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First Responders and Drug Abuse: A Tragically Common Pairing
Who Are First Responders?
First responders endure large amounts of stress, anxiety and depression among their day-to-day experiences, all of which may make more susceptible to drug use. First responders work to protect American families and to resolve threats created by man or nature. Examples of first responders include:
- Police officers
- Security guards
- FBI agents
- TSA officers
- Red Cross members
- Fire Marshals
- US Marshals
The role of first responders is to quickly counter threatening or non-threatening emergencies impacting Americans with action. First responders are typically the first person to encounter a person or situation that requires medical or law enforcement help. Such emergencies include terrorist attacks; natural disasters, crime, trauma, and accidents (fires, health-related accidents).
First Responders, Behavioral Health, and Drug Abuse
First responders subdue the emergency and can transport individuals needing help to their designated facility. A recent study noted that 85% of first responders have endured mental-health-related issues, and 34% were diagnosed with a mental health disorder. 10% were diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and 46% reported anxiety.
Because of first responders’ exposure to stress and unpredictable work activity, their mental and emotional health can become compromised. They are exposed to risks of fires and violence, emotional trauma from seeing death and destruction, lengthy work hours, poor sleep and extreme challenges in everyday experiences. These conditions can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drug abuse, irritability, frustration, and ill health.
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EMTs, Behavioral Health, and Drug Abuse
Like other first responders, EMTs encounter depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions due to their jobs. Studies of emergency medical services staff found 69% of EMT personnel have had traumatic experiences but never had enough time to recover, increasing the incidence of mental conditions like depression and PTSD. Furthermore, EMT staff reported a 6.8% rate of depression, (3.5% rate of mild depression), 28% of EMT personnel had feelings of worthlessness in life, 10.4% contemplated suicide, and 3.1% had attempted suicide in the past.
Firefighters, Behavioral Health, and Drug Abuse
Firefighters are directly exposed to fire and risk death on a regular basis. Unfortunately, reports have disclosed volunteer firefighters have “greater barriers to mental health services than career firefighters and other members of the general population.” A reported 22.2% of female firefighters are at risk of depression, and 38.5% female volunteer firefighters had depression. Career firefighters battled high levels of PTSD and substance abuse, most typically manifesting in alcoholism. Substance abuse in firefighters was high, particularly problematic alcohol use, including binge drinking and heavy drinking in 50% of male firefighters. 60% of female firefighters drank more than recommended, with 39.5% binge drinking.
Police Officers, Behavioral Health, and Drug Abuse
Police officers often suffer stress and undisclosed trauma that can impact their lives. 24.7% of police officers report experiencing depression, with 47.7% facing anxiety and depression. Roughly 25% of male and female officers considered suicide. A noted source for statistics on substance abuse revealed 11% of police officers in urban areas and 16% of female police officers reported at-risk alcohol use. This is due to the impact and dangers a police officer faces on a daily basis, reflecting the stress and harm they face.
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Addiction Treatment for First Responders
First responders rescue others from danger, but need to take time to practice self-care and wellness. Many first responders feel uncomfortable discussing mental health problems with co-workers or management. Getting access to counseling in treatment can be a step to uncover difficulties experienced at work. If drugs are involved, getting treatment would grant first responders access to both counseling and 12-Step groups for trauma, along with medication to assist in detox and chemical withdrawals. Inpatient treatment would allow first responders the ability to get treatment in residential settings with monitored care, while outpatient rehab would grant them flexibility to get treated while balancing everyday responsibilities.
You Deserve to Be Heard and Understood
First responders suffering from drug abuse have options for treatment. There are many services available to help with suicidal thoughts, trauma, and rehabilitation that can ease problematic symptoms of burn out and depression. To discover the healing options available, contact a dedicated treatment provider, and learn how having someone to talk to and the right environment can help change your life.
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