Types of 911 First Responders
It’s important to understand the unique hardships first responders
go through. It’s also important to understand why 911 first responders
need addiction treatment that fits their specific needs.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 30% of
firefighters abuse alcohol. About 10% misuse prescription painkillers.
Firefighters are often injured on the job due to falls, smoke inhalation,
or other risks. Their duties can leave them with temporary or long-term
pain from injuries, which they often use prescription opioids to treat.
Since dependency risks are high with
opioids, addiction risks are also high. When firefighters become addicted to opioids
and develop a tolerance to these types of drugs, they face a greater risk
of suffering a dangerous or fatal overdose. Some firefighters even turn
to alcohol or other drugs to cope with stress, trauma, or pain.
Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and Emergency Medical Services (EMSs)
Emergency medical technicians never know what may await them when they
receive a call. For example, there may be a day when they may have to
rush to a home and administer a life-saving shot to someone who is having
an anaphylactic reaction.
Saving a life can give EMTs encouragement, but they also see firsthand
suffering, death and pain regularly. Some calls they receive lead them
to crime or accident sites that cause them to later experience mental
trauma. Witnessing these sights, trying to help
anguished families, and continually being under immense pressure are parts of daily life for EMTs.
When stress takes a toll on EMTs, they may turn to drugs or alcohol. Because
911 first responders often have easy access to opioids and even illegal
drugs when they respond to scenes where there are drugs, abusing drugs
is unfortunately often all too easy for them.
According to SAMHSA, almost 70% of EMTs and other EMS workers do not have
time to fully recover from traumatic events before they face another one.
To make matters worse, EMT and EMS professionals tend to not get enough sleep.
As a result,
depression, suicidal thoughts,
alcohol abuse, and opioid painkiller abuse are common among EMTs. Other EMS workers,
such as dispatchers, often even develop addictions after traumatic calls
that end in tragedies.
Police and Law Enforcement
Police and law enforcement face a risk that is not as common among EMTs
or firefighters. That risk is being attacked. With the growing number
of such attacks on law enforcement officials, many face a greater fear
of even conducting everyday, routine activities in their uniform.
Additionally, law enforcement officials must often make heartbreaking decisions
to uphold laws, even when they may upset families. Police officers also
must witness traumatic accident sites and other emergency situations.
The continual stress that law enforcement responders face can cause them
to develop mental health disorders and substance use issues. For example,
after Hurricane Katrina, officers involved in the aftermath reported drinking
up to seven drinks per day to cope with the trauma.
SAMHSA reports that
anxiety and depression rates are much higher among law enforcement than they are
with the general public. Additionally, nearly 25% of law enforcement responders
reported suicidal ideation.
In addition to drinking alcohol excessively to cope with the stresses of
their jobs, law enforcement often misuse opioids or other drugs. Since
police often seize drugs, the availability of substances and unique stresses
only make their risks of misuse higher.
Why Addiction Treatment for 911 First Responders Is Essential
The risk factors for developing addictions and mental health disorders
cannot be removed from the equation for first responders. First responders
live with daily stress and regularly witness trauma. Thus, it becomes
normal for their brains to cause them to seek substances.
When people witness severe trauma, especially repeatedly, stress responses
in the body tend to make them seek ways to cope. Opioids and other
drugs, as well as alcohol, can provide temporary feelings of tranquility
Some people may take drugs or alcohol simply to help them sleep. However,
nightmares are still common among 911 first responders.
Living in a continual cycle with poor or inadequate sleep and facing daily
trauma leaves first responders with high substance use disorder and mental
health disorder risks. First responders are more likely to suffer from
co-occurring disorders with substance use disorders and mental health
disorders such as anxiety, PTSD, or depression. PTSD in first responders
is especially common.
Addiction Treatment for First Responders
Because of the unique risks and traumas first responders face, they need
specialized treatment that meets all their needs. According to the National
Fire Volunteer Council, more than 75% of the firefighters surveyed said
they would be more willing to enter a treatment program if it was designed
specifically for their unique needs.
There are several forms of treatment programs for first responders. Addiction
treatment professionals evaluate the unique needs of each of their first
responder patients to determine the right combination of addiction therapies
for them and how frequently they will need to take them.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment for 911 First Responders
Individuals that suffer from co-occurring disorders contain dual diagnoses.
As noted before, it is common to see depression, anxiety, and PTSD in
first responders who struggle with addiction. Because of this, the need for
dual diagnosis treatment is essential.
Dual diagnosis treatment helps treat substance use disorders and their
co-occurring mental health disorders simultaneously. Mental health professionals
still recommend that individuals with dual diagnosis disorders receive
ongoing treatment to manage their mental health issues though after they
complete dual diagnosis treatment.
A comprehensive and thorough approach to dual diagnosis treatment is necessary.
This is because leaving one condition within a dual diagnosis untreated
makes relapse risks higher.
If a first responder turns to a substance after developing PTSD or depression,
removing the substance leaves the co-occurring disorder untreated. By
finding and treating the root causes of addiction and co-occurring disorders,
professionals help first responders learn how to cope with life and beat
Program Structures for Addiction Treatment for 911 First Responders
Every first responder has different experiences and perceptions. Also,
the home lives of first responders vary widely. For example, one person
may live with family in a supportive home. Another person may live alone
or with roommates who drink or misuse drugs.
The home environment, mental health, and experiences of a first responder
are important factors that influence whether or not that first responder
develops an addiction. A first responder’s home life also impacts
the level of care, or program structure, he or she will need in rehab.
Below are some common addiction treatment program structures.
Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) Treatment
This is one of the most intensive addiction treatment programs. It is ideal
for first responders who don’t have a support network at home or
have a high risk of relapse but still suffer from a severe enough addiction
to need intense addiction treatment that lasts several hours a day, several
days a week.
Partial hospitalization program (PHP) treatment is also helpful for first responders with high-risk co-occurring
mental health conditions. PHP treatment usually lasts about five to eight
hours per session and occurs for five to seven days each week.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) Treatment
intensive outpatient program (IOP) usually involves shorter sessions than a PHP. IOP sessions are also
usually less frequent than PHP sessions. Relapse risks, living situations,
and other factors determine the ideal rehab session length and frequency
for a 911 first responder.
outpatient treatment for addiction usually lasts around a couple of a day, one or two days a
week. 99 first responders with mild substance addictions who live in supportive
environments are best suited for this structure of rehab.
Case Management and Relapse Prevention
All 911 first responders that suffer from addiction can benefit from
case management services and
relapse prevention. Relapse prevention is especially important for all first responders as
it addresses the levels of emotional, mental, and physical relapse that
first responders with substance addictions can succumb to.
Finding Addiction Treatment for 911 First Responders in Tennessee
We here at
Grace Land Recovery are dedicated to helping 911 first responders live fuller lives that are
free from substance addictions. We’re also dedicated to helping
our patients learn how to cope with trauma and any mental illness that
is co-occurring with a person’s addiction.
If you or a loved one is a first responder who needs help overcoming substance
addiction, our special treatment programs are designed to meet unique
needs. If not, please
contact us to find the dedicated and compassionate support you deserve.
We encourage people of all faiths to offer a prayer for first responders
everywhere. Thank you first responders for all you do!