Substance Abuse

IAFF members face unique risks of substance abuse and addiction. The unsettling fact can be traced back to a combination of psychological and physical factors. Fighting fires and saving lives can cause an enormous psychological toll, resulting in nightmares, insomnia, intense stress and even mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. Many turn to alcohol. According to the Fire Service Joint Labor Management Wellness-Fitness Initiative, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among fire fighters.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it reduces the activity of the central nervous system. Even small amounts of alcohol can interfere with a fire fighter or paramedic’s ability to perform the job. This is one of the many reasons that it’s so important to be able to identify the warning signs of alcohol abuse, as well as the options for treatment.

Alcohol use and alcohol abuse (including binge drinking) among fire fighters has been documented in countless studies. Surveys by the Center for Fire Rescue and EMS Health Research (CFREHR) revealed that:

  • Eighty-five percent of career fire fighters reported past-month drinking.
  • Career fire fighters reported drinking 10 days a month, or about half of their off-duty days.

While some fire fighters turn to the bottle for comfort, others find refuge in other prescription and illicit substances. In many of these cases, addiction starts with an injury. Because the majority of an IAFF member’s work involves physical labor, on-the-job injuries are common. First responders are often prescribed opioids to help manage their pain. What begins as safe, prescribed use can quickly spiral into dependence because of the highly addictive nature of pain management medications.

No matter the cause, IAFF members and their loved ones need to be aware of the risk of substance abuse. Addiction can feel impossible to overcome. But with the right combination of peer support, evidence-based treatment and dedication to recovery, you can break free. The first step is recognizing your problem. The second is getting help. The IAFF Center of Excellence is here to help you identify warning signs of substance abuse, explore your treatment options at our facility and answer any additional questions. Reach out to our 24-hour substance abuse hotline today to get started.

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