First Responders Drug Rehab Guide and Mental Health 

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The stress of being a first responder is intense.

First responders routinely put others before themselves, suppressing their personal needs to help strangers in their time of greatest need. Need first responders drug rehab help?

This act of putting others before themselves has always been demanded of first responders, but it has become intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of this has important consequences for drug use and health among first responders.

Being a first responder is a truly noble and awe-inspiring occupation. However, sometimes it can also be a double-edged sword. If you, your family members, or someone you love is a first responder, you’re well aware of how putting off your own needs can catch up with you. 

For example, first responders—such as law enforcement officers, paramedics, military personnel, and firefighters—are subjected to high levels of stress daily, and this can lead to mental health issues and problems with drugs and alcohol. Behavioral health often becomes a concern and introduces the need for substance abuse and first responders drug rehab treatment.

Learn more about mental health and substance use disorders among first responders below.

See how treatment centers for first responders drug rehab can make all the difference.

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The Traumatic, Stressful Work of the First Responder

The job of a first responder is unique in that it requires a person to think completely outside of themselves and put themselves in harm’s way to try to help another person. 

First responders often find themselves in dangerous or traumatic situations. In the moment, they act according to their experience and training without processing the potentially frightening or horrifying things that they may see, hear, or encounter. Later, when the crisis or emergency has passed, and they have time to process what they have seen or done, it may cause emotional or psychological stress.

This stress can lead first responders addiction to develop mental health conditions, substance use disorders, or a combination of both. Researchers have seen that emergency management and first responders like firefighters and police officers are vulnerable to developing conditions such as alcohol use disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

While the stress of the job may play into the development of these disorders, other job-related factors—such as the effect of sleep disruption and shift work on a first responder’s mental health—may play a role in developing drug addiction as well.

Mental Health Conditions Affecting First Responders

A first responder functions on a different plane than other members of the general population. They intersect with people at their most difficult and often painful moments, and they are then challenged to reintegrate with society and function in daily life outside of work once their shift is over. This demands a great deal of resilience and strength; however, it can also take its toll on a first responder’s mental health. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that an estimated 30 percent of first responders develop a mental health condition. These conditions can include depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.

Anxiety in First Responders

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), symptoms of an anxiety disorder include worrying about everyday issues excessively, feeling a sense of doom or uneasiness, having physical symptoms such as racing heart or sweating, obsessing over small details, or having specific fears. 

Some people with an anxiety disorder can also have panic attacks that come out of nowhere, even if there is no present danger. For a first responder, this can be particularly dangerous, particularly if a panic attack occurs in the line of duty.

Depression Symptoms in First Responders

Depression is a disorder that can strike first responders and cause them to experience feelings that interfere with their daily life, such as hopelessness, sadness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, or thoughts of harming oneself. 

Depression is a serious condition, and it can be deadly. Experts note that one in four law enforcement officers have experienced suicidal thoughts, and the rate of suicide among law enforcement officers is four times higher than that of firefighters.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in First Responders

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition caused by a specific event. While sometimes these inciting events are traumatic—such as responding to a natural disaster or helping someone involved in a horrific car accident (or being involved in one yourself)—other times less obvious events can cause PTSD. 

Regardless of the cause, people with PTSD can re-experience the rush of emotions and physical feelings that accompanied the original event. They can have disturbing flashbacks, mood changes, feelings of guilt, trouble concentrating, problems sleeping, or angry outbursts. While these symptoms can start right after the event itself, they may not appear until much later, according to the NIH.

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First Responders Addiction and Chronic Stress

When subjected to tragedy and chaotic situations as a part of your routine, it is tempting to cope with your abnormal human experiences by disassociating to some extent. Some first responders may do this with alcohol or drugs because these substances can provide a temporary “escape” from job stress. 

However, once drugs and alcohol get incorporated into a daily routine as coping mechanisms, it can be a slippery slope toward addiction. Experts believe that stress and addiction are intertwined—stress can make you more vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder. 

The chemicals that your brain processes when it responds to stress connect to those involved in the development of addiction. Stress and addiction can both cause changes in the brain that amplify each other. However, it’s important to remember that even though the chronic stress of working as a first responder can contribute to an addiction problem, not everyone who is a first responder will develop an addiction.

Mental Health Conditions and Substance Use Disorders

Mental health conditions and substance use disorders are commonly connected. Often, a first responder struggling with a mental health disorder such as PTSD will turn to a substance to have a temporary relief or outlet. Or a first responder who is struggling with a growing addiction to a substance may start to experience a mental health condition such as depression.

Both mental health conditions and substance use disorders originate from the brain, so it makes sense that they could be so interrelated. Mental health experts refer to addiction disorders and mental health disorders that trigger each other or otherwise co-exist together as “co-occurring disorders.” SAMHSA estimates that about 9.2 million adults in the US experience one of these co-occurring conditions.

The Impact of Mental Health Conditions and Substances Use Disorders on First Responders Addiction

If you are a first responder struggling with a mental health condition, a substance use disorder, or both, you are not alone. Experts note that 85% of first responders have experienced at least a symptom of a mental health condition at some point in their careers. 

Unfortunately, experts also note that both police officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than they are to die performing their job. This is why identifying substance use disorders and mental health conditions in first responders –and seeking treatment as early as possible—is so important.

Resources Available for First Responders Drug Rehab

Fortunately, there are several resources available for first responders struggling with addiction, a mental health condition, or both. An addiction treatment center can help you quickly get the help that you need, and they are designed to help you detoxify safely, address underlying mental health conditions, and then begin the road to sustained recovery. First responders can choose whether to come into a full-time treatment facility or to pursue a structured outpatient treatment program, depending on their preferences and personal situation. 

After completing a treatment program, if you or someone you love is searching for help that will sustain you over the long term, a local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting can also be helpful. Many people find that having social accountability and solidarity in the form of support groups can go a long way toward helping them maintain their sobriety.

The National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) also has many resources available for people who are recovering from a substance use disorder or mental health condition, including a recent documentary that exposes the trauma of first responders, especially as it relates to PTSD. Drawing attention to mental health conditions in first responders can help decrease feelings of alienation and isolation—and sharing resources like this with family and friends can help a person feel more understood, supported, and seen.

Find Help for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues

If you live in South Florida and seek treatment for first responders with substance abuse or mental health concerns, The Recovery Team is here to help. 

At our state-of-the-art treatment facility, we use evidence-based treatment programs for alcohol and drug addiction. We help our first responder patients safely and comfortably withdraw from alcohol and other substances, address any mental health concerns, and begin their recovery journey to sobriety. We have a 25-year history of helping people make a positive change in their life.

Contact us today for further information about our first responders drug rehab treatment programs.