First responders are people who give to others in service, such as firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and police officers. They serve the general public by putting themselves on the front line to ensure everyone’s safety. To deal with the stress on a daily basis of this work can be difficult with someone to talk to. There is a stigma that surrounds first responders seeking help. Knowing why first responders may not seek treatment helps understand their mindset and how to support their journey of healing.
First Responders Use Substances
Not all first responders use substances. There is a misnomer that, to deal with the pressure, they must drink or use drugs. Substance use is common for first responders, but not everybody does. Substance use among first responders is hard to acknowledge because of various reasons. Although police officers, firefighters, and EMTs work in different areas of the helping profession, they see lots of difficult things on a daily basis. They may work holidays, be away from family, or put their lives at risk. Alcohol and drug dependence issues are common for these, and many other reasons, but that does not mean everyone does it. Firefighters, for instance, are more likely to binge drink, but they are almost more likely to be men working on the job. Men are more likely to binge drink when in company other men, so they may drink more off the clock with their friends while they wait for calls to come in. EMTs actually have the highest rate of substance use disorder among first responders. Nearly 40% of EMTs reported high-risk drug and alcohol use. Exposure to traumatic events is also one reason this occurs.
Drinking to Fit In
First responders are seen as people who drink to fit in with others. Nearly all reported exposure at some point to traumatic events. The pressure to perform and fit in with others is stressful. Police and firefighters are in a culture where they want to fit in as one of the boys but it might mean risky behavior. Sobriety does not mean losing identity as a first responder. Substance use is not required to perform on the job. It is a coping mechanism much use to deal with the stress and anxiety of work. When others do it, it is hard to sit out. Being in recovery from substance use means setting healthy boundaries, so first responders may need to set healthy boundaries with colleagues who still use substances to keep themselves on the right path. This might mean:
- Not showing up for work drinks after hours
- Not accepting invitations to parties where it is too tempting
- Watching out for triggers or shaming behavior to ‘fit in’ with others who are doing it
- Letting go of toxic relationships or work that don’t support recovery efforts (or actively confront a person’s sobriety as a negative thing)
Substance Use is a Sign of Weakness
This old myth pervades lots of people’s lives and journeys with addiction and substance use disorders. First responders who are not able to deal with everything find that substances can calm their nerves, ease anxieties. Study after study has shown ‘personal failing’ model of addiction does more harm than good. It actually shames people and keeps them from seeking treatment. The condition is multidimensional. It follows a progression like a disease, and responds to treatment like this, also. The first responder suffering from addiction is not a perpetrator. First responders who struggle with addiction need treatment, not judgment. This goes for anybody, but especially those who put their lives on the line for others.
Rock Bottom’s Up
The trouble with thinking that people, especially first responders, have to hit the very bottom to get up again is disingenuous to the process that is an addiction. Most first responders are high functioning and can work, be with family, and deal with everyday life in spite of addiction. Sometimes, people, love to miss all the signs. The high functioning first responder who suffers from SUD will not miss work or get a bunch of DUIs on their record. They will keep in line with their work and duties to the family. Someone who is high functioning may hit rock bottom or they may not. They may just feel uncomfortable and not at all where they want to be with their substance use but cannot control it. Too often, first responders are more comfortable helping others than getting help themselves. First responders who seek treatment have better outcomes the sooner they get help.
First responders give everyone so much and expect little to nothing in return. People who seek treatment for addiction and substance use are often struggling themselves to navigate the challenges. Getting to the root causes of substance use disorder and getting treatment means finding help. It also means finding hope for long-lasting trauma and difficulties they face. It is good to seek out hope and find something better. Hope for healing is out there. With the mental health issues, trauma, and other challenges first responders face, they deserve to have a place they can go and find support for themselves. Special programs designed to treat first responders speak to their needs and can offer the best in care so they can continue serving others while serving themselves, as well.
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