Fire fighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and police officers face inordinate stress and trauma on the job. Some become addicted to substances as a way to help stay awake, relax or numb feelings after facing tragedy. Others find they become addicted after being injured and come to enjoy the effects of morphine, Oxycontin, and other narcotic painkillers is also possible. Even those workers deemed most heroic are vulnerable to drug addiction.
However, admitting issues with drugs and alcohol can threaten first responder careers. Discretion, sensitivity, and effectiveness must all be considered in a treatment plan for first responders. This review will cover the unique challenges of first responders facing addiction and how to overcome them.
The Unique Circumstances
There is little information regarding addiction among other groups of first responders. However, trade journals estimate that drug or alcohol dependency among police officers is as high as 20 to 25 percent. There is more education on burnout and dealing with fatigue and stress, but some workers still fall through the cracks and find themselves seeking comfort in substances.
The problem is many of these jobs depend on their officers and workers remaining sober. Some police departments reject applicants with a previous history of drug use. Fire fighters and EMTs are subject to drug tests and a positive result can lead to suspension, if not termination. The need to make a living often eclipses honesty when these individuals face drug addiction.
However, not treating the condition compromises public safety. Drug and alcohol use reduces the ability to make judgments, perform procedures, and behave reasonably under stressful circumstances. One mistake in these professions can mean the death or disability of another.
This creates an ultimate Catch-22. The job itself presents the conditions that often lead to drug addiction and dependency. However, once that threshold is crossed, admitting the issue means losing the job–and a good support system. That is why there have been new ways to approach this issue that balance both first responders and public safety.
New Ways to Approach This Issue
Fortunately, with increased awareness, addiction in first responders is receiving more therapeutic attention as a health problem rather than as a discipline issue. The platform cleanandsoberlife.org allows individuals to privately check their benefits and treatment options without going to a supervisor or HR, this ensures your privacy and insures returning safely to full duty.
Cleanandsoberlife.org is an excellent first step in knowing what your option are. HIPAA and FMLA laws will protect first responders who need to take a leave of absence for treatment. You can also speak to a live person at 24 hours a day. Sometimes, just being able to call someone to plan the next step can prove to be a lifesaver.
It is clear that accessing treatment and improving health is a much better approach than keeping it hidden. Knowing the symptoms of risky behavior means being able to confront them sooner; if you are a first responder who feels you “need” a drink or a particular drug to get through your shifts, it is likely you have an addiction issue. If you are the spouse, friend, or other relative of a first responder who display troubling symptoms, know that you can reach out without worrying about career repercussions.