509th NCO seeks help, leads way after substance abuse

FORT POLK, La. — Staff Sgt. Christopher Stinson, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment, watched as his accomplishments seemed to crumble after developing a substance abuse problem stemming from an unidentified struggle with depression.
At the time, Stinson felt that he had it all. “I had the job I wanted, I fast-tracked through the ranks, bought a new truck and decked out my apartment; but I was miserable,” he said.
Unknowingly, Stinson struggled with depression. “I was working at a high tempo for a while; but as things slowed down in 2015, I ended up picking up a habit with a substance called Kratom, which should have been my first sign of trouble because I’ve always been completely sober,” Stinson said.
According to www.drugabuse. gov, Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia with leaves containing compounds that cause effects similar to both opioids and stimulants. It interacts with opioid brain receptors, which can produce sedation, pleasure and decreases pain.
Stinson felt that he had everything he wanted and couldn’t understand where the pain was coming from, he said. “Kratom felt like my only release from that pain, but it is highly addictive. Before I knew it, I had a substance abuse problem.”
Stinson secretly used Kratom for two years before his substance abuse was revealed after misusing a government credit card, he said.
“Using (Kratom) led to a constant state of inebriation and making poor judgments, which resulted in losing rank,” he said. “I felt like I had lost everything.”
Misusing the government credit card set events in motion that led Stinson to the Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care program in 2019, he said.
Because the SUDCC program integrates substance abuse care with behavioral health systems of care, Stinson was able to identify the root issue of his Kratom abuse —severe depression, he said.
“Once I was able to start treating the depression, my substance abuse issue went away,” Stinson said. “Getting into trouble turned out to be a good thing, because that’s what initially got me the help I needed.”
Going through the process, however, isn’t as simple as it sounds, Stinson said. Between losing rank, experiencing the rigors of therapy and finding the right medications, Stinson said he still had low moments.
Individuals who go through the SUDCC program often find themselves having to repeat the process, Stinson said. “I feel lucky that I was successful the first time.”
One source of motivation during his process was meeting with other service members who had successfully kicked their addictions with the help of SUDCC, he said. “There were guys who had successfully completed the program and shared their stories, which was huge for me. There is a difference between hearing from professionals and hearing a success story from someone who lived through it, someone who has felt the same things I have.”
Stinson realized that these seemingly dark moments were actually a window of opportunity, he said. “It’s when adversity comes your way that you’re given a chance to test yourself. I think we have to learn to look at those situations differently — not just as these lonely plights, but as opportunities to grow and learn.”
Stinson has been sober for more than a year and said that he feels “better than ever.” He has since regained his rank of staff sergeant and said he’s “still moving forward” in his career.
Ever the leader, Stinson’s focus is now on helping others grow through similar troubles by opening up about his trials, he said. “I think one of the most important things we can do for one another is lend a hand to someone who has fallen, to help them get back on their feet and brush off the dirt.”
Hearing from a fellow Soldier with similar experiences is paramount in seeking help and successfully dealing with a substance abuse disorder, as stigmas around Behavioral Health can deter Soldiers from reaching out for help, he said. “Soldiers are fearful of going to BH because they may worry about what it means for them professionally, but that shouldn’t be the only consideration — getting better has to be the main priority.”
By sharing his story, Stinson hopes to enable others to overcome their hesitations in seeking help, accept the challenges in front of them and realize they can be successful, he said.
“Its essential to remember that you are not alone, nor do you have to get through it alone — the Army will help you get back into the fight. The Army has programs to help us up when we have fallen. SUDCC was the one that changed my life,” he said.
“The Army’s most important asset is its people. As Soldiers are committed to the mission, we should all be committed to each other in this process. Soldiers helping each other can be the best way to lead, mentor and ensure the readiness of the force,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Goke, Fort Polk installation director of Psychological Health.
If you need help with a substance abuse issue, contact one of the aligned behavioral health clinics listed, by unit, below.
Multi-Disciplinary Behavioral Health Clinic
Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Headquarters, 519th Military Police Battalion, Medical Department Activity and all other supported units not listed below.
Front desk: 531-3922/3923
Non-Brigade Combat Team Embedded Behavioral Health Clinic
JRTC Operations Group, 5th Aviation Battalion, 115th Combat Support Hospital and the 46th Engineer Battalion Soldiers.
Front desk: 531-3922/3923
3rd BCT, 10th Mountain Division Embedded Behavioral Health Clinic
3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div Soldiers
Front desk: 531-2799/2795
Child and Family Behavioral Health Services
All eligible dependents, space permitting.
Front desk: 531-3922/3923
Family Advocacy Program
Front desk: 337-531-3272

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