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Addiction in Firefighters: Identifying the Problem and Treating it

Addiction in firefighters is actually much more common than most people think it is. We tend to think of those who take on these challenging positions as being heroes, and in doing so, we begin to think of them as being free from the threat of addictions to drugs or alcohol. If only this were the case. The fact is that so many people who work as firefighters are victims of addiction, and there are a number of different reasons why. To think of firemen and women as being immune to the problem of addiction only does a disservice to them, and it allows the terrible stigma of addiction to continue within this particular community of people.

On the outside, you act as though everything is fine, but on the inside, there is a major battle going on.

Perhaps you work as a firefighter, and you are concerned that you might have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. On the outside, you act as though everything is fine, but on the inside, there is a major battle going on. You can't help but wonder whether or not your drug or alcohol use isn't quite as in control as you thought it was, and you need information about how to know if you have an addiction, and where to get the right kind of help. Fortunately, you are in the right place to get the information you need.

At Northpoint Recovery, we have been able to provide information and addiction treatment services to many firefighters who all wanted to recover from their addictions. It's important for you to become educated on this topic; particularly if you feel that you might have an addiction yourself.

Firefighter Addiction Information

Firefighter Addiction Statistics: How Many are Struggling with Addictions?

It makes sense to assume that a fairly low number of individuals who served as fire rescue workers would be involved with various types of addictions. However, the statistics tell a very different story. In fact, they indicate that:

  • Approximately 9.1% of firefighters report heavy alcohol use during the previous month.
  • This percentage is slightly above the national average for the general population.
  • According to the US Firefighters Association, they estimate that as many as 10% of all fire rescue workers may be abusing drugs.
  • They also estimate that their rate of alcohol abuse might be more than double that of the general public.
  • In one study 37% of firefighters reported that they had lost one or more of their colleagues during the previous two years because of alcohol abuse.
  • In another study, 40% of firefighters report being under chronic stress, and of these individuals, about 30% of them reported regular alcohol use.

Clearly, the issue of addiction among firefighters is more serious than most people realize, and because these statistics are so high, it's apparent that this population of people is in need of help, and direction to assist them in finding assistance for their addictions.

Addicted Fire Rescue Workers and the Reasons they Turn to Substances

Drug and alcohol addiction is fairly common among those who work difficult jobs, and the job of a firefighter is no exception to that rule. There are a lot of reasons why fire rescue workers might turn to addictions in order get relief, and these include the following:

Lack of Sleep

For those who have sacrificed their lives for the purpose of saving the lives of others, they understand the lack of sleep that is involved with their positions. Firefighters usually don't work 9 to 5 jobs, and they are often ripped from their sleep in the middle of the night to answer calls. When this occurs, they have to immediately be able to respond, and most fire or emergency calls can last several hours at a time. This lack of sleep can lead to mental illness, which can then lead to addiction. Also, some firefighters will turn to stimulants as a way to help themselves stay awake longer when they're exhausted.

Strange Work Hours

Someone who works an eight-hour shift five days a week can usually find it pretty easy to slip into a routine. However, there is no such thing as a routine for those who are fire rescue workers. Firemen and firewomen often find themselves working strange hours, and quite often, their shifts tend to be 24 hours long. Having to be on duty for such a long period is very stressful, and it's difficult to spend so much time away from your family. It's not surprising that the stress of the odd work hours often contributes to instances of drug or alcohol addiction.

Socialization with Fellow Firefighters

Drinking alcohol is often a way to socialize with friends or co-workers, and for those who are fire rescue workers, the same is true. Being a firefighter encourages an atmosphere of friendship and a need to talk about the previous shift and everything that occurred during that period of time. Even though alcohol use can often start off as a way to decompress and de-stress with friends, it's not uncommon for it to eventually become an addiction.

Stress or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Stress is a major factor for firefighters, and unfortunately, it's something that often tends to go overlooked. Business News Daily has ranked being a firefighter as the second most stressful job in the United States, and it indicates that the only position that is more stressful is being a member of the Military. Firemen and women are frequently under a great deal of stress in their jobs. They have to make decisions quickly, they have to use their skills and knowledge to know what to do in life or death situations, and they're constantly laying their lives on the line in order to save others.

Because of this Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is also something that is quite common for firefighters. PTSD can develop after someone is exposed to a traumatic event, which firefighters are exposed to all the time. The symptoms can be difficult to contend with on one's own, which is why many firefighters turn to substances like drugs or alcohol as ways to cope with them.

Injuries While Working

Being a firefighter is a very physical, demanding job, and it's not surprising that so many fire rescue workers end up being injured in one way or another in the line of duty. Fortunately, many of these injuries are relatively minor, but even then, it is common for doctors to prescribe prescription opioid medications to help them handle their pain. While many firefighters will take their medications and not have any problems, there are those who will develop addictions to them for a number of reasons. When this occurs, even though these addictions were accidental, they are likely to continue, or even lead to worse addictions.

Excessive Time Off

Finally, because of the strange work hours that firemen and women keep, they usually have several days off during the course of the month. Because they have such a lot of time off, this can lead to boredom, which can lead to using drugs or alcohol as a way to fill the time, or for something to do. Having so much free time can create a void, and if that time is not filled with something constructive, forming an addiction is quite common.

Signs of Addiction for Firemen and Women

Perhaps you're a firefighter, and you're concerned that you might have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Although, you're not sure because you seem to be managing your life without too many problems. It's possible that you have become what is frequently referred to as a high-functioning alcoholic or drug addict. These individuals manage to live lives that look fairly normal on the outside, but on the inside, so much of their lives are a mess. It's also very common for those with addictions to be in denial, and that might be where you are right now.

If you're concerned about what some of the signs of addiction are within those who are firefighters, they can include:

  • Taking pain medications for an injury long after the pain has subsided.
  • Becoming defensive or aggressive if someone questions you about how much or how often you're using pain medications.
  • Exhibiting a need to keep your drug or alcohol use a secret.
  • Feeling as though you're unable to think rationally in dangerous situations.
  • Shifting your focus from caring about others and their safety to caring about yourself primarily.
  • Lying about your drug or alcohol use to the people who care about you.
  • A shift away from caring about your own personal hygiene.
  • Suffering from significant weight loss or weight gain.

Have you noticed any of the indicators of addiction as present in your own life? If you have, it's so important for you to get the right kind of treatment so that you can recover.

Firefighter Families: What to do if You Suspect Your Loved One is an Addict

If you have a family member who is a firefighter, and whom you believe is battling an addiction, you might be at a loss as far as what you can do to help. You may have tried to have a conversation with him or her, but as soon as you started to talk about the substance abuse issues, your family member responded with anger or words of denial.

Unfortunately, those types of responses are very typical of someone who has an addiction, and you might find yourself increasingly frustrated and worried. If this is how you feel, and if the presence of an addiction is evident in your family member, you may want to consider an intervention. Intervention services are available through many drug and alcohol rehab centers. They give you the opportunity to not only confront your loved one about the addiction and need for treatment, but they also give you a chance to identify some of the issues in your own life that might be enabling the addiction to continue. The best news of all is that many times, interventions result in the family member agreeing to get the help that's needed to recover.

Firemen and Women: Addiction Treatment Rejection

There is a definite stigma that surrounds substance abuse issues for firefighters, and this stigma leads to a great number of them rejecting even the idea of getting help for an addiction. For them, the idea of asking for help results in an almost paralyzing fear that they are desperate to escape from. They're afraid that they will be looked upon as a failure if they admit that they have an addiction that they can't handle on their own. Quite often, they even feel as though they'd rather die than admit they have an addiction, and many times, they do.

Fire rescue workers are trained to maintain control at all times, and in situations when they feel as though they don't have control, they will strive to obtain it. When the idea of addiction comes about, their lack of knowledge about this disease leads them to recognize that they no longer have control, which is a completely foreign concept, and one that they want to avoid at all costs.

Another issue that firemen and women often encounter is the fear of losing their jobs if they admit to having an addiction. For most people in this field, being a firefighter is more than just a position they fill; it actually makes up their identities. They fill their lives with firefighter memorabilia, they get T-shirts proclaiming their loyalty to their professions, and they even tattoo their bodies with fire rescue tattoos. Losing their jobs means losing most of who they are as people, and that's a thought they simply cannot bear.

How to Talk with a Colleague About Drug and Alcohol Rehab

Perhaps you have a colleague who you know is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction. You know that treatment is the right course of action, but you also know that your friend will be resistant to any type of change. It's important to know how to talk about the need for professional help. However, you should also be prepared for your words to fall upon deaf ears.

It may be necessary for you to bring your concerns to a supervisor, who will then help the situation by taking the proper steps to ensure that treatment is made available.

Fire Rescue Workers: The Legal Consequences of Continuing with Substance Abuse

A firefighter who is found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol would be under the same legal conditions as a civilian. However, so much more is known today about the importance of getting drug and alcohol treatment when you have an addiction. That means that if you are honest about your need for help, you'll likely be given the chance to get it. There's no need to be afraid about losing your job if you're honest. In most cases, your supervisor will be understanding and provide you with the time and help you need to recover.

Alcohol and Drug Detox for Firemen and Women: Step One in Recovery

In most cases, the very first step that you'll take during your recovery is to get alcohol or drug detox treatment. Detoxification is such an important step because it addresses the physical side of your addiction. This is the part that generally causes most people to go back to using. They experience withdrawal symptoms, decide that they can't handle them, and start using again to get some relief from them. Detox will help you with that by relieving many of your most severe withdrawal symptoms and helping to shorten the duration of this part of your recovery.

There are a few different methods that are commonly used for drug or alcohol detox. If your drug of choice was prescription painkillers, you may be given tapering dosages until you're ready to be taken off them safely. You may also be placed in a holistic detox program that will help your body rid itself of drugs or alcohol naturally.

Drug and Alcohol Rehab for Firefighters: Treating Your Addiction

Once you've gone through detox, you'll go to drug and alcohol treatment. This is the second phase of your recovery, and during this time, the psychological part of your addiction will be addressed. What you might not realize is that it is usually an underlying symptom that is causing you to turn to alcohol or drugs. This is the case for many people, and a lot of them have what is known as co-occurring disorders. Getting the appropriate treatment for these conditions – whether they are found to be anxiety, PTSD, depression, or something else entirely – is a vital part of your recovery. You'll find that it helps you so much to get to the root cause of your addiction so that you can experience the freedom that you so desperately need and want from your addiction.

While inpatient treatment is most often recommended for those who have addictions to drugs or alcohol, it's really important for you to opt for the right kind of rehab that will benefit you the most.

Addiction Treatment for Firefighters: Choosing Northpoint Recovery for Help

Right now, the idea of getting help for your addiction might seem impossible to you. You might not be able to imagine being honest about your addiction struggles with your superiors, or even your fellow firefighters because doing so makes you feel weak. However, please be assured that you are not alone, and know that there are so many others who have also struggled with addictions in the past. The fact that you're battling a drug or alcohol addiction right now does not mean that you are different. It only means that the disease of addiction has taken over your life and you need to seek out treatment for it.

Here at Northpoint Recovery, we have seen so many different types of addicts walk through our doors. It might shock you to know that we've treated many people who work in the fire rescue field, so we're very familiar with the different types of stress that you face on a daily basis. Our goal is to provide you with the type of treatment you need to overcome your addiction so that you can get back to being the hero that everyone knows you are.

Are you an addicted firefighter who is in need of help to recover from a drug or alcohol addiction? If so, or if you're simply looking for additional information, please contact us here at Northpoint Recovery to learn how we can help you.