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Anxiety, Depression and Substance Use Among First Responders

According to a recent survey, more than a quarter of first responders had been diagnosed with depression. That same survey noted that nearly half of them experienced anxiety. People struggling with these conditions may turn to alcohol, painkillers and other substances to self-medicate instead of seeking help. Unfortunately, the relationship between substance use and conditions like anxiety or depression can cause the situation to deteriorate even faster.

Signs of Depression

Many of the first responders surveyed claimed that workplace experiences contributed to their feelings of depression. That’s not much of a surprise considering how often police, EMTs and firefighters are called to deal with people experiencing serious trauma. The long-term psychological toll can gradually wear you down. You might be suffering from depression if you have the following symptoms:

  • Hopelessness
  • Low energy
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Guilt

Common Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety can manifest in different ways for different people. Some may retreat inwards—isolating themselves from their loved ones. Others may become more outgoing or social to compensate for their feelings. Others may even become combative. These reactions stem from your natural fight, flight or freeze responses to perceived danger. Whether it’s nature, nurture or a combination of both, anxious children often come from anxious parents. Anxiety becomes a way to predict danger and keep yourself safe at an early age so you carry that defense mechanism into other areas of your life. When first responders develop anxiety from unresolved trauma, they may exhibit these symptoms:

  • Feelings of depression
  • Digestive trouble or nausea
  • Headaches
  • Respiratory problems
  • Panic attacks

The Relationship Between Substance Use and Conditions Like Anxiety and Depression

When anxiety and depression go untreated, some people look for ways to self-medicate. That can take the form of alcoholism or substance use. First responders may face fewer barriers to acquiring a variety of substances given their duties and responsibilities. Grabbing a drink with the crew after a hard day can devolve into a need whether your team members are there or not. Painkillers prescribed for an injury in the line of duty can become a debilitating substance use disorder. Withdrawal symptoms from these substances may exacerbate the negative feelings from anxiety and depression, which makes you feel like using more is the only way to cope. This combination of conditions is called co-occurring disorders, and it’s important to seek help for both from a recovery program. Dual diagnosis treatment can lead to much more favorable outcomes.

Reaching Out for Help

Reaching out for help because of depression, anxiety or a substance use disorder is difficult, especially for first responders. Some fear how the conditions will harm their self-image, while others worry about how their families will respond when they find out. Many fear losing their jobs or credentials when their condition is brought to light or worry they’ll be judged by their colleagues.
However, these conditions are not something to be ashamed of. When struggling with depression, anxiety or substance use, you can’t provide the quality of care you need to. By choosing to seek help from the right treatment program, you’re putting your health first so that you can recover and return to saving lives and helping those in need.

Recovery for First Responders in Palmdale

At Cycles of Change Recovery, we have a program that’s tailored for first responders. Our First Responder Wellness Program can provide you with a personalized treatment plan developed for your unique needs. No two addictions are alike, so no two treatment plans should be. Our team of caring professionals has extensive experience working with first responders, and we are committed to providing you with the support and training you need to cope with issues like anxiety, depression and substance use. If you or a loved one is struggling, contact one of our specialists today.


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