Firefighters, paramedics, police, and correction officers—these heroes are the backbone of their communities. But who is there for them? First responders endure stress and suffer trauma in order to effectively serve and protect. With increased rates of suicide, mental illness, and substance abuse disorder, these professionals are in need of relief. Thankfully, treatments that address the unique needs of those serving on the frontlines are available. These programs are specialized to assist first responders in managing their symptoms.
Why Do First Responders Need Specialized Treatment?
First responders struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide at an elevated rate for a number of reasons, including stress, injury, and pressure. In order to reduce these rates, they require treatment plans that address their specific needs. Reasons first responders need specialized treatment include:
- They are not accustomed to being helped. Going from protector to patient is not always an easy transition. First responders are trained to offer their services while keeping their emotions under control—making them less likely to seek treatment.
- They directly affect the public’s safety. First responders are essential to the well-being of their communities. From extinguishing fires to assisting car wreck victims, first responders are put in life-or-death situations every day.
- They have increased access to narcotics. First responders can be exposed to illicit substances on a daily basis. Paramedics have access to patient narcotics while police officers often confiscate illegal drugs. This access increases temptation, making it difficult for first responders who are struggling with substance abuse.
- They struggle with stigma. How their peers are going to perceive them is an issue for anybody struggling with substance abuse. This issue is heightened for first responders. They do not want to be seen as weak or unqualified, so they often suppress or hide their struggle.
Risk Behavior in First Responders
At-risk behavior can be normalized in first responders due to peer and lifestyle influences. Trauma and stress as well as celebration and grief can push first responders to consume alcohol in large amounts or at frequent rates. Additionally, police officers and firefighters are at risk of sustaining on-the-job injuries. These injuries often cause constant pain and can lead to the abuse of painkillers and opioids. Specifically, circumstances that cause an increase in drinking or drug use include:
- Celebration of promotions
- Distressing calls or events
- Anniversaries of death, traumatic events, and/or start dates
- Daily stressors
- Feelings of guilt or regret
Furthermore, first responders tend to seek treatment after battling their addiction for longer than those in other lines of work. This is because of the “protect our own” mentality that is commonly associated with these professions. Police officers prioritize reputation, as the actions of one individual can reflect poorly on the entire department. The personal consequences for officers are also a factor as they could be terminated, garner unwanted media coverage, and lose their pension. This leads to increased DUI and possession leniency for officers. Surveillance —such as body cams—is being implemented to help counter this “culture.”
Treating Drug and Alcohol Addiction In First Responders
There are a number of factors that should be considered when seeking addiction treatment for first responders. Ideally, the chosen program will provide:
- Access to a variety of treatment therapies. First responders need a combination of therapies that are unique to their symptoms and circumstances. Whether they are struggling with substance abuse that stems from injuries or battling alcohol addiction stemming from trauma, it is imperative that these professionals be given an individualized treatment plan. Common therapies include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
- Somatic Experiencing Therapy
- Trauma-Focused Therapy (TFT)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- A peer network. Peer support is crucial in recovery. It is important that first responders be surrounded by those who understand their struggle as this will build strong bonds and cultivate a safe environment.
- Information on appropriate medications. If appropriate, medications are a great way to manage symptoms as mental illness is a risk factor for substance abuse. Many first responders can benefit from antidepressants, most of which fall in the following classes:
- SSRIs treat PTSD, depression, OCD, and generalized anxiety by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin.
- SNRI treat depression, anxiety disorders, and nerve pain by preventing the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine
- Holistic Treatment Options. Physiological and emotional wellness are important when it comes to developing sustainable recovery practices. First responders need ways to manage their symptoms long-term. Strategies such as self-regulation, yoga, meditation, and adventure therapy create coping mechanisms that promote wellness and healthy recovery.
- Knowledgable staff. To generate the best outcome, treatment plans need to be executed by knowledgeable and empathetic staff members.
It’s Time To Get Help
Whether relapsing or seeking first-time help, unique treatment plans are available and ready to meet your needs. These treatments will pave the road to recovery while providing emotional support, and promoting healthy habits. Our services and expertise are what you need to manage your symptoms and get back to doing what you love. Contact Dreamlife Recovery now at (895) 495-0356 to get started.