Anyone who has struggled with substance abuse has a story that in hindsight is indicative of a problem. For Capt. Justin Tullos, it was when he was dating his now-wife and would cut the date short just so he’d be able to go back to his apartment and drink alone.
Tullos said, “You start getting into making a habit and scheduling when you’re going to get drunk, you know, and you don’t want to be messing with that schedule.”
He said at the time he didn’t see how that spelled trouble for the path ahead. Drinking alcohol responsibly is socially acceptable in American culture, and it often goes hand in hand with special events, promotion parties and get-togethers after work.
As a young airman, Tullos’ first assignment was in Los Angeles where he partied a lot with his roommates. But, Tullos said, he was a functioning alcoholic.
“I wasn’t someone who would drink while at work and stuff like that,” he said. “By the time Friday hit and I was done with work, that’s kind of when the drinking would start.”
Tullos is circumspect about why he began drinking so heavily. Like many other young people his age, he consumed alcohol in college where he was also enrolled in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, but he says he didn’t really drink a lot. Somewhere along the way, though, once he graduated and started working, he lost his ability to cope with stress.
“When you’re not getting that satisfaction, whether it’s because I just didn’t know where to look or how to find it, you start doing stuff to kind of escape from the day-to-day mundane tasks.”
Tullos says his drinking began socially with friends and roommates. That changed at some point to where he began drinking alone. Although he and his wife rarely argued, Tullos said, the few times they fought, it was about his drinking. Tullos started to hide his drinking, although he said his wife could always tell something was up. So when his wife was scheduled to go away for training with her company for several months, Tullos says he was thrilled.
“She was going down to Tucson, and here I’m thinking, this is awesome,” Tullos said. “No one will be around to criticize me drinking. I’m going to have four months of really, you know, just getting plastered.”
Tullos said his wife left on a Friday, so he went on a four-day binge.
“You know I’d wake up, and I started drinking even in the morning,” he said.
Tullos had the following Monday off work. Come Tuesday, Tullos called in sick.
“Before, I wasn’t really calling in sick or having issues with that,” Tullos said. “But I started toward that last year calling in sick to work.”
Now, he had to figure out a lie to tell his supervisor about why he had called in sick the day after he was on leave. At that point, Tullos realized he was turning into a person he didn’t want to be. Although he was fearful of repercussions to his career, he found the answer online with the Air Force Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program if he self-identified for substance abuse. He called them immediately.
He said, “I called up the ADAPT program office, and I was pretty emotional. I just said, I need help because I’ve been drinking, and I can’t stop.”
After an evaluation with ADAPT, Tullos was recommended for a month-long, residential treatment. They called his command, told him what was going on and his first sergeant subsequently picked him up, took him home for a change of clothes, then brought him to the rehab facility.
Tullos said, “That was really where I learned a lot of stuff that helped me stay sober since May 17, 2017.”
Tullos credits the ADAPT program with helping him discover the why behind his excessive drinking. He says his team and supervisors at work were really supportive and, more importantly, so was his wife. But, to overcome his alcohol addiction, he says he had to create a lifestyle change and find healthier avenues to relieve stress, such as running and working out more. He now enjoys playing games, gardening and yardwork.
Self-identifying to the ADAPT program got Tullos immediate assistance with his addiction, and he successfully graduated from the program six months later because of his engagement and response to the treatment. Now he helps maintain his sobriety with weekly visits to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Tullos said, “There’s no other long-term kind of care. You really need to keep going to groups to gain that support.”
His experience with ADAPT and now AA was a great move for his personal and professional life, he says. Tullos has since received an upgraded clearance and continues to advance in his career. He was deployed to Southwest Asia for six months in 2018.
“Self-identifying ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life,” Tullos said. “I was able to kind of bounce back from that and get accepted into AFIT (Air Force Institute of Technology) to work on my Master’s.”
As advice to others who may be struggling with substance abuse, Tullos urges them to not wait until they get pulled over for drunk driving or run into problems at work. He says if you suspect you have an issue, reach out to ADAPT or other groups outside of the Air Force, like AA.
“There are a few different ways to get help,” Tullos said, “but you’ve got to realize you can’t do this on your own. You need the help and support of other folks who have gone through the same things you did.”
To learn more ADAPT, contact the Mental Health Clinic at your local base. For other helping organizations, you may also call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or find information online at www.militaryonesource.mil.