First responders put themselves on the line for us every day. A normal day for them is putting their lives and health—both mental and physical—at risk to help strangers. They witness unspeakable events and traumas regularly. This constant exposure to dangerous and traumatic situations increases the chances that they end up with mental health issues including drug addiction and alcohol addiction.
Firefighters, law enforcement officers including local police and sheriff, state troopers, and federal agents, paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), rescuers, military personnel are all considered to be first responders. A first responder is any individual with specialized training who is the first to arrive at the scene of an emergency such as natural disasters, accidents, or terroristic acts.
There are millions of first responders in the United States. And of these millions, some will develop mental health issues due to the exposure to the trauma associated with their lines of work. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 30% of first responders develop behavioral health issues as compared with a rate of 20% in the general population. These conditions include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse issues.
If you or someone you love is a first responder and is struggling with a mental health issue including alcohol addiction or drug addiction it’s your turn to get help. First responders help so many but when it comes to addiction asking others for help can be hard. At Futures Recovery Healthcare we understand the unique challenges first responders face in and out of recovery. We offer comprehensive, evidence-based treatment with expertise in co-occurring disorders such as depression or PTSD and an alcohol or substance use issue.
Understanding the Increased Risk for Certain Mental Health Issues
Firefighters, law enforcement, and medical first responders are continually exposed to some of the worst of life. The constant stress, threat of personal harm, and emotional exhaustion from wanting to save everyone but being unable to do so directly impacts both physical and mental well being of these individuals.
There are some more commonly found mental health issues in first responders, but this list is by no means inclusive.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorders (SUDs)
- Co-occurring disorders
Mild, moderate, or severe depression often plagues first responders. While everyone sometimes will feel sad or down, when these feelings last and are accompanied by hopelessness, suicidal ideations, insomnia, eating issues, guilt, and more a depression diagnosis may occur. Sometimes depression can be a symptom of another mental health issue like PTSD or addiction.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), and panic disorders are all types of anxiety disorders that first responders may experience.
This mental health issue may manifest in different symptoms. What one person shows another may not. When it comes to PTSD it doesn’t look the same for everyone. PTSD can result from exposure to a traumatic or violent event. For first responders, these are often the events they see on a daily basis.
Substance Use Disorder
SUD is a chronic disease in which the person using alcohol or a substance is unable to stop using despite negative consequences from continued use. Some people experience little to no negative consequences however others have extremely negative consequences and are still unable to stop drinking alcohol or using drugs.
When a person has an alcohol or substance use issue along with another mental health issue they have co-occurring issues. These co-occurring issues are often found not only with first responders but also in others with addiction issues. Often one issue makes the other worse and vice versa. If you think you or someone you love has a co-occurring disorder seeking treatment at an addiction treatment facility with experience in treating both is essential to long-lasting recovery.
First responders face trauma each and every day. However, one of the most critical times for first responders when it comes to both mental health issues and substance use issues is when they retire. During this time many of the emotions previously avoided come to the surface and many turn to alcohol or other substances to self-medicate. Research shows that those who have difficulties with the transition from working to retirement are more likely to suffer from mental health issues including substance use issues.
Barriers to Treatment for First Responders
Stigmas associated with mental health and substance abuse issues, while decreasing, still remain today. No one should be intimidated or fearful in seeking help for any mental health issue including alcohol addiction or drug addiction, however, despite the increase in education about addiction, some stigmas and judgments remain.
Some of the biggest barriers to treatment are as follows:
Fear of job loss
The Affordable Care Act has made access to treatment for SUDs better. However, taking time off from work, allowing others at work to know of an alcohol or substance use issue, and keeping one’s job after returning from treatment can all be real concerns for not just first responders but anyone who is considering treatment for a mental health issue including substance abuse.
Concerns about financial means
Not only is the cost of treatment something that must be taken into consideration so too is the time off from work while in treatment. This time off can sometimes be without pay altogether or with reduced pay. For anyone who is the primary breadwinner or who contributes to the family income, this can be something that stops or delays them from going into treatment for addiction or mental health issues.
Worries about judgment in social circles and work
And while the stigmas surrounding mental health and addiction are fading, there are still stigmas. Often a person worries what their friends, family, and co-workers will think about them if they not only know they may have a substance or alcohol issue but also how things will change after treatment. A person who wants to be successful in recovery must change a number of things once they leave treatment, many times this includes who they socialize with and sometimes their work environment and habits. These anticipated changes can often produce fear and stop a person from seeking the help they need.
Disbelief in the success of treatment
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that in 2017 about 4 million people in the United States sought help for a substance use or alcohol use disorder. And while not all of those individuals are able to experience long-lasting recovery the first time around, many do. Seeking treatment at an addiction treatment center with a variety of treatment programs and services that meet your specific treatment needs is an essential first step in long-term recovery.
Is It Time to Seek Help?
If you or someone you love is ready to get help, look for a treatment center that utilizes evidence-based therapies, has comprehensive and compassionate care, and is able to effectively address any co-occurring disorders that might exist. Futures knows that there are multiple pathways to recovery and offer program options to serve the needs of individuals with varying treatment needs.
There’s no doubt that when it comes to asking for help and seeking treatment for an addiction issue it can be hard. In addition to these barriers, there are others specific to each person who deep down may want to get help.
It’s important to know that many others have been in the same place you are right now—you are not alone. These people have taken that first brave step and many now live abundant, happy, and healthy lives in recovery. You can too.
If you are ready to get help and begin a life in peace and joy, Futures is here for you. Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 561-475-1804.