Firefighters Alcohol and Prescription Drugs
June 30, 2016

Firefighters: Alcohol and Prescription Drugs

Firefighters, Trauma and Stress

The bravery and commitment firefighters display when saving lives and property, while risking their own lives, is admired and revered. They are our first line of defense in a blaze. Unfortunately, like many other first responders, firefighters can and do experience trauma from seeing injuries and deaths.

Firefighters are not immune to the suffering they witness. They also experience stress when trying to stay safe while doing their job. Dealing with all this profoundly impacts these first responders, and some may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope.

  • Approximately 9 percent of firefighters reported excessive alcohol use in the previous month.
  • The US Firefighters Association (USFA) reports about 10 percent of firefighters could be drug abusers .
  • The USFA estimates the risk of alcohol abuse among firefighters is twice the rate of the general public.
  • Between 33 and 41 percent of the firefighters polled were experiencing significant psychological distress.
  • It’s estimated up to 29 percent of firefighters have experienced alcohol abuse problems.

The nature of the job, including the risks for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), on-the-job injuries, and other illnesses that can result from being a firefighter (lung and heart disease) are all contributing to these increased risks for substance abuse.

Treating Firefighters with Substance Abuse Problems

Since the factors and events that drive firefighters to abuse drugs and alcohol are unique to their profession, addiction treatment needs to be tailored to their needs as well.

Firefighters need tools and skills to cope with the stress and trauma resulting from what they see and hear on the job. Substance abuse treatment needs to address PTSD, depression, anxiety and any other co-existing disorders. For effective recovery, every issue must be treated at the same time to prevent relapse.

Specialized Treatment Options

A comprehensive program including medications, psychotherapy and behavioral management helps first responders recover from drug or alcohol addiction and any other mental health issues (4).

Medications are used to relieve mental health symptoms. Medication for depression, for example, will help a depressive person avoid abusing drugs or alcohol because the condition is being treated. Also, prescription drugs can be administered to relieve withdrawal symptoms and reduce drug or alcohol cravings.

Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, can help by examining the roots of any disorders and why illicit substances were used as coping mechanisms. Also, healthy coping mechanisms are learned to avoid relapsing on drugs or alcohol.

Behavioral management helps a person examine destructive behaviors. It also helps a person learn to change thoughts and feelings, which leads to more positive behaviors.

A first-rate treatment program such as First Responders Recovery gives firefighters the skills, techniques and strategies needed to cope with trauma and stress, and it also helps them handle trauma moving forward.

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