July 16, 2015

Signs Your Loved One Needs Help: First Responders and Substance Abuse

As a first responder, your loved one has dedicated their life to public safety and community service. Is that sacrifice taking its toll on them?

Men and women who represent the police force, firefighters, paramedics and others who serve their communities experience a terrible burden. Oftentimes these situations are tense and dangerous. Many first responders carry around heartache and pain regarding lives they were unable to save or catastrophes they had to witness firsthand. Their incredibly unique circumstances can only be understood by others who put their lives on the line everyday just like they do.

The heavy burden of protecting the public may wear them down eventually. There are several potential signs your loved one needs help. They may have started to drink alcohol excessively or use drugs as a way to numb the pain and deep feelings. At this point, they need specialized care and treatment targeted at men and women who are first responders. First Responders Recovery can deliver that. The center offers substance abuse treatment programs directed towards healing the incomparable mental and physical damage caused by a career in public safety.

“I Don’t Need Help!”

How do you know if your loved one needs help? Perhaps they have worked for decades on the streets in your community, upholding the law and defending the innocent. They are strong. They have been trained to withstand high pressure, stress, and the unimaginable duty that comes with holding other lives in their hands. Many times a first responder will shirk the very human reactions to this amount of stress and claim they are fine and don’t need help.

In this case, they’re wrong. As a protector of the community, it is up to them to get the treatment they need to continue playing this role. Self-care and healing is both important and mandatory in this line of work.

Indicators of Substance Abuse

If you notice any of the following features in your loved one, encourage them seek help for alcohol or drug dependence.

  • Behaving inappropriately or impulsively; taking unnecessary risks
  • Lying, hiding information or covering up
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Messing up paperwork or needing extra time to complete routine documents
  • Developing tolerance – needing more of the substance to achieve the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal – nausea, insomnia, headaches, and other symptoms that occur after stopping use
  • Wanting to stop but not being able to

Even if your loved one has not yet turned to substances to cope, they could still be at risk of an addiction problem. Due to the life-threatening situations first responders find themselves in on nearly a daily basis, they are susceptible to mental disorders like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These disorders, if left untreated, increase the risk of turning to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, be on the lookout for these signs below:

Signs of Depression

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or an extremely low mood
  • Pessimism or hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Loss of interest in activities you once found pleasurable
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Thoughts of suicide

Signs of PTSD

  • Having flashbacks, nightmares, or unpleasant thoughts regarding a traumatic event in which someone was killed, hurt badly or could have been
  • Emotional numbness
  • Staying away from people, places, and things that remind you of what happened
  • Feeling guilt or worry
  • Feeling “on edge”
  • Being irritable or having angry outbursts

Find help with others who understand what your loved one is going through by reaching out to the team at First Responders Recovery.


  1. Tips for first responders: Possible alcohol and substance abuse indicators. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/NMH05-0212/NMH05-0212.pdf
  2. Signs and symptoms of depression. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/men-and-depression/signs-and-symptoms-of-depression/index.shtml
  3. Post-Traumatic stress disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/men-and-depression/signs-and-symptoms-of-depression/index.shtml

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