First responders, including firefighters, emergency medical services workers (paramedics, ambulance workers, dispatchers), and law enforcement, are among the first to step on the scene of the most demanding, dangerous, and emotionally challenging situations. They are the first to interact with people needing support, immediate care, and urgent medical assistance. They are also the first to witness the aftermath of a crime, disaster, and loss of life. When faced with trauma and emotion, first responders must remain composed, fearless, and emotionally available to support victims, witnesses, and their families.
Daily exposure to life-threatening situations, devastation, and loss, coupled with working long hours (sometimes forty-eight-hour shifts) under abnormally stressful conditions, significantly impacts one’s mental health. Whether due to stigma or fear, many first responders continue living with addiction rather than seeking the help they need to get well.
It is not uncommon for substance use disorders to co-occur with other conditions. When this occurs, it is called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. One common dual diagnosis among first responders and emergency services workers is that of addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. Recent studies show that first responders of all kinds are at an increased risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other issues with mental health.
Data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests that 24% of dispatchers and 35% of police officers have PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder also impacts police officers and firefighters. It is estimated that up to 20% of paramedics and nearly 37% of firefighters meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. Of those seeking help at a PTSD treatment program, between 20% and 40% have a co-occurring drug or alcohol use disorder.
In addition to more broad statistics for all types of first responders, several surveys provide statistics based on specific fields. For example:
The above statistics paint a clear picture. While society depends on first responders, including firefighters, law enforcement, and emergency medical services providers, to help maintain our health and safety, we must remember that first responders are human. While society sets high expectations for first responders, we must not forget that they, too, experience mental health challenges. In many instances, the daily emotional difficulties related to their line of work put them at a greater risk for drug and alcohol use disorders.
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Mental health professionals recommend first responders seek addiction treatment help at a San Fernando Valley treatment center like SoberMind Recovery Center, where the therapy models and program structure are designed to address the unique needs of first responders. As previously mentioned, the daily work expectations and environment in which many first responders operate are dramatically different than almost any other career field. Also, many first responders have access to many of the same substances they need help to quit. Consequently, treatment and relapse prevention education for first responders may look significantly different for first responders than for others in a treatment program.
Another benefit to seeking help at a rehab program for first responders is that your treatment team understands the unique nature of first responder treatment. Many first responders make poor patients. Typically, they are accustomed to being on the other end of help and support. Years of training and refining their skills have taught them to quickly secure and maintain control over a situation, even those that are painful and emotionally charged. This adds complexity to the treatment process when they are now asked to transition into the role of “patient” and allow someone else to help them. A benefit of the first responder treatment program at SoberMind Recovery Center is we understand these challenges and know how to use this unique characteristic of first responders as a strength throughout their treatment.
First responders often do better in a treatment environment with like-minded individuals with similar professional backgrounds. Stigma surrounding addiction and addiction treatment are not reserved for first responders. It is a barrier for anyone who needs help to overcome addiction. However, the barrier is even more significant for many first responders. It’s not uncommon for first responders to feel judgment if their co-workers or community members learn they have substance use disorder. Because effective drug and alcohol rehab centers in the San Fernando Valley need to be open and honest in communication, a benefit to first responder treatment is that we offer a group of peers who share the same concerns and fears.
The addiction and mental health treatment process for first responders is similar to traditional treatment programs. In most cases, addiction therapy involves evidence-based tools incorporated into individual, group, and family therapy sessions. Other crucial components of a comprehensive addiction and mental health treatment program, including detox, alternative therapies, nutritional support, and aftercare planning, are all expected as part of the compressive treatment program.
If necessary, the first step in treatment is detoxification. Depending on the severity of your addiction and the type of substance or substances used, detox may be necessary to help you safely withdraw and allow your body time to cleanse itself from the effects of your substance of choice. After detox is complete, it is possible to transition into the therapeutic portion of a treatment program. During therapy, you can expect providers at SoberMind to use proven, evidence-based therapy tools such as Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy or DBT to help you understand addiction and take the first steps on your healing journey.
Peer support groups are another critical component of addiction treatment for first responders. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or narcotics anonymous are vital parts of primary addiction treatment and aftercare programs. Support groups like AA and NA offer those recovering from addiction a safe and supportive environment to talk about their successes, fears, setbacks, and accomplishments as they continue working on their sobriety. Peer support groups are the most effective when they consist of like-minded members. In the case of first responders, peer support groups with other first responders provide an outlet to discuss and learn more about addiction and communicate with peers about the day-to-day experiences that first led to addiction.
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We rely on first responders of all kinds to be a source of care and support during some of the darkest moments we may experience. It is crucial to ensure they have access to the help and support they need to safely manage their physical and mental health. If you or a loved one are a first responder living with drug or alcohol addiction, there is help. Contact us at SoberMind to learn more about getting sober at a Southern California first responder treatment program.