Statistics show that first responders are more likely to struggle with alcohol abuse issues than the average person. There are several reasons behind the relatively high levels of alcohol consumption among first responders. It’s important that those working in emergency response fields like EMTs and firefighters understand their risks for developing substance abuse issues. Staying vigilant and aware is an important part of preventing alcoholism.
Camaraderie and First Responder Culture
Addiction problems in police officers and EMTs often start innocently enough. These issues often stem from the typical social life of a first responder. Working in a blue-collar job that requires a great deal of teamwork leads to the consumption of alcoholic beverages as a form of camaraderie. It’s very common for those working in professions like law enforcement, firefighting, and emergency medical technology to join together for a drink after their shifts are over. On many police forces and first responder organizations, this can quickly lead to episodes of binge drinking among staff members.
There are many alarming statistics out there regarding emergency responders and alcohol consumption. Almost a third of all firefighters reportedly engage in alcohol abuse. Also, a study from The American Journal on Addictions shows that more than 18 percent of male police officers and almost 16 percent of female officers dealt with negative consequences due to their own alcohol consumption.
Coping mechanism for trauma exposure and PTSD
Another big reason why emergency responders are likely to develop alcoholism is because they witness traumatic events as part of their everyday job duties. The overwhelming majority- 90 percent– of first responders report having been exposed to trauma. Exposure to trauma is a huge factor in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As a result, more than a third of those working in emergency response positions are eventually diagnosed with a mental health disorder. However, many of those suffering from mental health conditions go undiagnosed and receive no formal treatment for their conditions.
While some emergency responders resort to healthy means of dealing with trauma and mental health issues like physical activity and counseling, others are drawn to alcoholic beverages and drugs because of the culture that they live and work in. It’s easy to wind up with alcohol consumption problems when you’re frequently in social situations that pressure you to drink and you’re dealing with trauma on a daily basis.
The importance of treating alcoholism in First Responders
Emergency responders struggling with alcohol consumption issues need to undergo addiction treatment to overcome the problem. When emergency responders are struggling with alcoholism, it puts our communities at risk. In addition to showing that first responders are more likely to abuse alcohol, statistics also show that emergency responders are occasionally prevented from making it to work or exhibit job performance issues because of their alcohol and/or substance abuse problem.
Emergency response professionals are essential for coming to the public’s aid when emergencies occur. If their abilities are impaired by drug abuse, they cannot perform as well as they should on the job. As a result, lives could be lost and members of the public could suffer severe injuries.
Recognizing substance abuse problems and encouraging treatment
First responder professionals like police officers, firefighters, and EMTs need to know how to recognize substance abuse problems. They also need to be encouraged to seek treatment when a healthy social life with their colleagues has evolved into a dangerous addiction.
Emergency responders suffering from PTSD and/or alcoholism could suffer from a variety of symptoms including uncontrollable outbursts of anger, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and uncontrollable thought processes leading to flashbacks and obsessing over traumatic experiences.
Fortunately, we as a society are becoming increasingly well aware of substance abuse issues in our first responders. As a result, there are many addiction treatment options out there that first responder organizations need to provide information about to their staff members to ensure health, well-being, and effective job performance among emergency response personnel.