Today, Kevin Schmidt, a Louisville native and Bardstown resident, serves as West Region Chief Operating Officer for Addiction Recovery Care, Kentucky’s largest provider of addiction treatment and recovery services. But as a teenager unknowingly struggling with substance use while enlisted in the Army, he could have never imagined that’s what his future would hold.
Growing up, Kevin was close with his grandfather – a World War II veteran who had fought in the South Pacific.
“I grew up knowing the value of service,” said Kevin. “I always wanted to be a solider.”
At the same time, Kevin wanted to fit in with the other kids in his neighborhood, which led him down a dangerous path. He began using drugs and alcohol, and things spiraled.
Despite a drug-related arrest on his record, Kevin was able to enlist in the military after graduation. This was an opportunity to get away from his problems, Kevin and his parents thought. In many ways, however, this decision amplified the very challenges from which he was trying to escape.
“Taking me from Kentucky to Oklahoma didn’t really do anything. In fact, it only introduced me to new drugs and new criminal behavior, even with a uniform on,” Kevin recalls.
During that time, Kevin was drinking a lot and even got caught in the barracks with alcohol on more than one occasion.
“I thought I was just having a good time doing drugs and drinking. I didn’t know that I was suffering from substance use disorder,” Kevin said.
The breaking point came when Kevin left Oklahoma for a visit back home. The military police, who had likely been tipped off about Kevin’s behavior, raided the barracks while he was gone and found drug paraphernalia. Kevin knew they would be waiting for him when he came back but still returned to face the consequences.
“My leadership really went to bat for me. They wanted to work with me, but I just continued doing what I knew,” he remembers.
Ultimately, the military gave Kevin the opportunity to stay or go, and he chose to leave with an honorable discharge.
Back home, Kevin began to realize the weight of his substance use and went to treatment to get sober.
“I’m proud of my service. I did the best I could while fighting a battle that I didn’t know I was fighting – and that I didn’t know I could beat,” Kevin said. “It was a point of shame for me for a long time, but through my recovery journey, I’ve been able to make peace with what happened.”
Millions of veterans struggle with substance use, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In 2020, 26.2 percent of veterans had a mental illness or substance use disorder. Among veterans with a substance use disorder, approximately four in 10 struggle with illicit drugs, and seven in 10 struggle with alcohol use. One in eight struggle with both drugs and alcohol.
Kevin says that when it comes to helping veterans who are battling substance use, hearing from another veteran can make a big difference.
“They know you’ve experienced what they’re experiencing, and they tend to listen more,” Kevin added. “It’s important that veterans get the help they need.”
Now, in his role with Addiction Recovery Care, Kevin is able to give back and serve others – both veterans and non-veterans – who are struggling with drugs and alcohol.
“I want to help and value and honor our veterans any way I can,” he said.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, visit arccenters.com or call 888-351-1761 today.