How did a firefighter get a homicide rap after drinking one night? Well….did you know?
The Relationship Between Addiction and Emergency Responders
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. In fact, 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 healthcare 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.
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.
Thankfully, The Addictions Academy has a class to help stop addiction in first responders.
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