When A Hero Needs Saving: How Can Firefighters Overcome Addiction?
We often salute firefighters for their courage to respond to disasters and save lives. Nonetheless, there are silent battles that they face which we may not be aware of, such as having an addiction. If you or a loved one is a firefighter suffering from substance abuse, you may be asking, “Is recovery possible?”. Learn more through this post.
Being a firefighter is a rewarding job, given that you get to save lives at work. However, along with that fulfillment comes a high-stress career that can even be life-threatening at times. A job not for the weak–which leaves many firefighters with few options to cope, and some of these tactics are very unhealthy. It is not rare to hear the words firefighters and drinking get mixed together, as this is a common pastime for emergency workers on their off-hours.
Alcohol Trends Among Firefighters
According to a study published in Oxford Medicine in 2014, 89% of firefighters in their sample have consumed alcohol in the past month. Of the consumers, 34% admitted to engaging in binge drinking habits. This high percentage of self-reports on drinking habits was confirmed to be 71% correct.
In a separate study, many among the profession believe alcohol use among firefighters because it is a socially accepted practice. Missouri firefighters were asked to complete a survey and 85% of firefighters reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. Of the 85%, half exhibited signs of having a binge-drinking habit.
Drug Trends Among Firefighters
It is also alarming to know that 10% of firefighters are believed to be abusing prescription medications. Many of our emergency workers deal with physical ailments related to their job, and doctors would be prescribed pain medications such as opioids. Those who are susceptible to developing an addiction would eventually suffer from drug tolerance, and then dependency.
Other studies show that emergency responders such as firefighters are at high-risk for substance abuse. As much as 80-100% of EMTs and paramedics are exposed to traumatic events, leading them to experience several mental health concerns. For reasons such as loss of their jobs, coping with stress, and other personal issues, they resort to self-medicating methods such as abusing prescription medications and street drugs.
These alarmingly huge numbers should make us think about the overall health and wellness of firefighters as well as their coping habits.
Firefighter Health Statistics
Before understanding addiction in the context of firefighters, it is also helpful to know the possible reasons why substance abuse is quite common in this workforce.
When we look at the health statistics of firefighters, we notice a multitude of health consequences and on-the-job hazards that occur when taking this job. Below are some studies that present the health issues regarding firefighters:
Physical health risks
- Firefighters suffer more from physical stress such as muscle strains, pains, cuts, bruises and bleeding, as 52% have already experienced these incidents while at work.
- There are 9,275 cases of exposures to infectious diseases such as meningitis, hepatitis, and HIV while being at work.
- There are 36,475 cases of exposure to hazardous chemicals while putting out fires, such as asbestos, smoke, and radioactive materials.
- Present in the statistics are cases of occupational death due to responding in the scene of the fire, vehicle crashes, heart attack, and even training activities.
Mental health risks
- There are also existing mental health problems that are caused by the high-stress nature of firefighting. At present, there are commonly recognized occupational stressors such as job skill concerns and reduction of force causing more work per individual.
- An article published at the US Fire Administration stated that Repeated Exposure Trauma (RET) is a common incidence among firefighters. Firefighter stress statistics show that repeated incidence of trauma causes the workers to exhibit symptoms of depression and engage in substance abuse.
- Repeated Exposure Trauma eventually leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among some firefighters, of which symptoms are: Sleep disorders, cynicism, having an addiction, and intrusive flashbacks. Firefighter PTSD statistics show that almost 20% of the population is likely suffering from this mental health problem.
- Aside from occupational stressors, there are also other personal stressors that firefighters go through. Work-family conflict is a likely occurrence, making firefighters feel burnout and stress about their jobs.
Indeed, firefighters put their lives on the line for the sake of their jobs. These facts paint a picture of the long-term effects of being an emergency worker, and the risks do not only permeate the physical aspect but the mental aspect as well.
Going back to the context of addiction, it is helpful to know that the physical and mental stressors previously mentioned are likely contributors to problems of substance abuse. Armed with this information in mind, how can we help firefighters overcome, and even more so avoid abusing alcohol or drugs?
Managing Addiction for Firefighters
A good addiction treatment facility will value the uniqueness of each individual going through addiction. They will consider each one-of-a-kind background, such as those who work in the emergency response field. Many clients have dealt with the challenges of substance abuse in relation to PTSD, and the right addiction treatment program will offer a custom-fit firefighter rehab that will be suited to your needs. Here are some questions commonly asked if you or a loved one in the firefighting career is suffering from addiction:
How can I overcome my addiction?
Addiction is considered a disease. Formally called Substance Use Disorders (SUD), this condition is not merely a ‘problem of the will’ to stop using drugs or alcohol. There are actual changes in a person’s brain chemistry once he or she is addicted. Thus, seeking professional help is crucial for safety reasons and long-term success.
Much like you won’t attempt to self-cure using home remedies for cancer or stroke, you are also running the risk of life-threatening side effects if you don’t seek medical help regarding an addiction. It is not advisable to quit alcohol or drugs cold turkey without medical intervention, as this causes withdrawal symptoms that can be deadly when not managed properly.
Addiction problems are challenging to overcome through sheer will, as this condition often influences your rational judgment. The best way to overcome an addiction in the long run is to find a high-quality rehab center that understands your needs as a firefighter. A center that offers multiple treatment options with top-notch facilities is your best bet towards sobriety.
Is it possible to keep my job even when recovering?
Yes, it is possible. Most rehab centers require you to join an inpatient program for the most effective type of treatment. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows you to typically have 12 weeks of leave within a given year to seek treatment for a serious medical condition, of which substance abuse fits the eligibility.
Perhaps you have decided to seek help after seeing the results of a firefighter drug testing. It is essential to prove that you’re sober as firefighting is a job that requires high skill. Going to rehab will help you achieve that goal and prove your employer that you can keep your job.
Alternatively, you may also be contemplating of going to rehab on your own will. In this scenario, your employer may require you to submit pertinent documents that shows proof of your condition, such as medical records and physician recommendations.
What can I expect in a rehab facility?
There are three general steps when starting rehab treatment. You can expect to undergo an assessment to determine the severity of your addiction. You will also undergo some lab tests to see the types of substances you are addicted to, and what kinds of treatment options are suited for your case.
After the initial assessment, the first step of treatment is the detox phase. At this stage, withdrawal symptoms are managed through bed rest, nutrition and the use of prescription drugs when needed. The goal of the detox phase is to rid your body of the drug or alcohol dependency as much as possible and to prepare yourself for the treatment proper.
The next step is treatment proper, where the cause of your addiction is managed from the root. Whether it’s PTSD, occupational stress, or personal issues, substance abuse specialists will provide you with the tools and strategies you need to cope with internal and external triggers for your addiction. The 4-12 weeks in rehab will mostly focus on these issues in order for you to achieve a long-lasting recovery. An aftercare program will proceed once your treatment is done. This is to help you become accountable during your recovery journey.
Fighting The Fires Of Addiction
Firefighters who suffer from substance abuse do not only battle physical fires, but also their inner “fires” fueled by addiction. By seeking professional help, it is possible to ensure the health and wellness of our daily heroes who do so much for our community.
Talk with one of our treatment specialists . Call 24/: 949-276-2886
- Academic.oup.com – “Covariates of alcohol consumption among career firefighters”.
- Firerescue1.com – “Firefighters and alcohol, what the data says”.
- Firefighterclosecalls.com – “The Latest Stats On Firefighter Injury and Death”.
- Link.springer.com – “Occupational Stressors, Stress Responses, and Alcohol Consumption Among Professional Firefighters: A Prospective, Longitudinal Analysis”.
- Usfa.fema.gov – “The effect of repeated exposure trauma on firefighters
- Firerescue1.com – “New study estimates 20 percent of firefighters, paramedics have PTSD”.
- Iranarze.ir – “Assessment of relationships between work stress, work-family conflict, burnout and firefighter safety behavior outcomes”.
- Dol.gov – “Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About the Revisions to the Family and Medical Leave Act”.
- Cpancf.com – “Firefighter and First Responder Alcohol and Drug Issues Part I”.
- Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “Occupational risk factors in the emergency medical services”.