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Evaluating an Individual’s Treatment Needs
Addiction among Police & Firefighters
Based on the bulk of the available empirical evidence, including information provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the United States Firefighters Association (USFA), the American Journal of Addiction, and the Journal of Criminal Justice, several conclusions regarding substance abuse and firefighters, police officers, and other emergency service workers can be made.
Thus, based on the most reliable available evidence, it appears that the primary drug of abuse associated with individuals who work in emergency services (e.g., law enforcement, firefighters, and other first responders) is alcohol, and the potential for development of alcohol abuse issues is quite salient. However, it should be noted that according to the above cited sources, there is actually a paucity of research regarding illicit drug use and substance abuse in many factions of the emergency services industry.
According to the book Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, the abuse of alcohol or other substances in professions such as law enforcement, firefighters, and other emergency services workers is often complicated by strong feelings and identification of the brotherhood of the profession, codes of silence, and attitudes that individuals in these professions support one another by not openly discussing such issues with their supervisors. It is often the case that individuals with significant substance abuse issues in these professions are not identified until there are some serious functional issues associated with their alcohol or drug abuse. The general signs and symptoms that occur when individuals in these professions are abusing alcohol or other drugs include:
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is responsible for the development of the formal diagnostic criteria for any substance use disorder. Only a trained mental health professional can formally diagnose a substance use disorder. Any individual exhibiting two or more of the above signs may have an issue with substance abuse, so it is important to have them formally assessed.
APA and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) have identified numerous risk factors associated with the development of addiction. It should be understood that one’s occupation should not be considered to be a potential causal factor associated with the development of any mental health disorder. Instead, features associated with certain occupations may make individuals more vulnerable to developing these disorders, including addiction. Some of the general risk factors associated with the development of substance use disorders that are applicable to individuals employed in emergency services include:
For the most part, people employed in emergency service professions, such as firefighters, are often very close to one another. Fostering awareness of the signs and symptoms of substance abuse in these professions may be an important factor in identifying these issues early.
The general protocol to treat issues with substance use disorders would not be altered significantly; however, the use of social support groups should be emphasized, as this could capitalize on the close ties that individuals in these occupations have with one another. The use of group therapy for these individuals might be advantageous if the groups contain other individuals from these occupations.
It is important to remember that there is a formal blueprint that is generally followed in the treatment of any substance use disorder; however, the blueprint is often individualized to meet the needs of the particular person in treatment. Some other considerations for treatment might include:
Addiction within Demographics