Every day, first responders put their safety and well-being at risk in order to help protect and serve us as a society and keep us as safe as possible. Not only are they under a lot of stress as a result of their job, some of the things they see and experience while on the job can shake even the strongest person to their core. Unfortunately, as a result of the profession, many first responders suffer from both physical addictions to drugs and/or alcohol, as well as mental issues such as PTSD. Just we sometimes need the help of first responders, it is also important for those professionals to get the treatment they need. In this blog, we will take a look at some of the common problems that first responders suffer from as well as treatment for professionals.
What Are Some Signs of Substance Abuse in First Responders?
Just like the rest of us, first responders should be able to live healthy, clean lives. While on the surface, first responders might exude confidence and make us believe everything is ok, under the surface could be a completely different story. That’s why as a friend or loved one of a first responder, or even a first responder yourself, it is important to recognize some of the signs of substance abuse.
#1: Health Problems
This is one of the easiest, and most critical signs to look for. Unfortunately, given the nature of the business, this can also be the most difficult to determine. While substance abuse can lead to major health complications or even death, health problems alone amongst first responders can be common given the nature of their job. It doesn’t always automatically mean that there are addiction issues. However, it’s still important to look out for this sign and make sure to seek medical attention if health problems are present.
#2: Changes in Appearance
If you notice drastic changes in appearance, it could be a sign of substance abuse. For example, heroin use causes constricted pupils, while meth can cause acne and dull skin as well as rotten teeth and gum disease. Other substances can also produce an increase or decrease in appetite, resulting in weight gain or loss.
#3: Neglect of Personal Hygiene
Many individuals who use drugs or alcohol spend more time focusing on substance use and less time focusing on their hygiene. This could mean they shower or wash their hair less than usual. They may also stop brushing their hair and teeth. Some even wear the same clothes for several days in a row.
#4: Memory Loss
Different substances affect the brain in different ways. Some types of substance use can result in memory loss. The use of anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) can affect short-term and long-term memory. The abuse of narcotic painkillers can also interfere with short-term and long-term memory, especially if they’re used for long periods of time.
If you notice that your loved one is forgetting things often, it may be a sign that he or she is dealing with something bigger than occasional forgetfulness. Perhaps, the individual is struggling with substance use.
#5: Financial Problems
While most prescription medications are at least partially covered by insurance, eventually the prescription will run out. When that happens, people who depend on these drugs may have to find other, more expensive ways of obtaining the substance. This can lead to major financial problems, especially when the person ignores other financial responsibilities in favor of drug or alcohol abuse. If you have begun noticing that your friend or loved one has recently started experiencing financial trouble despite nothing changing financially for them (new job, new expenses, etc.) it might be because they are abusing drugs or alcohol.
#6: Withdrawal from Social Activities
Another common sign of substance abuse is a withdrawal from social activities. Most people who suffer from drug or alcohol dependence usually prefer to use their substance of choice in private. As a result, they will often neglect other responsibilities as well as family, friends, and activities they often enjoy doing. A side effect of this can be depression due to the isolation they have put themselves in.
#7: Behavioral Changes
Since substance abuse affects the chemical makeup of the brain, behavioral changes are common signs of addiction. If you notice very extreme mood swings or lashing out it might be a result of substance abuse.
#8: Work Performance
Being alert and performing well at work are key factors for a police officer, EMT, dispatcher or firefighter. Close calls in any of these professions can be life-threatening for everyone involved. If you notice stark changes in behavior or attention to detail at work, it may be time to have a discussion about mental health and substances.
While these are some of the most common signs of substance dependence, these aren’t the only things to look for. Substance use disorder affects people differently, so it’s important to be mindful when it comes to any major changes you might notice. If you or someone you know has been showing any signs of substance dependence, it’s time to get help before it’s too late.
Are There Specific Indicators That Might Show Substance Abuse?
These signs may include the following:
- Panic attacks
- Burned fingers or lips
- Lack of coordination
- Needle marks on arms
- Moodiness (mood swings)
- Tremors, shaking or twitching of hands and eyelids
- Dilated or constricted pupils that don’t change when exposed to light
- Speech problems (i.e. stuttering, slurring, incoherency, slow speech, fast speech)
There can also be some behavioral patterns that might help identify an issue, such as:
- Memory lapses
- Difficulty focusing
- Trouble concentrating
- Constant need for direction
- Inability to complete tasks
- Need for help with basic tasks (i.e. filling out paperwork, etc.)
- Impaired judgment (making decisions that are not reasonable or appropriate)
While there is no unified “checklist” when it comes to identifying someone that suffers from substance abuse, there are some common things that you can look out for when it comes to signs of substance abuse amongst first responders.
What is the Correlation Between Substance Abuse and Firefighters?
Being a firefighter is one of the most dangerous jobs in the private sector. On a daily basis, firefighters literally risk their lives to help others. Firefighters see and experience things that can be incredibly difficult to deal with. It can result in major health problems such as post-traumatic-stress disorder, acute stress disorder, and depression.
Unfortunately, many people turn to drugs or alcohol to help make them feel better. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, up to 29% of firefighters have problems with alcohol use. Around 10% may be struggling with prescription drug use.
Mental Health and Substance Use Among Paramedics/EMTs
EMTs and paramedics are medical service technicians. They work at scenes of emergencies. These scenes may include incidents that are traumatic and serious. For instance, an EMT or paramedic may respond to situations that involve fires, car accidents, shootings, stabbings or other injuries.
EMTs generally work 24-hour shifts. While working, they encounter life-or-death situations and have to make quick decisions in an attempt to help their patients. Like firefighters, paramedics and EMTs are at a greater risk of developing mental health issues as a result of their work. This can lead to a greater risk of substance abuse as they find ways to cope with the stresses of the job.
According to a report by SAMHSA, 6.8% of the studied emergency medical service (EMS) professionals were suffering from depression. According to the same report, many EMS professionals struggle to get help, facing obstacles of stigma or financial concern.
What is the Correlation Between Substance Use and Police Officers?
Just like firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs, police officers face a great deal of stress and trauma on a daily basis. Not only do officers face the danger of physical harm, but they often encounter disturbing events and witness difficult and even devastating occurrences. Some see scenes of suicide, murder, and domestic violence. Others face cases of illicit drug use and other related issues. In addition, many police officers experience additional stress related to how they are viewed by members of the community and depicted in the media. As a result, police officers are at high risk for drug and alcohol abuse. The fact that they are constantly surrounded by illegal drugs makes it even easier for them to obtain harmful substances.
Are You Looking for Treatment for Professionals?
Because so many first responders struggle with PTSD, it’s no wonder that substance abuse is also more common among them. If you or someone you know is a first responder and suffers from drug or alcohol abuse or a mental health disorder, there is hope.
At Crest View Recovery Center, we specialize in treating first responders. Contact us by dialing (866) 327-2505 to learn more about our treatment programs and how we can you or your loved one the help that they need today.