First responders are vital to our society. They’re the first ones to show up during a crisis or an emergency situation and they are usually the last to leave. An emergency responder is also one of the most grueling and mentally taxing jobs in society as well. They see things that nobody should have to see and are put in situations that no amount of training can prepare you for. To cope with the stress, many of them end up abusing drugs or alcohol. Because of this, many addiction treatment programs offer first responder rehab to help people in these professions.
Who is Considered a First Responder?
A first responder is someone who shows up first to help out in a situation that requires professional help. They can be police officers, firefighters, EMTs (emergency medical technicians), paramedics, or even government officials. Due to the nature of their jobs, first responders experience situations on a daily basis that the average citizen can’t even imagine. They see and experience traumatic events such as death, dismemberment, rape, and abuse. They’re even the ones that have to tell someone that a family member or loved one of theirs has died.
The mental toll that being an emergency responder can have on a person can lead to the development of mental health issues and even substance abuse. In fact, studies have shown that about 85% of first responders have endured mental health-related issues, and 34% were diagnosed with a mental health disorder, with PTSD and anxiety being the most common mental health disorders.
Due to the nature of their job and the mental toll it takes, many first responders turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain and forget about the things they’ve seen. More often than not, this can lead to the development of a drug or alcohol addiction, resulting in a co-occurring disorder.
Stressors Faced by First Responders
First responders are often cited as heroes in their communities and with good reason. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics all deserve the accolades they receive but many outsiders don’t know that their jobs are some of the most grueling and mentally taxing occupations in society.
First responders see and experience traumatic events such as accidents, murder, severe injuries, sexual and physical assault, domestic abuse, civil unrest, and natural disasters. The mental toll that being an emergency responder can have on a person often leads to the development of mental health issues and even substance abuse.
Studies have shown that about 85% of first responders have endured mental health-related issues, and 34% were diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety top the list of mental health issues they face. The prevalence of so much job-related suffering makes first responder rehab a necessity for many people.
Substance Abuse and First Responders
While any of the first responder jobs can expose employees to traumatic and stressful events, certain members of the population face specific risks when it comes to developing a substance use disorder.
Every time a firefighter goes to work, they potentially risk their lives. They juggle battling fires and other dangerous situations with trying to save others and keep themselves safe. Firefighters are susceptible to physical injuries like severe burns, smoke inhalation, and lung damage. They work long shifts away from their homes and are at great risk of developing mental health issues such as PTSD, acute stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.
It’s common for firefighters, as a result of the stress and strain of their jobs, to turn to drugs and alcohol. About 30% of all firefighters engage in some form of binge drinking or alcohol abuse; another 10% engage in prescription drug abuse. A number of factors lead to abusing substances, including acts of camaraderie and peer support as a way to “wind down” after work.
Law Enforcement Officers
Law enforcement officers put themselves at risk of being harmed on the job on a regular basis. They witness acts of violence and are charged with protecting others while trying to ensure their own safety. In addition, police officers deal with a negative perception from some members of their community, adding to their stress levels.
Studies show that 11% of police officers in urban areas and 16% of female police officers reported a level of alcohol intake considered to put them in an “at-risk” category. Researchers attribute the high alcohol consumption rates among police officers to both social and stress-induced drinking behaviors.
EMTs and Paramedics
EMTs and paramedics are often dispatched in situations where immediate medical attention is required. This can include things like car accidents, personal injuries, shootings, overdoses, someone going into cardiac arrest, and any other potentially life-saving situations. EMTs and paramedics have to make split-second decisions that can result in either saving someone’s life or that person dying.
As a result, the mental toll that an EMT or paramedic can experience is extreme. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 36% of EMS workers suffer from depression, 72% of EMTs deal with sleep deprivation, and more than 20% of EMTs suffer from PTSD.
All of these increase the risk of an EMT or paramedic developing a substance abuse issue. While police officers are more likely to abuse alcohol than any other type of emergency responder, paramedics and EMTs are more likely to turn to drugs.
Common Substances Abused by First Responders
Substance use disorders include addiction to alcohol and several different types of drugs. They include:
- Prescription Drugs
How First Responder Rehab Works
The initial step in first responder rehab is undergoing detox. During detox, you will rid your body of all the harmful substances that it has grown dependent on. Because of the physical and mental toll that detoxing can take, it is important that it be done under constant medical supervision. Detoxing can be done at a hospital, a dedicated detox facility, or a treatment facility that also offers detox services.
After detox has been completed it will be time to enter either an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. During treatment, any mental health issues will be addressed along with the substance abuse issue. This is typically done through a variety of therapy sessions including:
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Nutritional therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- 12-step programs such as AA or NA
First responders will typically be grouped with other first responders during group therapy sessions since their issues are unique compared to the general population. Our first responder addiction treatment program in Palm Springs allows all patients to focus on their own well being by:
- Practicing skills for managing anxiety and depression.
- Participating in group therapies so they can meet people with similar backgrounds.
- Forming friendships and a community with the people they meet that they can continue after completing rehab.
- Learning how therapy can influence how they handle future stressors that occur during their jobs.
As a result, co-occurring disorders such as a mental health condition and substance abuse are common amongst first responders. What’s not as common is these first responders getting the help that they need to address their issues. Many are afraid to accept that they have a problem. They might be embarrassed or think that it is a sign of weakness. It’s important to remember that you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed when it comes to getting the help that you need.
First Responder Rehab in Palm Springs
If you are a first responder facing addiction to alcohol or drugs, you need a treatment program that understands your unique needs. Phoenix Rising in Palm Springs offers help for substance use disorders that include detox, residential, and inpatient programs. We provide treatment for mental health issues that often plague those who are first responders. Contact us to find out how our specialized treatment plans can help you face your problems and become sober again.