July 10, 2015

Fighting the Fire Inside You: Getting Help for Firefighter Substance Abuse

Each day you pull on your uniform and then clock in at one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet. The very nature or your job calls for your own life and the lives of others to be in jeopardy from an all-consuming monster: fire. Everyone sees you as a hero, and you are. But, not everyone sees that you are also battling to put out your own fires, too.

How Are You Coping with Daily Trauma Exposure?

According to some studies, nearly 37% of firefighters suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD (NFPA, 2014). It’s a disorder that occurs after experiencing trauma–something you know all too well. If you have been injured on the job or witnessed the severe injury or death of someone else, whether a comrade or a civilian, you have experienced trauma.

The symptoms of PTSD include:

  • steadily re-experiencing the traumatic event due to flashbacks, nightmares, or recurring thoughts that won’t go away
  • demonstrating avoidance by staying away from people, places, and things that make you think of the event
  • feeling numb or indifferent
  • feeling a strong sense of guilt or worry
  • depression
  • having angry outbursts
  • disrupted sleep patterns
  • having a startled reaction

If any of the above symptoms sound familiar to you, you may need treatment for PTSD. Aside from the painful anxiety and/or depression that accompanies this disorder, many firefighters who deal with such strong feelings often resort to self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. The horrible guilt and worry that you may feel from on-the-job stressors could even lead you to suicide.

The stress of long hours, lack of sleep, and the day-to-day demands of holding someone else’s life in your hands leads to you turning to alcohol or drugs to relieve anxiety, stress, and numb the pain of the day’s work. However, your drinking or drug use is not fixing the core issue. In fact, it is only covering up the true problem like a bandage. Plus, regular substance use can impact your alertness, focus, and ability to perform your duties.

You, like many first responders that serve our nation’s communities every day, are impacted by a pervasive stigma. Your job goes way beyond wearing a uniform or being brave. It’s your identity. You represent courage in your community, and you would probably feel shame if you sought help for the pain you are feeling.

Facing the Fires Inside

The truth is, in order to be the hero you desire, you must face the fires burning inside you. If you are struggling with addiction, only by getting proper treatment can you ever fully function physically and mentally. Your reaching out for help demonstrates that, in reality, even heroes need a hand sometimes.

First Responders Recovery is the treatment center that can provide you with that helping hand. Here, you can join together with other brave first responders like yourself and receive quality treatment for your substance abuse problem. In addition to being influential in your recovery, this center is run by individuals who deeply understand firefighter substance abuse, who you are and what public safety means to you. With this knowledge, they can also help you to come to terms with the trauma you see every day on the job, and find more meaningful and healthy ways of coping.


  1. Wilmoth, J.A. Trouble in mind. National Fire Protection Association Journal. May 2014. http://www.nfpa.org/newsandpublications/nfpa-journal/2014/may-june-2014/features/special-report-firefighter-behavioral-health
  2. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
  3. Carey, M.G., Al-Zaiti, S.S., Dean, G.E., Sessanna, L., & Finnell, D.S. Sleep problems, depression, substance use, social bonding, and quality of life in professional firefighters. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. August 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3486736/

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