Are Our First Responders at Risk for Addiction?
Firefighters, police officers and paramedics share two major job components: each is a hero of the community, and all face inherent danger on a daily basis. These pressures can make first their careers high risk for addiction.
You can imagine those dangers, right? Burns, smoke inhalation, gun violence, physical fights and exposure to deadly pathogens. These very real concerns are why you may hear someone joke, “We fully support our first responders because we sure don’t want to be one!”
The job of a first responder is no joke. We love them, and we need them.
And we also need to recognize the more subtle and pervasive dangers lurking for every firefighter, police officer and paramedic on the job—namely, ongoing mental and physical trauma.
Today we’re going to take a look at why these careers are at risk for addiction when it comes to wearing the badge of First Responder. And we’ll also talk about what you can do to protect your body and mind if you find yourself in this honorable role.
Why First Responders Are Among The Top Careers At Risk for Addiction
Brace yourself for a shocking statistic; no hyperbole here. What you’re about to read may require a moment of reflection, so go ahead and prepare to pause.
In 2017, the Ruderman Family Foundation conducted a study of firefighters and police officers and found suicide to be a greater cause of death than dying in the line of duty. And it’s no wonder, as they also discovered evidence of PTSD and depression at rates nearly five times higher than the general population. Five times.
But why the mental health struggle?
First responders work long shifts, often covering unusual hours, meaning their reentry into society may not match the normal times for socializing and sleeping. And speaking of sleep, they must be ready to respond at a moment’s notice—awake or otherwise—and to enter environments with countless unknowns and no guarantees.
These factors alone take a toll on the body, which, in turn, takes a toll on the mind. But it doesn’t stop there.
Here are a few reasons why first responder careers are at risk for addiction:
- Firefighters must climb ladders and crawl through windows, lift heavy hoses and people in need of rescuing.
- Police officers chase suspects on foot and sometimes engage in wrestling matches on the ground.
- Paramedics carry the infirm, receive kicks or punches from people unable to think clearly and suffer hearing loss as a result of listening to sirens blaring at such loud volumes.
The physical pain grows as mental health deteriorates. Pair this with a reluctance among some first responders to open up about their struggles, and you can see where drugs and alcohol might become a welcome form of relief.
How to Care For Your Health—Both Mental and Physical
If you’re a firefighter, police officer or paramedic, you probably feel pretty seen right now. The risks of your job are real and credible. And the fallout of your mental and physical health is recognized and documented.
If you’re reading this in hopes of gaining insight on careers at risk for addiction—and preserving your mental and physical health, there’s really no time like the present. Our best advice:
No really! Set aside 10 minutes every day for dynamic stretching. You can find a great routine on YouTube to get you started.
Take a few steps toward better sleep.
You can’t control your schedule, but you can:
- Put your phone down and read a bit before bed
- Ask your doctor about the possibility of taking melatonin
- Take a 15-minute nap when the opportunity presents itself
Make room for mindfulness.
Begin a gratitude journal, practice meditation, pray, sit in silence, write out your worries, take regular walks or read books that inspire you.
There’s no prize for suffering alone. Talking with a counselor can help you process what you encounter at work and develop practical strategies for the years ahead.
And if you’ve already found yourself turning to drugs or alcohol for relief, can we encourage you to get help right away? You have so much more to offer your community—the very people who respect and need you the most!
Here at The Right Step Houston, we’re happy to help. Give us a call at 844.767.9404