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Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), as a chronic, relapsing neuropsychiatric disorder. The Mayo Clinic explains addiction as a disease “that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication” without regard for consequence. Although the exact reason behind why an individual develops an addiction remains unknown, there are several risk factors (e.g., environmental risk factors, genetic risk factors, psychological risk factors, socioeconomic risk factors, etc.) that have been reported to increase one’s propensity for developing substance use disorder. Every individual is different and will have or lack various predispositions that can contribute to developing an addiction. However, addiction is a disease that does not discriminated, as anyone can develop substance use disorder, regardless of social status, beliefs, or background.

What Are First Responders?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), first responders include:

  • Emergency public safety professionals.
  • Emergency medical services (EMS) such as paramedics, EMTs, and emergency dispatchers.
  • Firefighters.
  • Law enforcement personnel, such as police officers.

Mental Health America explains that maintaining optimum mental wellness is a critical part of remaining active and effective for first responders, both on the job and at home. 

Challenges and Strategies

First responders face unique challenges when it comes to overcoming addiction. The nature of their work, exposure to trauma, high levels of stress, and the culture within their profession amplifies first responders’ vulnerability to substance abuse and places them at increased risk for substance use disorder. Some of the unique obstacles faced by first responders in addiction recovery and strategies to tackle them include:

  • Stigma: The culture within the first responder profession often emphasizes strength, resilience, and self-reliance. First responders may delay pursuing substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment for fear of being negatively evaluated or judged by others, or even due to concern surrounding possible professional consequences. Overcoming stigma requires promoting open conversations about mental health and addiction. Encouraging peer support, providing education on addiction and its effects, and highlighting successful stories of recovery can help break down the stigma.
  • Work culture: The internal barriers and legacy-driven norms impede addiction recovery progress. For example, continual problems related to substance use remains hidden in a work culture where de-stressing with alcohol and comradery is normal. Training on stress management, recognizing signs of substance misuse, mental health awareness, and healthy coping mechanisms can support early intervention and encourage a culture of well-being within the first responder community.
  • Variable work schedules: First responders often work irregular hours and rotating shifts, which can disrupt sleep patterns and contribute to stress and fatigue. Strategies to address this include prioritizing self-care, establishing a regular sleep schedule, and developing strategies to manage fatigue and ensure adequate rest.

First responders struggling with substance use disorder require a comprehensive and compassionate treatment approach that considers and is informed by each person’s circumstances, distinct challenges, and nuanced needs. Collaboration between employers, mental health professionals, addiction specialists, and the first responder community is essential in providing the necessary support and resources for successful recovery.

For Information and Support 

If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding substance abuse and/ or addiction, we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. If left untreated, substance abuse can result in long lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. Keep in mind: you are not alone! There is an entire network of professionals that are available to help and support you and your loved one throughout the recovery process. The earlier you seek support, the sooner your loved one can return to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions regarding our specific program at Haven House Addiction Treatment and/ or general substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment related information. Our highly trained staff is readily available to discuss how we might best be able to help you and your loved one. We can be reached by phone at 424-258-6792. You are also welcomed to contact anytime us via email at admissions@hhtxc.com.