Are Fire Fighters More Likely to Become Addicted to Drugs and Alcohol?

Author: IAFF Staff

October 11, 2017

In 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that 20.8 million people in the United States suffer from a substance abuse disorder, shining light on a public health crisis that is threatening every corner of the nation.

While more research is needed, some data suggests that rates of substance abuse in the fire service are even higher than the general population. For example, one multi-state study of 24 fire departments found that 50 percent of fire fighters reported binge drinking in the past month, compared to 23 percent of males in the U.S.[i]

While certain biological factors, including genetic predisposition and differences in the brain, can make an individual more susceptible to addiction, experts agree that psychological factors and environmental influences also play a major role.


We know that fire fighters and paramedics face highly stressful and traumatic situations every day. Whether it’s responding to a horrific call, balancing the demands of a career and marriage, or coping with isolation in retirement, the effects of stress are both acute and long-term.

Without routine self-care and a strong support system in place, reaching for a substance to blow off steam may seem like a good way to kick back and relax. Unfortunately, especially for those with a genetic predisposition or family history of addiction, casual substance use can quickly spiral into a vicious cycle that impairs every aspect of a person’s life.

Know your family history. Know your stressors. Know where to ask for help. And know the signs of addiction:

  • Strong physical or psychological cravings to use substances (alcohol or non-prescribed drugs)
  • Substance use over longer periods of time than intended
  • Feeling guilty about your use or feeling the need to conceal use from others
  • Unwillingness to discuss use with family or friends
  • Substance use that interferes with work, social, family or personal obligations

If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, you have already taken the first step towards recovery by acknowledging a problem. Don’t make the rest of the journey alone. Call the IAFF Center for Excellence today to learn about your options for getting help at 855-999-9845.


[i] “Firefighters and alcohol, what the data says” Fire Rescue 1. Apr 7, 2015

Medical Disclaimer: The IAFF Center of Excellence aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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