Substance abuse and alcohol addiction are challenging to deal with. The signs a first responder is struggling are not always easy to see. The concerning behavior may be noticed and dismissed as nothing serious. Normative behavior is someone who is coping well, coming to work on time, showing up for their loved ones, and taking care of themselves. When it devolves into something else like their suddenly struggling to take care of themselves or not dealing with on-the-job stress, these may be signs they are not coping with the job and need help.
Struggling to Cope
The signs a loved one who works as a first responder is struggling may be overlooked. After all, they work in a high pressure, high-intensity environment. It may seem normal for them to be distant or not approachable quite often because they are exhausted after long days on the job. Long shifts are common, with little rest or sleep in between calls, so EMS personnel often find they are exposed to repeated traumatic events that put them at risk of alcohol or drug use. Prescription medications and alcohol are common drugs of choice used to cope. Casually drinking or taking a pill for pain can turn to abuse rather quickly. Signs of escalation are there but many people look past them because they equate old stereotypes of drinking or drug use with people living on the street. The simple fact is anyone can struggle with addiction. The signs are usually there if people know what to look for in a loved one’s behavior.
Seeing the Signs
Recognition of the signs means a person can finally check in with a loved one about getting help. Many people believe if someone holds a job or appears to be doing well in public, they are not suffering behind the scenes. The harsh reality is that people who work the frontlines to serve the community are often hiding difficult mental and physical challenges, including addiction. There is stigma attached to talking about ‘how hard work is’ and how stressful or traumatizing it may be. What family and loved ones don’t see can be bubbling under the surface. When family and friends know what to look for, it can be very helpful to getting them support in recovery. Some warning signs that people need to look for don’t always seem obvious right away:
- Changes to sleep habits
- Different patterns of eating (binge eating or eating less)
- Taking more pain medication than seems necessary
- Taking higher doses of pain meds or seeming to talk more about needing more drugs for pain relief
- Not being able to stop drinking
- Not able to concentrate on the job, in meetings, or with co-workers
- Falling asleep randomly
If a loved one has warning signs, a recovery center can be a great place to seek help. If they are trained to know how to support EMS workers, that is the best place for them to recover.
Substance Treatment Programs
With substance abuse treatment, the goal is to stop the abuse and give people with addiction space to heal. One challenge is keeping them in treatment long enough to help them get to the place of feeling good about recovery. Finding treatment for EMS personnel is very specific to their needs. Drug abuse treatment depends on the nature of the person’s challenges, mental health issues, and how long it has been going on. They also need to be willing to receive treatment. To help them find care, there are some questions to answer when searching for treatment programs:
- Is the program backed by evidence
- Do the program support first responders well
- How long does treatment last
- What is the aftercare planning like
- How do 12-step programs fit in
Resources to help families find the right program exists through SAMHSA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They help promote positive care of those on the frontlines of serving others, including first responders. Anyone with addiction should seek treatment and support, especially those who struggle with on-the-job trauma like EMS personnel.
The goal for EMS personnel is to find a ‘new lease on life’ as person in recovery. The person with an addiction is in charge of their own life. The need for EMS providers to get substance abuse treatment is crucial. They need specialized care, treatment for their needs, and support from others who have been there. They need to know others understand what they are dealing with when it comes to addiction. The challenge for them is to open up about experiences, releasing the stigma and shame around talking through the issues they face on the job. Relapse is a common issue for people who struggle with addiction. Triggers pop up all the time on the job and in real life, so it is imperative to have great planning for treatment and recovery that supports a healthy perspective on their work and life while still doing what they love. This makes it even more important to have quality aftercare planning, treatment follows up, recovery support groups, and a supportive environment that encourages sobriety and recovery. With this in mind, a person can heal from addiction and move ahead in their career, and life, while staying clean and sober. It takes a village to get it there, but it is worth pursuing.
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