Information About Addiction and EMTs

Addiction Among EMTs

EMS workers and addiction are hardly ever linked together in most people’s minds. It’s unheard of to think that someone who is charged with saving lives could have a substance abuse problem. However, is it really all that impossible? Of course, the answer to that question is no.

EMTs are viewed as superheroes. As such, they should be untouchable and infallible, at least in the minds of the public. The fact is that their jobs are difficult, trying and stressful. They hold countless lives in the palms of their hands every single day. It should be no wonder that so many of them turn to substances as a way to cope. For many of them, they’re the only way they can face another day on the job.

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Addiction in EMTs: The Unknown Tragedy and the Hope for Recovery

Addiction in EMTs is something that largely goes ignored because of the fact that EMS workers are thought to be professionals who should be immune to the threat of addictions. Of course, this idea is incorrect. EMTs are just as vulnerable to addiction as those in the general public, and sometimes, they are considered to be even more vulnerable because of the various issues they face in their jobs.

Still, when people read headlines that say something along the lines of, "City EMS Worker Accused of Stealing Pain Medication from Patient's Medicine Cabinet," everyone who reads it reacts with shock and awe.

It may help to understand a little bit more about the job of being an EMS worker and what exactly it is that puts these individuals at such a great risk for becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.

It's possible that you are an EMT yourself, and you've been struggling with some type of addiction, or at least you have a suspicion that you are. Please know that you are not alone if this has been your experience, and here at Northpoint Recovery, we want you to understand that others have been where you are.

There are so many EMTs in the United States who have resigned themselves to suffering in silence with their addictions because they're afraid of what might happen if they're honest about them. Learning as much as you can about addiction in EMS workers will help you gain insight into your own drug or alcohol abuse, as well as provide you with information about what you should do to get help if you do have an addiction.

EMTs and Addiction: What do the Statistics Tell Us?

For those who believe that emergency service workers should be immune to the temptation of drug and alcohol addiction, the statistics certainly tell a story that is much different.

EMTs and Addiction

Did you know that:


36% of EMS workers suffer from depression, which puts them at a very high risk for abusing drugs and alcohol.


72% of EMTs suffer from sleep deprivation, which also leads to addiction in many individuals. For most ambulance attendants, prescription medications and alcohol are their drugs of choice.


According to JEMS, in 2007, a report regarding a California EMS agency stated that they uncovered more than 65 drug and alcohol cases internally in 2005 and 2006. This number was up from only 8 cases in the two years prior to that.

You may find these statistics to be quite surprising. Most people do, and the reason is that these individuals are supposed to be people that are looked up to and celebrated as heroes because of the work they do. Even so, it's important to recognize that they are under such a tremendous amount of stress and strain on their jobs, and there are a number of other issues that can end up leading to addictions in so many of the world's best EMTs.

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The Risks for Addiction in Emergency Medical Technicians

There are a number of risk factors in place for paramedics that most people don't think about when they hear of instances of addiction within this field. These risks are very real, and they often lead to dependence on various substances. For example, EMTs are at risk for addiction because:

  • They have easy access to potent and addictive prescription medications when they visit patients' homes.
  • They often have to work long, strenuous hours because there is a shortage of paramedics in the field.
  • The number of managers in this field is quite small, and because of this, ambulance attendants often have less direct supervision.
  • The increase in the elderly population cannot be denied, and it is leading to higher call volumes and higher stress levels because paramedics don't have as much downtime as they once did.
  • There is a general lack of excellent substance abuse prevention programs in this field, and virtually no plans to make that a priority.

For those with such serious risk factors in place, it's not surprising that so many of them turn to addiction. Drugs and alcohol serve as a way to decompress after a long day or night on the job, and they often become a welcome escape to those who are suffering because of their circumstances at work.

EMTs and Stress

Most people have no idea the type of stress EMTs are under on a regular basis. What the general public often fails to realize is that they are so much more than just a ride to the hospital. Their jobs often require 24-hour shifts. They’re tasked with life or death decisions, and it’s up to them to keep patients alive, at times.

The training that EMTs receive is state-mandated, but the pay they’re offered is much lower than you’d expect. Many struggle to meet their monthly bills, which only adds to their stress.

It shouldn’t be surprising that EMS professionals have the 9th most stressful career. They’re constantly exposed to death, violence, destruction and trauma. The mental anguish doesn’t stop there. Even once their shifts are over, they have to deal with work-related stressors. When you add relationship and family stressors on top of that, it’s easy to see why they may abuse substances.

Ambulance Attendants’ Alcohol and Drug Use: Reasons They Turn to Substance Abuse

There are a number of different reasons that emergency medical technicians often turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to escape their realities. Even though substances are not a good substitute for getting professional help, knowing why those who work in this field are so quick to reach for the bottle or the drugs can help you understand the pressure they experience on a day-to-day basis.

EMTs frequently deal with:

  • Stress on the Job– It's difficult to imagine the amount of stress that an EMS worker faces on a daily basis; especially when you take into consideration the fact that they often deal with multiple calls during a single shift, mountains of paperwork, and all of the tragedy they see and endure when they are out in the field.
  • Trauma– While there is certainly trauma to be experienced when visiting the home of an elderly woman who is having a heart attack, the level of that trauma is increased when EMTs have to go to the scene of an accident where a good friend or family member is involved. This happens all the time, and it takes trauma to a personal level. It's no secret that many EMTs suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and yet, many of them fail to get the type of treatment they need.
  • Anxiety– Being a paramedic is often a thankless job that requires quick thinking and quick action. This in repetition can easily lead to anxiety, and it's not surprising that so many EMTs suffer from it.
  • Depression– Depression is very common among EMTs because of the situations they've been involved in, their long work hours, and their lack of sleep.
  • A Family History of Addiction– Many EMTs chose their profession because a parent was also an EMT. It's likely that this parent also turned to addiction as a way to cope with the stress of the job. Having a family history of addiction – and especially when another family member also worked as an EMS worker – increases the risk of addiction for that individual.

Identifying Drug and Alcohol Addiction in Paramedics

If you're an ambulance attendant, and you're concerned that you might have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it's important to know the signs you should be looking for. Or, maybe you're in denial that you have a problem with addiction because you know you feel in control of your substance abuse. A lot of people fit that category, and they're actually able to become high-functioning addicts who are able to put on the appearance of being in control when they're actually not.

Regardless of how you see yourself and your relationship to substances, you can identify an addiction within yourself by looking for a few signs, and these include:

  • Forging prescriptions
  • Stealing medications from others
  • Having problems with making decisions
  • Feeling or appearing too sedated or over-stimulated
  • Visiting a number of different doctors for prescriptions for the same medication
  • Experiencing extreme changes in your sleeping habits
  • Experiencing mood swings or becoming irritable very easily
  • Taking higher doses of your prescription medications than you should
  • Having problems getting along with your co-workers
  • Frequently making judgment errors on the job
  • A pattern of arriving late to work
  • Struggling with personal appearance and hygiene

Have you noticed any of the above within yourself? If you have, it's likely that you have an addiction. If you're still not sure, you may want to take an addiction quiz, which can help you by giving you more information about your own personal relationship with substances.

Help for EMT Workers and Addiction

Voicing Concerns About an EMS Worker's Drug or Alcohol Abuse: Assistance for Colleagues

Maybe you are an emergency services worker yourself, and you are very concerned about a co-worker because you suspect that he or she has an addiction. That individual may not ever talk about it, but because of various behaviors you have witnessed, you can't help but believe that there is a real problem. It's so difficult to know what to do in these types of situations because more than anything, you want to be as helpful as you possibly can. However, you may also fear losing a friend, or fear the outcome of your co-worker losing his or her job.

Ultimately, the most important concern you should have is for your co-workers safety, health and wellbeing. There have been many stories of EMS workers losing their jobs because of addictions, but it is becoming more and more common for supervisors to look upon these situations with the view of encouraging professional treatment over job termination. Try having a conversation with your co-worker about your concerns, and talk with him or her about getting help. If that doesn't work, you are wise to bring the issue to the attention of a supervisor so that something can be done. Allowing it to continue puts everyone at risk, and that's not something you want.

For Families of Paramedics: An Intervention May be the Answer

Perhaps you have a family member who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, and who is also a paramedic. This puts you in a terrible position because you want your loved one to be happy, but you also can see how the addiction is destroying his or her life.

Chances are pretty good that if you bring up the idea of getting professional help, your family member is going to brush your suggestion aside. In cases like these, intervention services are extremely helpful. An intervention often results in the loved one going to get help at a professional drug and alcohol rehab, and the meeting itself will give you a platform to talk about your concerns.

Reasons Ambulance Attendants Refuse Drug and Alcohol Treatment

There are a number of different reasons why EMTs might refuse to get professional treatment when they are confronted about an addiction, regardless of who is doing the confronting. They may be in denial that there is actually a serious problem present. They may also be in fear of losing their jobs, which can actually result in them trying to quit on their own in secret. This is incredibly dangerous.

Ambulance attendants will also frequently refuse to admit to having an addiction because of pride. They know that their job is an important one, and being able to save the lives of others is most likely why they chose their careers in the first place. Their positions are strong ones, and admitting that they can't stop using drugs or alcohol on their own is like admitting to having a weakness, which is something they want to avoid at all costs.

Drug and Alcohol Treatment for Emergency Medical Technicians: What to Expect

When you go to alcohol and drug rehab for EMTs, you're going to experience a few different types of therapy. These include:

  • Individual therapy, which will allow you to work with a counselor on a one-on-one basis. This is so important because it will give you the ability to talk privately about the issues that may have led to your addiction.
  • Drug and alcohol detox, if needed, which will help you overcome your withdrawal symptoms, and get through this phase of your quit much faster.
  • Participation in a 12 Step program, which has been shown to be very effective for those who need addiction treatment.
  • Group therapy, which allows you to receive peer counseling for your addiction.
  • Nutritional therapy, which will help you to improve your diet and overall general health.
  • Family therapy, which will help you and your family members to strengthen your relationships and heal from any wounds that may be there because of your addiction.

Because you work in the medical field, you are undoubtedly aware of the issues that many patients face when it comes to health insurance. You've probably overheard so many conversations from them regarding how they are going to pay for your services, how they're going to cover the cost of their hospital stays and their medical treatments. While it's true that it can be an uphill battle to work with some health insurance providers, you should know that the same is not true for those who are seeking addiction treatment.

Your health insurance company is required by law to help cover the costs associated with drug and alcohol rehab, and many of these companies will even cover these costs completely. This should come as a great relief to you if you were worried about how you would pay for it out of your own pocket. In fact, for many ambulance attendants, the cost of substance abuse treatment is what keeps most of them from even getting information about rehab.

It's easy to find out how much your health insurance company will pay toward your drug and alcohol rehab. At Northpoint Recovery, we would be happy to verify your insurance for you so that you know exactly how much – if anything – you would need to pay on your own.

Substance Abuse Treatment for Paramedics at Northpoint Recovery

If you're an EMT with an addiction, it's so important for you to know that you're not alone in your struggles. The very nature of your job puts you at a high risk for drug and alcohol dependence, and there are so many others who are battling it the same way you are. The general public may feel that you should be able to resist the urge to turn to substances as a way to cope with the stress you endure on a daily basis, but the truth is that your addiction is a disease that needs to be treated. It is not something that you've chosen for yourself.

At Northpoint Recovery, our goal is for you to get the help you need so that you can go on to have a full and promising career. We have seen so many medical professionals walk through our doors in need of addiction treatment, and it is certainly a field that has endured a great deal of shame from the public whenever one of its members is suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol. We seek to end that, and we want nothing more that to be able to assist you with overcoming your addiction.

Are you seeking addiction treatment for EMTs? If you are, or if you would just like to talk with us about how we can help you, we'd love to hear from you. Please contact us right away.

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