This Veterans Day, Earl Young, a Prestonsburg resident who served in the U.S. Army, will spend the day doing what he loves the most: helping and giving back to others, especially those who have also served in the military.

Earl works for Addiction Recovery Care (ARC), a leading provider of addiction treatment services in Eastern and Central Kentucky, and has built a career dedicated to helping his fellow Kentuckians impacted by substance use. But his own journey to recovery certainly wasn’t an easy one.

Earl first came to ARC after checking himself into treatment in 2019. He had been fighting a 23-year battle as an IV crystal meth user and had become involved in the criminal justice system. Johnathan Gay, a fellow veteran who now serves as ARC’s legal counsel, was his lawyer at the time. 

“I wanted to be the dad I was supposed to be,” said Earl. “Johnathan had given me a card for ARC, and after getting out of jail I called him up and he helped me get into treatment at Sanibel House in Catlettsburg.”

Earl now serves as chaplain and lead peer support specialist at one of ARC’s treatment centers. January 30, 2022 will mark his three-year recovery anniversary.

Since coming to ARC, Earl has made it his mission to positively impact others. On Veterans Day last year, Earl was contacted by Letcher County Judge Kevin Mullins. The judge explained he had been working with another veteran, Matt, whom he was encouraging to pursue treatment. While overseas in Afghanistan, Matt had been wounded twice in combat and since returning home had been struggling with substance use.

“Matt and I connected really quickly. As a fellow combat veteran, there was a camaraderie,” said Earl, who drove out to meet Matt right away after getting the call from Judge Mullins. “A lot of people just don’t understand what veterans have been through when they come back from being overseas.”

Knowing that the decision to pursue recovery can be very fleeting, Earl took matters into his own hands to make sure Matt arrived safely. After his shift ended on Veterans Day 2020, Earl offered to drive Matt to treatment himself. Together, they made the trip to Belle Grove Springs, ARC’s outpatient center in Fleming County.

“On the three-hour drive, he told me he’d never felt that anybody truly understood him. He was used to everyone just thinking he was an addict,” added Earl. “The staff at ARC were so welcoming and showed Matt nothing but love.”

Matt graduated from ARC’s treatment program in September 2021 and continues to do well today.

“ARC is run and operated by people who have been there. They understand what it’s like to feel alone in addiction,” said Earl. “The only way we can keep what we have is by giving it away and helping others. So if you’re struggling with addiction right now, know that there are people out there who care, and ARC is full of them.”

Matt and Earl are just two of many veterans in Kentucky and across the country who have been affected by substance use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than one in 10 veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, and more than two in 10 veterans with PTSD also have a substance use disorder. Alcohol use disorders are the most prevalent form of SUD among military personnel. Research published in 2018 also found that approximately 70 percent of veterans with past-year SUD did not receive treatment.

“If you get the chance to help a veteran who has fought for our country, I would implore you to take it,” said Earl. “If you can help that person, it’s a win. It doesn’t matter who you are or who they are. They deserve a chance at treatment. Whether I’m on or off the clock, it’s very humbling any time I have an opportunity to help a veteran.”