Hope Without Dope
Drugs and alcohol don’t help life after spinal-cord injury, but plenty of people and programs do.
Sustaining a spinal-cord injury (SCI) is not only physically devastating but it can also change a person’s whole outlook on life and often alter their plans for the future.
A majority of individuals sustaining SCI are relatively young males. This group finds it particularly difficult to imagine a productive and fulfilled life following such a life-altering injury.
After the initial course of rehabilitation, it’s often difficult to obtain employment, establish new interpersonal relationships, and adjust to life. It’s not uncommon for some of these individuals to turn to alcohol and other substances to help numb the pain and anxieties they feel.
It is sometimes hard to comprehend that life is not over after SCI. Alcohol and substance abuse offer artificial relief from the overwhelming feelings people with spinal-cord injury experience. They fail to realize the relief they receive from these substances is only temporary.
Once the effect wears off, they often feel worse than before, which can lead to further substance abuse and cause a downward spiral. Substance abuse also puts individuals at a greater risk for further injury.
Working Makes a Difference
Individuals with SCI sometimes find it hard to get re-integrated into the work force following their injuries.
This perceived inability to support themselves and/or their families leads to feelings of inadequacy as a provider. These feelings can lead to depression and subsequently to alcohol and substance abuse.
When a person is under the influence of these substances, life does not seem that bad. Then reality sets in, and life seems worse than before. This leads to a cycle of self-medicating to avoid the perceived difficulties associated with living with a disability.
When trying to get back into the work force, many individuals, veterans included, are not fully aware of the numerous options available to them.
Many states have provisions to assist veterans with disabilities to go back to work and/or attend school for specialized training. The Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) also has a Vocational Rehabilitation Program, which offers a wide array of programs and services to veterans coping with SCI.
It’s been shown that individuals with SCI have fewer instances with substance and alcohol abuse if they are gainfully employed than their unemployed counterparts.
A Shoulder to Lean On
It’s easy to establish relationships with others while rehabilitating in one of the 24 Spinal Cord Injury/Disorder Centers (SCI/D Centers).
Dedicated nurses and physicians encourage individuals’ progress on the road to recovery. Also, SCI veterans are surrounded by other SCI veterans, who aid in the rehabilitation process as well.
The challenge starts when veterans return home to family and friends. It’s a shock for them to now depend on family and friends for simple tasks others take for granted.
In an effort to restore a sense of normalcy among family and friends, they may be more prone to going out and drinking to socialize and “be one of the guys.” Sometimes this drinking becomes excessive, in an effort to feel more comfortable with the fact they have a disability.
It is important to maintain and establish new relationships while recovering, in and out of the hospital. Many SCI/D Centers offer new-injury support groups as well as peer mentoring programs.
They even offer groups for family members to attend, such as a SCI Caregiver Support Group, as well as other services to help family members better understand what the SCI veteran is going through.
Most people are aware of the many side effects associated with alcohol and being under the influence of substances (either prescribed or illegal).
What is less well known is that these effects are intensified in the SCI population. Some of the many risks include:
– Increased risk for re-injury
– Major depression
– Interactions with prescribed medication when combined with alcohol
– Adverse effects on the urinary tract, kidneys, and bladder
– Increased risk for pressure ulcers
– Increased instances of anger and anxiety
Many resources are available to the SCI for dealing with alcohol and substance abuse.
No Need for Booze & Drugs
While sustaining a spinal-cord injury is life altering, there is life after SCI and it does not have to involve using substances to numb the feelings of fear, anger and anxiety.
Being honest with one’s self, the medical staff, as well as family and friends, is important in coping with the life the newly injured veteran is going to be embarking on.
Peers at the SCI Center have dealt with the same feelings and are a valuable resource for newly-injured veterans, as are veterans who have been injured for years.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you believe you’re unable to cope with your feelings. The staff is trained to deal with the many aspects of SCI, physical and emotional.
Be positive and know you can lead a full life that involves getting back into the workforce, going back to school, volunteering, or returning to hobbies you enjoyed prior to injury.
Substance abuse doesn’t make the pain, fear, or anger go away for long. It only intensifies those feelings in the long run. Being able to cope with all the changes in your life isn’t easy, and you’re not expected to deal with it on your own.
If you believe you’re not able to cope, don’t hesitate to ask for help. It takes a truly strong person to recognize the need for assistance.
By Dominique Mattocks-Bonner | View Source