A NEW group has been set up for former armed forces personnel in the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch area who need help with alcohol and drug problems.

At Ease! is a pilot scheme that aims to address a growing problem of people turning to drink and drugs because of the psychological scars of conflict.

Through a programme of weekly meetings, it will be looking not only at addiction and mental health issues but also physical health, family, home, job, education and money matters.

Mike Weston, who has been involved in setting up the initiative – the first of its kind in the south-west – served in the Army for 30 years and is himself a recovering alcoholic.

“Alcohol is socially acceptable in the forces as a means of venting frustration,” he explained. “People with mental health issues around military combat tend to use drink as a way of easing anxiety, not just of leaving the military but also coming into civilian life.

“Over the time I’ve been in treatment, volunteered with Poole Service Users’ Forum and now as a mentor for EDAS (Essential Drug and Alcohol Services), I have seen an increase in service personnel falling by the wayside because of combat fatigue or post-traumatic stress.

“Because of Iraq and Afghanistan and repeated tours brought about by the decrease in manpower, they are struggling. There are some people out there doing their fifth or sixth tour, which puts more stress on the family.

“Some people find it hard to cope and unfortunately in some cases they end up on the streets alone without any family around them.”

Mike joined the Army in 1970 and saw action in Northern Ireland and the Falklands. He was badly injured in the IRA explosion at the Regent’s Park bandstand in July 1982 and underwent two years of hospital treatment.

Subsequent duties as a medic and a soldier caused him further traumas, and he dealt with his mental turmoil by hitting the bottle. “I didn’t think I had post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I thought I had an alcohol problem,” he said.

“A forces person will present with a number of complex issues that need to be addressed.

“This is why they shy away from civilian practitioners because they don’t understand.”

l To find out more about At Ease! call EDAS on 01202 311600 or email office@edasuk.org. People can ask to be referred by their GP, the Drug and Alcohol Action Team, or SMART, Poole’s Substance Misuse Assessment and Referral Team.