing SARP, Hogan was then released to the Army’s Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care program. This program uses a multidisciplinary treatment approach that provides Soldiers, family members and civilians with resources needed to help overcome challenges that come with using illicit drugs, prescription medication and alcohol. 

The SUDCC program also provides care for patients through interventions, outpatient counseling and care coordination in residential treatment facilities for a year after successful completion of their treatment.

Elizabeth Calvano-Carpenter, SUDCC clinical director, advises people to be familiar with signs of substance abuse, which may include memory loss, irritability, depression, using alcohol to relax or deal with problems, and drinking alone or in secret.

“Substance use disorders do not discriminate,” said Calvano-Carpenter. “Everyone is susceptible, and the reasons can be as complex as the disorder itself. Patients’ friends and family can create a supportive, substance-free environment and engage in substance-free activities.”

Staying sober 

Now 385 days sober and counting, Hogan has successfully completed the program, using tools he learned to take steps toward a healthier life.

“I always occupy my mind,” said Hogan. “I’ve been going to the gym, playing card games with friends and enjoying my fair share of video games. The worst thing is idle minds or idle hands.”

Hogan said keeping the temptation at bay hasn’t been easy. Throughout his time in the program, Hogan felt pressured to drink with others. In wanting to maintain his sobriety, he has changed his social circle, ensuring those around him are supportive.

“It’s difficult not to succumb to the pressure,” said Hogan. “I have made it this far because I choose who I hang out with. I choose a lot of things to keep myself on track. The second I let someone else decide what’s best for me is when I’m going to slip and fail.”  

Staying on track is important for Hogan because of his life-long experiences with alcohol. He now has more of a reason to succeed in sobriety.

“Alcoholism may be in my blood,” he said. “I saw a lot of drinking growing up. My mom continuously fought a battle with this disease—doctors had told her if she didn’t stop, she would die.”

A shared strength 

Now helping others through the program, Hogan plans to continue seeking therapy to expand his coping skills. But most importantly, he wants to stay away from alcohol.

“November 1 is a scary day because I will be allowed to drink again, but I don’t even want to drink anymore,” said Hogan. “I don’t want to support something that has been so destructive in my life. Even if I can drink, why would I want to drink a poison that killed my mom? I know my mom would be so happy if she saw me now. I did not let her down.”

For more information about the Army’s Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care program, call McDonald Army Health Center’s Behavioral Health Service’s at 314-7558.