Emergency responders are first on the scene of some of the most dangerous and demanding situations, providing immediate care, support, and medical assistance to survivors in the aftermath of a crime or disaster. These heroic duties are essential to society; however, they can be very strenuous and emotionally draining to those in the profession. The constant exposure to devastation, life-threatening situations, and physical strain of working long hours under stressful conditions can negatively impact overall mental health. Consequently, there is a tragically close relationship between addiction and emergency responders.

The term “emergency responders” includes police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services such as paramedics and EMTs. These industry professionals are exposed to situations that many people would not be able to emotionally bear, increasing the risk of the development of mental health disorders. It is estimated that 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions during their time of service, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite the importance of mental health in the profession, there is an undeniable cultural stigma concerning mental health care treatment. Fear of being seen as weak or not up to the job of a first responder keeps many from seeking help and can lead suffering individuals to turn to substance abuse as a means of relief.

When a person turns to alcohol or drugs for self-medicating purposes, they are more likely to become dependent than an individual that is a recreational user. In fact, 50% of those with mental health disorders are thought to be affected by addiction. Due to acute stress and trauma, it’s common for emergency responders to develop co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders (SUDs).

Alcohol Use And Police Officers

As a result of their occupation, police officers face a great deal of stress and trauma on a day-to-day basis. In addition to the threat of physical harm, many officers routinely witness devastating and disturbing events such as murder, suicide, domestic violence, and illicit drug abuse. Those in law enforcement additionally experience work-related stress regarding their roles and reception in the community. Police officers are at a higher risk of drug abuse than the general population, and they are at a significantly higher risk of alcohol abuse. This risk is exacerbated by the fact that many cops have easy access to illegal drugs when they arrest drug dealers or respond to overdose calls.

A 2010 study of police officers working in urban areas found that 11% of male officers and 16% of female officers reported alcohol use levels that are deemed “at-risk” by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Researchers attribute the high alcohol consumption rates among police officers to both social and stress-induced drinking behaviors. Of the social factors identified in hazardous alcohol consumption, the primary one was drinking to “fit in” with peers; 25% of police officers report drinking “to be part of the team” during social outings. The most important contributor to alcohol consumption among police officers, however, is the stress and trauma officers face daily in the line of duty.

Substance Abuse And Firefighters

Firefighters spend their days braving burning and collapsing buildings to save civilian lives. Firefighters are subject to many of the same traumatic psychological risks as police officers but are at the additional physical risk of severe burns, smoke inhalation, lung damage, and other on-the-job injuries. The long 24-hour shifts and traumatic calls lead countless firefighters to develop mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, and depression. Many individuals struggling with these issues then turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of symptom relief. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that up to 29% of firefighters engage in alcohol abuse, and as many as 10% of firefighters may be currently abusing prescription drugs.

Rates of binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption are higher among firefighters than the general population. Similar to police officers, there are multiple social factors contributing to the high rates of hazardous alcohol consumption among firefighters, including acts of camaraderie, peer support, and “fire-station culture.” A number of firefighters additionally report using alcohol as a means of managing the stress of emergency calls and for “winding down.” Aside from seeking support from friends and family, alcohol use was reported as the second leading coping strategy of firefighters in a 2017 survey.

Substance Use And Paramedics/EMTs

Paramedics and EMTs are emergency medical service technicians that are dispatched to the scene of an emergency, which can include traumatic incidents such as car accidents, fires, personal injuries, and shootings or stabbings. In addition to serving 24-hour shifts, EMTs are responsible for life-and-death decisions regarding their patients. These professionals face a number of occupational hazards and, like police officers and firefighters, are also at greater risk of developing mental stress-related disorders than the general population. According to SAMHSA, 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 which puts them at an increased risk of substance abuse.

Drug abuse is much higher among paramedics and EMTs compared to other emergency responder professions. The limited research has not yet revealed why, but it is believed to be a combination of factors including 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 in an effort to cope with the severe psychological strain they encounter on a daily basis.

Treating Addiction And Emergency Responders

Treatment includes individual therapy, group therapy, 12-step programs, nutritional therapy, family therapy, drug and alcohol detox, and additional ancillary services in either an inpatient or outpatient treatment setting. Treatment has also been proven to be significantly beneficial when it is grouped with other individuals from similar occupations. For more information on treatment options:

  • Inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectal behavioral therapy
  • 12-step programs

First Responders Addiction Treatment

The first responder may usually be the first at the scene of a disaster. It is a group which consists of police offices, paramedics, firemen, ambulance personnel and other emergency personnel. Because of these professional roles, first responders are frequently faced with stressful situations which have adverse health consequences. Over time, some of the first responders will experience an addiction to certain substances. Vertava Health Massachusetts provides first responders with addictions in Massachusetts whose struggles alone have not been overdone.

They can sometimes be the first to arrive but the last to recover themselves. The job of first responder is both rewarding and rewarding. Serving other people is often a difficult task. Balanced work life can be so difficult that some may need medications or other medications for treatment of PTSD and other mental health conditions. On the phone or in the front line, first responders often witness trauma events in their daily life. This is crucial for people who suffer psychological problems and the danger is serious for both the man and the wife.

First Responders Guide:

Police personnel, firefighters and ambulance personnel face intense stress during everyday life situations. First responders deal almost daily with dangerous incidents which can quickly affect mental health. Adverse mental health issues can make the most vulnerable people turn to alcohol and drug addiction to help their victims deal with and hide their pain. The culture surrounding first responders job makes them more vulnerable to treatment than the entire public and the issue is compounded.

Substance use among first responders

First responder and substance use disorder are often in close cooperation. Some first responder workers will depend on drugs to solve traumatic events. These drugs may help temporarily, but they can worsen symptoms long-term. These habits could even cause an addiction. Substance abuse treatment should focus on the mental health and support of a person whose sobriquets fall under the patterns listed in the report. Often people will be prescribed medication to relieve pain from trauma. Physical strain in the daily life can result in severe injuries.

Perceived barriers to mental health treatment

Stigma is a perceived barrier to the recovery process among the responders. Many worry their mental illness may cause them to get dismissed from a job or be denied promotion to another job. Some people fear job loss. When someone has a psychiatric condition they experience even more frightening symptoms. Another potential hurdle was the lack of insurance coverage. Typically people worry if their current medical coverage will not cover mental illness. First responders are also likely to fear that they will have to see psychiatrists regularly.

First responders unique mental health needs

mental health disorder, family therapy sessions, co occurring disorders

First responders have a heroic duty to our nation. By having first arrived in a crisis or disaster, wars, or similar events, the victims of trauma are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems. Approximately 1 in 3 first responders – which includes firefighters and emergency medical services workers – are diagnosed with behavioral disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the United States. PTSD among responders has a high prevalence primarily due to nature of their tasks – particularly for firefighters.

First Responder By having this type of respected and important profession, a person is also at risk of bearing witness to or directly experiencing trauma, which could lead to the onset of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. PTSD is a mental health condition that can adversely affect not only a first responder’s ability to carry out his or her job responsibilities, but it can also negatively impact an individual’s ability to live a healthy, productive life.

Destroying the Stigma of Addiction Treatment

alcohol treatment resources, treatment process

Firstly responders have unique working conditions that challenge the workers. This group saw what the world cannot imagine. These are the same rules that apply for a local policing officer and the small eMT. Through mental training, first responders will respond quickly and effectively to trauma events, saving the lives they have. This is usually used to internalize trauma. Approximately 30 per cent of first responders have symptoms of mental illness including, but not limited to, depression and psychosomatic disorders (PTSD).

Warrior mentality

It’s not easy to run into danger with someone strong and others can’t stop them. Mental health is what holds people back from receiving treatment for trauma or a serious illness a person is facing. The warrior mentality teaches the first responders not to give up or accept failure. While the idea of saving lives is certainly incredibly valuable, it can hinder the response team from getting what they need. Serenity Lane’s specialized addiction specialists understand the need to overcome the barriers to lifelong addiction.

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