First Responders: Mental Health and Addiction

Firefighters and addiction

First responders deal with stressors and trauma on a monumental level. A daily stressor for the average office worker might be a broken printer or missed deadline. But for firemen, policemen, paramedics, military personnel, and other servicemen, these stressors include the line of battle, house fires, robberies, shootings, among several other life-threatening situations.

Putting your life on the line for your community is one of the most heroic duties a person can provide. But with great responsibility comes a great deal of resulting repercussions. A job where you face constant danger and unpredictable situations can be extremely stressful, and these emotions don’t stop once the work day is done. Everything you’ve seen, heard, and felt remains with you. These scarring images can leave some people with trauma so severe that it can lead to conditions such as PTSD and acute stress disorder. These conditions paired with the lack of sleep that most first responders experience make them likely candidates for substance abuse and drug addiction.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a condition in which a person has great difficulty recovering from the witnessing or experience of a disturbing situation. These situations can range from personal accounts of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or domestic violence. Being an eyewitness to a shocking event such as a shooting can also cause PTSD. Symptoms include extreme anxiety, paranoia, nightmares, and uncontrollable flashbacks. Being touched in the same way or witnessing a similar situation that caused your PTSD can create a flood of feeling and emotions, even years after the instance took place.

ASD, otherwise known as acute stress disorder, has similar symptoms to PTSD. Patients generally develop ASD one month after the traumatic event occurs. Signs can vary from emotional detachment, to depersonalization, to distress and increased arousal. Both of these disorders are usually co-occurring, meaning that an additional disorder and/or addiction is also present. Diagnosis is determined by a psychiatric evaluation and treated according to individual needs.

Both of these mental conditions stem from drug or alcohol abuse. Maintaining a clear cognitive state and optimum physical is crucial service members to do their job as safely and effectively as possible. When substances are in the mix, it greatly impedes their ability to think and perform as efficiently as they need to. Drugs and alcohol addiction take a huge toll on the body’s functioning, both mentally and physically, which makes it even more important for first responders to know that help is readily available should they need it.

Although studies with a heavy focus on addiction and first responders is limited, certain research has detected a correlation between the two. This is no surprise, as these types of profession are grounds for significant trauma. The US Firefighters Association has put out data that estimates that 10% of firefighters are likely to be abusing drugs. Substance abuse was found to be less common among law enforcement officers, but their daily stressors are proven to directly affect their mental health.

In a 2017 study, 217 first responders participated in an evaluation. The results go as follows:

– 72% reported low levels of perceived well-being
– 57% reported feeling burned out
– 17% reported self-assessed PTSD

This goes to show that poor mental health can other cognitive conditions which have the potential to lead to an addiction. Even the strongest people feel weak at times, and that’s okay. Facilities like ours at Arizona Addiction Recovery Center are here to help guide you through these tough times. You can reach out confidentially on your own behalf or on the behalf of a family member or loved one. Don’t wait any longer to seek treatment, call us today.