3. Fire Station Culture
A recent study showed that fire station culture could partially be to blame for firefighters being at a greater risk for excessive alcohol consumption specifically. The study showed that binge drinking among firefighters is more common than in the general population. In addition, career firefighters surveyed reported drinking more than volunteer firefighters. However, even volunteer firefighters reported drinking more than the average population.
Although substance abuse is common among firefighters to help deal with mental health symptoms, findings showed other reasons, too. For example, drinking together was seen as a form of comradery and, in certain firehouses, was even encouraged to some degree. This culture can (and has started to) change with prevention and education efforts. However, more work still needs to be done.
4. Erratic Sleep Schedule
Firefighters often suffer from erratic sleep schedules, even more so than the general population. Since they need to respond to calls at all times of the day or night, they don’t often have a set bedtime or time to wake up. Numerous studies have shown these types of sleep schedules cause physical and mental health symptoms. For example, one study found those who had varied sleep schedules were more likely to develop metabolic disorders like diabetes.
Common mental health issues from sleep deprivation include hallucinations, paranoia and lowered control over urges. For example, you’re more prone to heavy alcohol consumption if you haven’t gotten enough sleep. Additionally, career firefighters may find different mental health symptoms occur the longer they go without regular, sufficient rest.
5. Exposure to Dangerous Situations
Dangerous situations don’t necessarily have to be traumatic to have a lasting effect on mental health issues among firefighters. The danger itself can lead to large amounts of adrenaline being released, making it hard to sleep. Some turn to substance abuse because the drug or alcohol helps them sleep. Constant exposure to danger can also wreak havoc on mental health. Substance abuse occurs to cope with mental health issues that crop up over time due to this constant exposure.
Binge drinking and drug abuse often happen among firefighters because they hope to forget or learn to live with certain situations. The numbing effects of alcohol consumption are only temporary, however. Once a person is sober, any mental health disorder or memories of traumatic calls are still there. These problems may even feel worse after being temporarily alleviated, which helps fuel the cycle of substance abuse.
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Treatment Options for Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Addiction treatment options are available for both firefighters and the general population. However, female and male firefighters should look for behavioral health treatment centers that have experience treating fire responders.
Treating Co-Occurring Disorders
If underlying mental or behavioral health conditions are the root cause of addiction, treating both conditions simultaneously is crucial. A mental health professional can provide an evaluation and create a recovery program that improves overall mental health. Co-occurring disorders are common among addicts because substance abuse issues often develop as a means of self-medication. Countless firefighters and other emergency responders can benefit from these services.
Detox is the initial process of getting sober by allowing all traces of the abused substance to leave your system. During detox, withdrawal symptoms are likely to happen. They may include mood disturbances, digestive issues, sleep problems, sweating and more. In rare instances, emergency medical services may be needed during this first recovery step. For this reason, it’s highly suggested you detox in a facility offering 24/7 assistance from licensed medical professionals.
Outpatient rehab can be used as a stepping stone after inpatient rehab or by those who can’t take time away from their hectic schedules. Outpatient rehab programs require meetings of about an hour, one to three times a week. The length of treatment depends on the individual but will likely continue for several weeks.
There’s no cure for addiction. It’s a lifelong purposeful choice to stay sober, so it’s crucial to have ongoing support after completing other, more intensive programs. Depending on your area, there may be groups to connect with fellow firefighters battling addiction or mental health problems like acute stress disorder. Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous are also excellent support groups moving forward. Tapping into existing networks like friends and family is also essential.