Firefighters and Substance Abuse: Helping Our Heroes Recover

Legacy Healing Center Blog

Firefighters are often considered brave heroes who protect families, friends, and the community from dangerous and deadly situations, however, this doesn’t make them immune to struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues. Substance abuse is a significant problem among firefighters.

Between lengthy shifts, harsh demands on the job, traumatic events, and the pressures that arise from responding to emergencies, it is common for firefighters to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Many individuals who are struggling with these mental health issues will resort to the use of drugs and alcohol to cope with their emotions. Also, injuries are common on the job while they are completing dangerous tasks, making firefighters likely to become addicted to prescription pain killers if the injuries become chronic.

Fortunately, Legacy Healing Center in Pompano Beach offers solutions for the treatment of behavioral health and substance use disorders among firefighters.


Risk Factors for Substance Abuse Among Firefighters

While addiction can affect people from all walks of life, firefighters encounter specific risk factors that make them more susceptible to addiction. These risk factors can include a stressful work environment, traumatic events, injuries acquired on the job, and the culture of fire stations.

Work Environment

Firefighters often work long hours and must be alert and ready to go at all times. While one day may be calm and quiet, another can be filled with multiple calls and terrifying situations. Facing the responsibility of successfully protecting people and communities from disaster is a huge, demanding task, that can place a lot of stress on firefighters.

They will frequently feel responsible for saving lives and protecting the community from disaster. When the stress from this type of job becomes too much to bear, many will turn to drugs or alcohol to cope.

Traumatic Events

Being on the front lines of accidents, fires, natural disasters, and life-threatening injuries can cause anyone to sustain trauma.

In many cases, the firefighters themselves are putting their lives at risk to save others. As this trauma is encountered over and over, disorders like Acute Stress Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may develop. For those who suffer from stress disorders, it can be tempting to abuse drugs and alcohol to cope with the symptoms they are experiencing.


Muscle and bone injuries are far too common among firefighters due to the physical nature of the job. Between 2010 and 2014, approximately 30,290 firefighters sustained an injury.1

Although the vast majority of injuries were sprains or strains, many also suffered from burns or lacerations – all of which carry a great amount of pain that is often treated by the use of prescription pain killers. If these pain killers are taken long term or abused, addiction to opiates can rapidly ensue.

Job Culture

Firefighters have been found to drink significantly more than the average U.S. population, and firefighters binge drink twice as much as the rest of the nation.2 One of the most common reasons for these high drinking rates is due to an attempt to deal with stress from the job and repeated exposure to trauma.

Also, firefighters are suggested to use drinking as a way of encouraging bonding and friendships, so it can be easy for firefighters to fall into this pattern of using alcohol for socialization.


Co-occurring Disorders Among Firefighters With Substance Abuse Problems

Addiction often comes with an underlying behavioral or mental health condition that exacerbates the substance abuse. Co-occurring disorders affect firefighters at devastating rates and frequently drive them to turn to substances to cope with the symptoms they are experiencing.


  • Nearly 37% of firefighters exhibit symptoms of PTSD.3
  • 19% have experienced suicidal thoughts and rates of death by suicide is higher among firefighters than the general population.4
  • 27% of firefighters struggle or have struggled with substance abuse.
  • 59% have experienced problems with their family and relationships.5
  • Rates of depression among firefighters are thought to be higher than the national average.


Despite the high comorbidity between mental health and substance abuse and the devastating numbers of firefighters affected, many do not get the help that they desperately need.


Problems Encountered When Firefighters Need Help With Substance Abuse

Although awareness around addiction and mental health among firefighters has improved over the years, these health issues are still surrounded by stigma. More than 80% of firefighters have reported that asking for help with substance abuse or mental health would make them seem unfit for duty.4

Therefore, it can be difficult for firefighters to feel comfortable reaching out for help. Attempting to deal with mental health and addiction alone is a dangerous and isolating task that can make symptoms worse. This isolation and fear often makes reaching out for help even more difficult and allows addiction and alcoholism to progress.

Avoiding professional help due to the stigma surrounding the fire service can dangerously affect these individual’s lives by perpetuating high rates of suicide, severe mental health issues, and drug or alcohol addiction. If firefighters who are suffering do not receive help, they can lose their jobs, hurt themselves, put others at risk, and make their health situations worse.


Helping our Heroes at Legacy Healing Center

Addiction specialists in Pompano Beach understand that heroes, too, are not immune to the disease of addiction. We recognize the unique standards of treatment that firefighters require to recover from addiction. By offering an individualized treatment approach, we aim to help anyone suffering from addiction to begin to recover.

“Our mission is to lay the foundation for anyone who enters our community. At Legacy, each client will learn to recover, address underlying issues, and get on track to achieve a life better than they had ever dreamed possible.”

Through a holistic approach to healing and behavioral therapies, our staff at Legacy Healing Center is ready to help firefighters build hope, develop a support network, treat their mental health, and heal from addiction. If you or a loved one is a firefighter suffering from addiction, contact us today and see how we can help.


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