Occupational stress and trauma are part of the journey for firefighters who work on the frontlines of helping people in crisis. Medical and mental health disorders are highest for people in first responder jobs, particularly women.
They respond differently than men to crisis and may experience additional trauma in their pasts which makes them susceptible to present-day trauma and neglect with their mental health. Addiction can fly under the radar, although there are usually some signs things aren’t quite right.
Prevalence of Abuse Among Women
Female firefighters work alongside their male counterparts, which can drive alcohol use. They may try to keep up with them socially and try to ‘fit in.’
Binge drinking behavior is driven by trying to engage socially with others, wanting to get away from stress, deal with depressive symptoms, or cope with PTSD symptoms. Those who experience PTSD, particularly women, are more susceptible to drink on the job (while on call) and also at home when they are not at the firehouse.
Past trauma, current trauma from work, work injuries, or general malaise are all some of the reasons why women abuse alcohol.
First responders, especially firefighters, are in need of experiencing a safety net for themselves with regard to mental health and addiction issues. They work in mentally and physically demanding circumstances.
They work with people who are experiencing some of the worst times of their lives. It can be humbling, exciting, and altogether exhausting.
Every day, every moment is a new experience that calls all their resources internally to be pooled to deal with the emergency effectively. Occupational hazards can include:
- Exposure to chemicals in firefighting materials
- Heat stress
- Medical hazards
- PTSD from mental health challenges
Hidden Population, Hidden Risks
Women are considered to be more ‘hidden’ with their addictions. This is no different than in fire departments across the country.
Female firefighters may not get as much respect upfront as their male peers and have to push themselves to prove they can handle the tough work required. Although this focus is changing in fire departments, there are still challenges with departments and colleagues taking them seriously.
Once they prove themselves to one another, they tend to work harder to keep up with their colleagues and put themselves in riskier situations so they can prove that they can handle the work. They may hide the symptoms of having any issues in order to keep their jobs, avoid confrontation about their not ‘handling the job’ and stress of worrying about whether they will be taken seriously. This avoidance can lead to denial of their situation and make it harder for women to seek treatment.
Women firefighters may need community support to come around them when they seek help for addiction. They can seek help from professional organizations that treat firefighters and understand their special needs when it comes to treatment.
Impairment while on the job can put others at risk. It is important they receive appropriate help to support their journey of healing. Going to 12-step groups is helpful for women in recovery.
They can talk about their issues and find support in an environment with others who get the struggle. They may also want to just meet with other women, so they focus on finding groups where other women connect over addiction and recovery.
That has been a successful program for a long time, helping people from all walks of life live clean and sober.
The resource female firefighters have in great abundance is one another. Sharing with other coworkers who know the challenges helps.
Forming a peer support team, finding a group that meets to discuss recovery challenges and offers help while a woman is in recovery, is very helpful. If a firefighter struggles with addiction and does not want to get help, fellow firefighters can often hold an intervention to help them deal more effectively.
If someone is getting help right away, they are less likely to have long-term consequences from their addiction to take over their lives.
Treatment centers offer support for women with addiction. They can provide treatment tailored to meet a woman’s needs, where she is at, and in a way that feels safe for her.
If she feels vulnerable due to trauma, abuse, or past issues, there is trauma-informed care that can be offered to help her feel safe during treatment. The best way to get help is to step out in faith and seek others who can offer programs and community around addictive behaviors.
To not do that puts a woman at greater risk later and she may end up losing her career if she does not get help. The best help a woman can get is from fellow firefighters and first responders who know what stress on the job can do.
When she can be vulnerable and feel supported, all at once, that helps a female firefighter feel like she has a chance to hope for her future. Aftercare programs are also important to incorporate elements of planning for going home (or returning to life after outpatient treatment without confines of treatment space), therapeutic intervention, medication needed, and other elements that will help her succeed.
With these in place, she has more of a chance to feel connected to recovery and start moving forward without the use of substances to cope. It will take time but eventually, she can learn new habits for a better recovery.
Forge is a place to come and recover your life from addiction. We help you reimagine what is possible and create the life you’ve been dreaming of.
Call us today: 1-888-224-7312