First responders are some of the most admired and respected members of the community. They deal with horrific situations every single day. People—not just children—look up to police officers, firefighters, and EMTs.

It’s a lot of pressure, and that pressure often gets released in unhealthy ways.

- A 2018 study by SAMHSA revealed that career firefighters rely on alcohol more heavily than the general population, with 58% reporting binge drinking episodes.

- 40% of EMS workers have reportedly engaged in drug and alcohol abuse.

- A Psychology Today article reports that approximately 25% of police officers have a drug or alcohol use problem.

Consider the fact that only around 10% of the general U.S. population has a substance use disorder. There is no denying that first responders are more at risk, and they are not getting the help they need. They struggle to deal with mental and physical trauma, losing friends in the line of duty, working odd hours, and figuring out how to leave work at the door when they finally come home.

It’s no surprise that rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide are also high among police. In fact, suicide is thought to be the number one cause of death among first responders.

In San Diego alone, 57 first responders have committed suicide since 1997.

It’s hard for anyone to admit to needing help, but it’s especially hard for first responders because we expect them to handle so much. There is still a stigma that addiction makes a person weak or morally corrupt. As you can see from the numbers above, that simply isn’t true. First responders get their hands dirty so the rest of us don’t have to. They have a mental breaking point just like the rest of us, but their defenses are tested all day, every day. Like most people with SUD, they’re just looking for a way to cope.

So, let’s flip the script. Some of the highest-standing members of our community have substance use disorders. Some of the strongest members of our community have mental health issues. Let’s stop saying things like, “He was a good cop until he started hitting the bottle.” Let’s start saying things like, “He is a good cop, and he needs help with addiction.”

If you are a police officer or first responder, please take care of your mental health. Know that you can get on the road to recovery without sacrificing your career or your family. In fact, recovery can help you save both. 

Author's Bio: 

Scott H. Silverman is founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, a facility that treats first responders and veternas with addiction in San Diego with compassion and privacy.