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.
Unfortunately, that line of work can take a toll on someone’s mental psyche. Mental health-related issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common amongst first responders. Also common is substance abuse and addiction. Let’s take a look at the correlation between an emergency responder and addiction.
Who Are Considered First Responders?
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.
Substance Abuse and Firefighters
Every time a firefighter goes to work, there is a chance that it might be their last. Their job is to battle fires and save people from burning buildings. Not only do they have to worry about the citizens they’re trying to save, but they have to worry about themselves as well. Firefighters are susceptible to physical things like severe burns, smoke inhalation, and lung damage, not to mention the mental toll the job takes on them. Due to the hours they keep and the job they have, firefighters are likely to develop 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 while around 10% suffer from prescription drug abuse. A number of factors lead to these high numbers including acts of camaraderie and peer support as a way to “wind down” after work, and even “fire-station culture.”
Substance Abuse and Police Officers
Due to the nature of their job, police officers might face more stress and trauma daily than any other type of first responder. In addition to the obvious potential physical harm they put themselves in every time they go to work, they also witness countless mentally taxing events such as murder, suicide, domestic violence, rape, dismemberment, and even drug abuse. In addition, out of all the first responders, police officers also have to deal with the negative perception that they constantly get from the general public. Add this all up, and it’s no wonder that police officers are more likely than anyone else to abuse alcohol.
So, just how prominent is alcohol abuse in the police community? According to studies, 11% of police officers in urban areas and 16% of female police officers reported a level of alcohol intake that would consider them “at-risk.” Researchers attribute the high alcohol consumption rates among police officers to both social and stress-induced drinking behaviors.
Substance Abuse and EMTs
EMTs and paramedics are often dispatched in situations where immediate medical attention is required. This can include situations like car accidents, personal injuries, shootings, overdoses, someone going into cardiac arrest, and any other potentially life-saving situations. EMTs and paramedics are not only expected to be one of the first ones on the scene but in many situations, they 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 suffer from 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 than any other type of first responder. While there is no definitive answer as to why this is, it is believed that it has to do with a combination of easy access to potent and addictive prescription medications and high-stress exposure levels. The stress and trauma that this industry incurs drives many professionals towards substance abuse as an effort to cope with the severe psychological strain they encounter on a daily basis.
Addiction Treatment For First Responders
As we have discussed, first responders might suffer from substance abuse more than any other profession in the U.S. It’s one of the most mentally taxing professions, and as a result many turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. For some, drug and alcohol use is a social thing they do with their fellow coworkers. For others, drugs and alcohol is used as self-medication that is used to numb the pain from work and helps them forget about the things that they have seen and experienced.
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.
Treatment Options For First Responders
The first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem and seeking professional help. Once you’ve done that, the first step on the road to recovery is to undergo detox treatment. During detox, you will rid your body of all the harmful substances that your body 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 such as Phoenix Rising. Self-detoxing can be incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening.
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 at Phoenix Rising allows all patients in the medical field to focus on their own well being by:
- Practicing skills for managing anxiety and depression
- Participating in group therapies so they can meet recovery addicts with similar backgrounds
- Forming friendships and a community with the people they meet to have after they’ve completed rehab
- Learning about cognitive behavioral therapy and how it can shape a different mindset towards their line of work and what they go through
Are You An Emergency Responder In Need Of Treatment?
At Phoenix Rising, we understand the mental and physical toll that first responders endure on a daily basis. That’s why we offer treatment programs specifically for them and their needs. If you or someone you know is an emergency responder who is in need of treatment for a mental health condition, a substance abuse disorder, or both, don’t allow those things to impact for life for even another day. Contact us to learn more about the programs that we offer for first responders and get yourself on the road to recovery today.