Emergency responders and law enforcement are continuously in traumatic circumstances. They are required to remain calm in these turbulent situations, so hiding their thoughts and feelings becomes a part of their work. Because of these stressors, many emergency responders turn to unhealthy coping methods. Alcohol and drug abuse among police, EMTs, paramedics, and firefighters is higher than some other professions. In addition, they can be reluctant to admit their problem.
The challenges of providing for the unique treatment needs of chemical-dependent emergency responders include:
- A shortage of treatment facilities that understand a first responder’s needs.
- Lack of departmental understanding and support to get help.
- The need for guaranteed anonymity and confidentiality.
- Difficulty in discussing problems with the general population.
For emergency responders, chemical dependency is not just a personal crisis – it is a problem for the public departments that they work for. Departments that don’t proactively address their first responders’ chemical dependencies face more than productivity issues – they also may face civil actions and public relations backlashes.
These impacts can include:
- Expensive lawsuits against the department, the city, state, or governmental agency that the department serves.
- Distrust between partners having to rely upon chemically dependent partners. In emergency situations, everyone needs to have a clear head and react quickly and appropriately.
- Poor department morale can occur when a member loses his or her job or is sanctioned due to chemical dependency.
- The loss of a substantial investment in training and equipping an officer who loses his or her job due to chemical dependency.
- The potential for negative publicity and loss of public funding for current and future law enforcement needs.
For chemically dependent emergency responders, there is hope. There are specialized programs that understand the stresses and challenges that go along with the profession and whose goal is to return you to a sober, healthy, and safe life.