Living With Addiction Is More Dangerous Than Overcoming It

Author: IAFF Staff

September 21, 2017

Addiction and mental health problems are difficult for anyone to admit. But when you’re a fire fighter or first responder, they can feel impossible to accept, especially when it seems like the world expects you to be invincible on and off the clock.

If you’re a fire fighter or paramedic struggling with behavioral health issues, there may be a voice in your head telling you it’s not OK to talk about how much that horrible accident you saw last week is affecting you, that those memories and others can be dismissed with a drink or pushed down with a pill. No one else in your department seems to be bothered by the things you see on a daily basis, so you should just shut up and get over them, right?

Wrong. It may feel like your inner turmoil is yours and yours alone, but it’s not. Countless fire fighters/paramedics have been in your boots, struggling to figure out what to do about the horrific things they’ve witnessed on the job. In the short term, it might seem less risky to use substances to dull the pain of your experiences than to confront them head on. But that can only help for so long before it does more harm than good. Trauma affects you on a deeply psychological level. The memories, the nightmares and the stress won’t go away by using drugs or alcohol. In the long run, they’ll only get worse — along with your substance use disorder — without proper treatment and rehabilitation. When it comes down to it, dealing with addiction and the struggles that drive it head on is far better than continuing to suffer in silence.

When consumed over long periods of time, drugs and alcohol gradually deteriorate your physical state, making it more difficult for you to perform your responsibilities as a fire fighter, paramedic, family member and friend.

Some of the most common long-term physical effects of untreated drug and alcohol addiction include:

  • Lowered mental and physical function
  • Liver damage
  • Pancreatitis
  • Depression of the immune system
  • Damage to other vital organs
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Overdose

And the dangers of unaddressed addiction aren’t just limited to the physical. Substance use disorders can also exacerbate already present anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress or other mental health concerns that come with the job, impacting every facet of your life. You may be afraid that admitting you have a substance use disorder or mental health condition could cost your career or family, but not getting help actually makes that loss more likely. The longer you wait to seek treatment, the further you will become alienated from the job you love and the people who care about you most. You’ll be more likely to make mistakes at work, or to lash out at your family members. In extreme cases, it can even lead to suicide.

Your friends, your family and your community need you. In the end, trying to deal with your pain on your own isn’t just dangerous — it’s potentially deadly. Fortunately, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. At the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery, we specialize in treatment for behavioral health concerns, addiction and co-occurring conditions for IAFF members. Designed with the firehouse in mind, our center is made by fire fighters, for fire fighters. We understand your struggle, and we’re here to help you through it. Don’t wait until it’s too late — reach out today to get started.

The IAFF Center of Excellence provides treatment for addiction, PTSD and other co-occurring disorders exclusively for IAFF members. If you or someone you know needs help for these disorders, call the center today to speak with someone who can help you down the road to recovery.

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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