Why First Responders Are Susceptible to Substance Abuse
November 20, 2015

Why First Responders Are Susceptible to Substance Abuse

Heavy drinking is a temporary “band-aid” for forgetting troubling and traumatic situations. Unfortunately, it is never a healthy solution to the pain or anguish people feel. First responders are particularly at risk for substance abuse due to the traumatic nature of their work. While they might find temporary relief from their emotional distress by drinking, this relief is short lived. Using alcohol or drugs to cope is a risky behavior that can lead to substance abuse and addiction; moreover, failing to seek help only complicates the situation further.

Trauma and Substance Abuse

First responders like police officers, firefighters, and soldiers face life and death situations on a regular basis. They are often too aware of the precarious nature of life and may have even had to face the death of a partner or colleague in the line of duty. These traumatic events can take a toll on a person’s mental health.

Oftentimes, after a long day or night on the job, a first responder has few ways to cope with the anxiety or grief they may be feeling. Taking a drink makes sense in these situations, and drinking, initially, can bring some relief by dulling the emotions.

Unfortunately, the same amount of alcohol consumed one week isn’t going to be enough to dull the same pain a few weeks later. The body develops an alcohol tolerance that often persuades the sufferer to drink even more to achieve the same effects. In time, a physical and psychological dependency evolves and addiction sets in. Not only is the pain unresolved in this situation, but physical and mental health if further compromised by alcoholism.

Toughing It Out: “I Can Handle It”

First responders must handle so much in their jobs that it’s simply second nature for them to believe they can handle something as abstract as their emotions. However, using alcohol or even drugs as a coping mechanism is indicative of someone who is not coping and may not be able to handle their emotional state on their own. First responders are used to others coming to them for help, so it can be challenging for them to ask help for themselves.

In the face of addiction, however, it’s the most positive thing they can do for themselves as well as their family and colleagues. Ultimately, addiction does worsen and their ability to perform on the job will be compromised.

The Hardest Thing: Asking for Help for Substance Addiction

Admitting that you are struggling with a substance abuse problem is the first step toward recovery. Treatment can help sufferers overcome their physical and psychological dependency on alcohol or any type of addictive drug. In addition, treatment can also help the sufferer find new, healthy ways to cope with the high-level stress of the job.

It’s important to understand that substance abuse often worsens without treatment. Moreover, in cases where addiction has set in, treatment is essential as addiction is a chronic and generally progressive disease that can wreak havoc with one both physically and mentally. Get help before turning to alcohol or drugs.

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