How to Help a Co-Worker with Addiction

Author: IAFF Staff

February 26, 2018

Fire fighting is difficult work. After years on the job, some have found healthy ways to handle the stress of the job, while others have not. If you suspect someone you work with is struggling with addiction, there are ways you can help. By staying mindful of the warning signs of addiction, reaching out, and encouraging them to seek professional help, you can connect your co-worker to the care they deserve without jeopardizing the work they love.

Fire fighter on phone contacting a peer to help them with their addiction

Watch Out for Warning Signs

Addiction manifests in many ways. Some signs and symptoms are subtle, while others are more noticeable. Any of the following may be signs of a substance use disorder:

  • Increased irritability
  • Frequent tardiness to shifts
  • Shirking responsibility around the firehouse
  • Withdrawing from fellow fire fighters
  • Excessive drinking
  • Missing work events
  • Problems at home
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain

These signs could all indicate problems with excessive substance abuse or withdrawal. If you observe one or more of these signs in a co-worker, it might be time to have an open and honest conversation with them, or to reach out to a professional.

Talk to Your Brother or Sister

Once you realize a brother or sister in your firestation is struggling with addiction, it’s important to reach out to them directly in a nonjudgmental and compassionate way. This conversation shouldn’t be a harsh confrontation, but rather a heart-to-heart where you show your brother or sister that you care and want what’s best for them. Make sure to initiate the conversation during a time and place where you won’t be interrupted or overheard, ask open-ended questions and be prepared to listen.

Letting your co-worker know that you’re there may be all it takes for them to open up. But a constructive first discussion can also be difficult. Your co-worker may need time to process your concerns, so give them the space to do so. However, also remember that offering respectful space isn’t the same as enabling or making excuses for their behavior.

Consult a Professional

The choice to contact the IAFF Center of Excellence on behalf of someone you work with can also be difficult. But speaking with someone at the Center can help you understand your options. There’s no obligation to provide any personal information about your colleague, and your conversation is entirely confidential. If you permit, a trained representative can reach out to the member in need, talk with them and connect them to supportive treatment.

The best way to help someone who’s struggling with addiction is to get them the care they need. Designed with IAFF members in mind, the IAFF Center of Excellence provides evidence-based treatment for addiction, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Healing is closer than you think, and it all starts with a phone call. Reach out today to get started.

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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