First responders are subject to some of the most demanding and dangerous situations in our society today. These heroes provide support, medical assistance, mental and physical health care, and a stabilizing presence both here and abroad. These duties are essential to society and American interests and safety around the world. With this type of work, first responders addiction treatment and mental health care may be needed.

first responder in civilian clothing seeking addiction and mental health treatment for first responders

The Relationship Between Addiction and First Responders

From perilous circumstances to everyday safety, first responders are integral for preserving the American way of life. Offering medical support, psychological and physical aid- these heroes provide invaluable assistance both domestically and internationally. Without our first responders, the nation would be vulnerable to threats from inside as well outside its borders – making them a critical part of maintaining peace and security throughout our society today.

However, these responsibilities do not come without great physical and emotional risks. Our first responders are constantly exposed to violence, sleep deprivation, and life-threatening situations. These stressful situations take a serious toll on their own, and can also lead to mental health disorder and dangerous coping mechanisms such as drug and alcohol use.

No matter the profession or walk of life one inhabits, stress has proven to push people to various coping mechanisms. Coping with substance abuse is called self-medicating. When a person turns to alcohol or drugs for self-medicating purposes, they are more likely to become dependent upon that substance than an individual that is a recreational user.

50% of those with mental health issues are thought to be affected by addiction. Due to near-constant stress and trauma, it’s common for first responders to develop co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders. Without addiction treatment for first responders, these can be devastating.

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Substance Use and Police Officers

Due to the nature of their job, police officers face extreme stress and even trauma on almost a daily basis. In addition to placing themselves and their colleagues in harm’s way, they may also often witness disturbing or violent behavior, such as murder, suicide, or traffic fatalities. Police officers are the first on the scene at domestic violence calls, drug deals, and everything in between. Also, law enforcement officers experience work-related stress regarding their roles and reception in the community.

According to research, the police force is at a significantly higher risk of drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues than the general population. This risk is exacerbated by the fact that many cops have easy access to illegal drugs when they arrest drug dealers or respond to overdose calls.

Studies show that police officers working in urban areas use drugs and alcohol at a “high-risk” level as often as 10-15% of the time. Male officers are almost twice as likely to be affected but female officers are not immune. Researchers attribute the high alcohol consumption rates among police officers to both social and stress-induced drinking behaviors. The most important contributor to alcohol consumption among police officers, however, is the stress and trauma officers face daily in the line of duty. Addiction and mental health treatments such as trauma treatment are needed.

first responder rehab for police

Substance Use and Firefighters

Firefighters spend their days braving dangerous fires and other situations to save civilian lives. The nature of this job presents firefighters with many of the same potential for trauma as a police officer. Also, increased risk of injury from burns, smoke inhalation, traffic accidents, and other on-the-job injuries make firefighters more likely to turn to substances to cope or need painkillers to mend.

The long 24-hour shifts and exposure to trauma calls lead many firefighters to develop mental health conditions such as post-traumatic-stress disorder, acute stress disorder, and depression. Many individuals struggling with these issues then turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of symptom relief. Studies have shown that up to 29% of firefighters engage in alcohol abuse and as many as 10% of firefighters may be currently abusing prescription drugs.

Rates of binge drinking and prolonged alcohol use are higher among firefighters than the general population. In addition to job stress, there are social factors that contribute to the high rates of dangerous alcohol consumption. Many firefighters also report using alcohol as a means of “de-stressing” or winding down after a hard shift. Increased use of alcohol as a coping mechanism leads to increased rates of alcoholism.

first responder rehab for firefighters

Substance Use and Paramedics/EMT

Paramedics and EMTs are emergency medical personnel technicians that work in ambulances, fire rescue, and other medical trauma teams. These professionals often work 24-hour shifts and commonly face life or death situations. They face many hazards on the job including traumatic exposure to violence and extreme health issues. Like other emergency workers, they are at significantly higher risk for physical and mental health concerns.

According to studies, as many as 36% of EMS workers suffer from depression and the majority of them also suffer from sleep deprivation. These workers are also at a higher risk of PTSD due to their constant exposure to potentially traumatic events.

Drug abuse is much higher among paramedics and EMTs compared to other emergency responder professions. While research has not yet come to conclusions as to why it is believed to be a combination of factors including easy access to prescription medications and high-stress exposure levels. Like fellow first responders, EMT’s encounter severe stress that may push them to cope using substances such as alcohol.

first responder rehab for paramedics

Substance Use and Military Personnel

Active-duty and retired members of the armed forces also face substance use disorders. As many as 15% of the veterans that seek medical care from the U.S. Veterans Administration meet the criteria for a diagnosis of a substance abuse disorder, which puts them at a higher risk than the general population.

Military personnel, in both war-time and peace-time, face the stress of being separated from their families, multiple deployments, potential combat trauma, and more. Active soldiers and veterans are also significantly more likely to struggle with PTSD and have worse mental health conditions than the general population. As many as 20% of veterans from recent wars return home showing symptoms of PTSD. The stress of coping with PTSD symptoms can often push people towards substance abuse, and the presence of both disorders may represent a co-occurring condition.

First Responder Mental Health Problems

Due to the nature of their job and the constant contact with stressful and even traumatic experiences, first responders are at significant risk for behavioral health issues. Dealing with natural disasters, violent accidents, death, disease, and even terror attacks put our first responders in harm’s way often.

This trauma can often lead to long hours, sleepless nights, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. An emergency personnel or first responder is at significantly higher risk of behavioral health disorders than the general population. Some of the most common disorders experienced by this population segment are:

  • Depression
  • Substance Abuse
  • Suicidal Ideation

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Co Occurring Disorders

Police looking at nothing experiencing anxiety and stress

First Responder Addiction Treatment in Florida

Our treatment center in Florida offers addiction and mental health treatment programs tailored specifically to first responders, recognizing their unique needs and challenges. These first responder treatment programs are designed to address drug addiction, alcohol addiction and mental health issues, ensuring that they receive the specialized care and support necessary for their long-term recovery.

Our treatment process includes individual therapy, group therapy, 12-step programs, nutritional therapy, family therapy sessions, drug and alcohol detox, addiction medicine management and additional ancillary services in either an inpatient or outpatient treatment setting. The treatment has also been proven to be significantly beneficial when it is grouped with other individuals from similar occupations.

firefighter with drinking problem needing addiction treatment

First Responder Mental Health Treatment in Florida

Behavioral Health Centers offer depression, PTSD and other mental health conditions treatment for first responders. We offer various therapies and treatment programs to address mental illness and behavioral health conditions.

PTSD treatment for first responders focuses on individual counseling, with support from family members and friends. Identifying triggering situations and using proven therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can help first responders overcome their mental illness such as depression and PTSD. Due to Covid-19, most of these therapies are now available online as well.

First responders who exhibit symptoms of multiple disorders-such as substance abuse disorders and PTSD-may have a “dual-diagnosis” (or co-occurring disorder). The presence of two or more disorders necessitates a unique approach from a specialist familiar with dual diagnosis treatment. While many of the same treatment modalities may be used, it is important to separate symptoms and treat them individually.

fireman needing mental health condition treatment

Begin Your Treatment Journey at Behavioral Health Centers Today

At Behavioral Health Centers, our trained addiction specialists and mental health professionals are standing by to help you or your loved one overcome addiction. Whether you need the intensely supervised care of our inpatient or detoxification options or the flexibility of our outpatient treatment, we have a specialized treatment option that can help you begin your journey today. Make your confidential call today to begin your journey to healthy life and sobriety!

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Medically reviewed by:

Dr. K. Dodge, PhD, MSPH, MSW

Get Help Today

Don’t go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you’re facing. Get in touch with one today.

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If you have coverage of any kind from a major insurance provider, your treatment is likely covered. We promise to keep your information confidential.