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September 26, 2018

Detecting the Fire Within: Signs of Alcoholism in Firefighters

You get the call during one of your late shifts. A house a few miles from the station is on fire and you and your crew are needed immediately. Your adrenaline kicks in as you throw on your gear and pile onto the truck with your men.

“Here we go again,” you think to yourself as you wipe away the remaining exhaustion from your eyes.

By the time you get to the scene, the house is engulfed in intense orange and red flames and thick, heavy smoke. The foul, putrid smell of burning rubber, wires and other parts of the house hits your nostrils as you jump out of the truck and frantically unload the equipment.

You hear the frightened cries of the family to the right of you as they watch their home disappear before their eyes. You catch sight of one of the family members – a girl no more than five years old, screaming at the top of her lungs. She reminds you of your little girl.

You turn back to the inferno in front of you and try to tame the flames. The fire hisses at you in anger and you feel the insufferable heat try to suffocate you. You don’t know how or why the fire started. You don’t care. Right now, all you care about is putting it out and making sure everyone comes out of this unscathed.

This isn’t the first time you’ve encountered a traumatic fire like this, and it won’t be the last. You’ve even encountered some worse than this. You carry those moments with you and turn to distractions to help you cope. Sometimes, that distraction is alcohol use.

Firefighter Alcohol Use. Everybody’s Doing It, But Some More Than Others.

Drinking alcohol is a pretty normal activity for anyone, no matter what line of work you’re in. In fact, more than half the general male population is estimated to have a drink on a monthly basis. And nearly a quarter of them binge drink within that same time frame.

1. When looking at just firefighter alcohol use, 10-20 percent more male firefighters drink on a monthly basis compared to the general population. And twice as many firefighters are estimated to engage in binge drinking.
2. The problem arises when a firefighter’s drinking turns into a way to try to cope with trauma caused on the job.

Why Is Firefighter Alcohol Use So High?

With long periods on and off the clock, drinking might help you avoid dealing with anxiety and trauma experienced on the job. Sometimes, there are things you can’t un-see, but alcohol makes it go away, if only for a moment.

The problem is that alcohol doesn’t actually address those difficult emotions and memories or keep them away for good, leading to additional problems like:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Brain damage
  • Memory loss
  • Higher rates of multiple types of cancer

How Do You Know When to Call for Help?

There are a few questions you can ask yourself or your fellow firefighter if you’re concerned about drinking too much:

  • Do you ever feel guilty about how much you had to drink?
  • Are you hiding how much or how often you’re drinking?
  • Have you tried to drink less and failed?
  • Are hangovers a common occurrence?
  • Do you need a drink to feel normal?
  • Are you using alcohol as a way to feel better when past or recent traumatic memories pop up?

As a firefighter, what you do is noble and heroic. But that doesn’t mean you’re immune to trauma or PTSD. If you’re turning to alcohol to help cope with what you’ve experienced as a firefighter, you’re not able to do your job or live your life to the very best of your abilities. It’s okay to ask for help!

We’ve Got Your Back at Cycles of Change

When you’re in the field, you need to know that your crew is operating at peak capacity. If someone’s struggling with alcoholism, that puts you all at risk. Do you need help with your drinking problem? Cycles of Change has your back.

Our recovery services include special programs for first responders. Here, you’ll receive treatment customized to meet your unique needs as a firefighter, administered by staff who have extensive experience helping those who fight to keep our communities safe.

Addiction is a disease, but you can fight this fire and put it out with the right treatment, education and relapse prevention training. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. If you’re struggling, contact us today.

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