One third of first responders are using alcohol to ‘cope.’ Don’t dull the trauma, process it.

When we think of alcoholism, a young and healthy 20-something emergency service worker doesn’t spring to mind. Yet, people who work in emergency services are exposed to high levels of trauma, which can lead to substance abuse.

29% of firefighters abuse alcohol and 10% drugs.[1] 11% of male police officers (and 16% of female) are at risk of alcoholism.[2] Substance abuse is intrinsically linked to PTSD and other mental health disorders. For first responders, especially, substance reliance needs to be dealt with, as soon as possible.

Studies show that those who drink alone have a 50% higher chance of becoming an alcoholic by age 25.[3] Most people start their career in emergency services in their 20’s and, unless managed from the beginning, mental health deterioration is a possibility. The problem is, young people in their 20’s consider themselves too young for recovery or treatment.

Early intervention is absolutely critical.

‘Rookies’ experience little to no trauma. Two years in, 27% of officers report alcohol abuse, and 36% within four years.[4] What this tells us is trauma compounds overtime, as does alcohol reliance.

First responders’ occupational stress doesn’t just put workers at risk of alcohol issues. This is paired with major psychological problems such as acute stress disorder, PTSD, anxiety and depression.[5] Add to this, the culture of silence and workers aren’t given the care and attention that’s necessary to process trauma – events that would mark the everyday person’s psyche, negatively for life. It’s just another day in the life of a first responder.

Alcohol tends to become a coping mechanism for these mental health issues, which is fraught with danger.

Avoid self-medicating with alcohol

For up to 50% of responders, addiction follows mental disorders.[6] Witnessing disturbing events such as car accidents, murders, suicides, violence and drug use is enough for workers to want to reach for a drink… to forget it all. But that’s the issue, it’s a temporary method of numbing, instead of actively processing the trauma as it happens.

Young workers also reported feeling the pressure to ‘fit in’ and ‘be part of the team.’ Especially for those in their 20s, people who don’t drink usually get asked, “what’s wrong with you?” It’s that camaraderie that can morph into peer pressure to drink.

There are also the long shifts, the missed moments with family, and infrequent home-cooked meals. All of these occupational and lifestyle pressures make coping even more difficult. Coming home after a long shift when all the family is asleep, a beer or glass of wine can keep you ‘company.’ This is how an unhealthy relationship with alcohol forms.

But this isn’t just about you and your family. As an emergency worker, this affects everyone in your community. And you’ve got an entire family here, looking after you.

Let’s drop the ‘tough guy’ (and girl) act

Rookies, there’s health insurance coverage that’s designed just for you. Emergency Services Health is open to people in emergency services (plus their families). The Extras are designed to be USED, so it’s easier to keep your ‘trauma bucket’ empty. With Emergency Services Health, you have access to psychologists and counsellors, who can help treat your relationship with alcohol.

The key is, for anyone in emergency services, but especially those who are young, to remain mentally fit by leveraging these support services. No, this doesn’t make you weak. If anything, showing initiative to process trauma as it comes up is the epitome of keeping the community safe.

It starts with you.

Cover like no other

We understand the demands of front line work more than any other insurer. After all, we've been looking after the health and wellbeing of the police community for more than 85 years. Whether you’re already a member, or interested in becoming one, call us to find out how to get the most out of our cover and benefits. We’re here to help.  

Please note: some articles on this website are compiled from material obtained externally. Although we make every effort to ensure information is correct at the time of publication, we accept no responsibility for its accuracy. Health-related articles are intended for general information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor. The views expressed in articles are not necessarily those of Police Health Ltd.