You’re Not Alone: PTSD and Addiction in First Responders

Mar 9, 2022 | First Responder Addiction Treatment

You're Not Alone: PTSD and Addiction in First Responders

First responders are often exposed to traumatic events, including the deaths of civilians and colleagues, serious injuries, and life-threatening situations. These experiences can often lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD and addiction in first responders.

Whether a police officer, paramedic, firefighter, or military veteran, all first responders deal with high levels of trauma and stress in the line of duty. The job’s culture also makes them more resistant to treatment than civilians.

PTSD in First Responders

First responders are more likely to experience PTSD than the general population due to their exposure to traumatic stress at work.

According to research from McLean Hospital, first responders experience PTSD at rates of:1

  • 6% to 32% for law enforcement officers (approximately 87,000)
  • 9% to 22% for EMTs and paramedics (approximately 21,000)
  • 17% to 32% for firefighters (approximately 804,000)

In contrast, 7% to 12% of the general population of adults in the US will develop PTSD.

One in three first responders will develop PTSD, compared to one in five in the general population.2

These ranges are wide, but several factors may contribute to that. For example, law enforcement officers may underreport symptoms due to fears of being considered unfit for duty.[3] Because of this, first responders should be considered special populations with an increased risk of developing PTSD.

Addiction in First Responders

First responders are the first people to arrive at a disaster or emergency scene. They offer care and support to survivors and help them to safety. They’re the heroes for others, but it can take a toll on their own emotional well-being.

PTSD, exposure to dangerous situations, and long, demanding shifts all have a negative impact. For many, the choice is to turn to substances for self-medication.

According to a study of law enforcement officers in urban areas, roughly 11% of male officers and 16% of female officers reported at-risk alcohol use levels. Another 25% of police officers report drinking alcohol socially to “be part of the team.” [4]

Firefighters face similar challenges on the job. But, theyalso have an increased risk of on-the-job injuries like smoke inhalation, burns, and lung damage. Up to 29% of firefighters engage in alcohol abuse, and as many as 10% of them may abuse prescription drugs. Firefighters also binge drink at a higher rate than the general population, often to “wind down” after a stressful experience.5

Paramedics and EMTs are also exposed to harrowing situations and horrifying scenes, including fires, personal injuries, gun violence, and stabbings. They continually have to make life-and-death decisions for their patients. According to SAMHSA, 36% of EMS workers suffer from depression, and over 20% suffer from PTSD, putting them at an increased risk of addiction.[6]

You’re Not Alone: The 1st Call Can Help with PTSD and Addiction in First Responders

It can be difficult to seek treatment for mental health conditions like PTSD or addiction, especially for first responders who are used to being self-reliant. If you or a loved one is a first responder struggling with PTSD and addiction, understand that you are not alone. Contact us today to learn more about our culturally competent treatment programs for first responders.










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