Chronic alcohol users reach an inevitable crossroad at one point or another – to drive while impaired or not. The addictive condition includes suppressing emotions and thinking it’s normal to drink alcohol or use drugs.
As addiction spirals, the number of activities we engage in while impaired increases. These situations may include recreational hobbies, workplace environments, and behind-the-wheel of a motorized vehicle; all can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
The addicted mind goes to great lengths to rationalize this endangering behavior. For example, one might tell themselves, “nothing matters anyway; why not go for it?” Indifference to this extent is extremely dangerous, not only to the individual but to their family, co-workers, and other drivers and passengers on the road.
Sobriety matters. Here are some tips to help you avoid driving under the influence.
One of the biggest regrets people experience after receiving a DUI is wishing they had stopped to think longer about their decision.
The stakes of receiving a DUI or risking a severe traffic collision are not worth the perceived convenience of driving. So, first, consider the pros and cons. Then, when you have weighed your options thoroughly, think about it again.
Without using a breathalyzer or having the means to measure substance intake, there is no way to gauge your capacity to operate a vehicle. However, by contemplating your decision, fellow drivers will make it home safe, and the people in your life will understand.
Communicate with a loved one
If you’re slightly concerned about driving, always contact someone (even if you’re sober). Of course, this isn’t a guarantee the person is equipt to help, but at the very least, hearing yourself voice the concern will likely go a long way towards influencing your decision.
The simple act of verbalizing our inner thoughts brings them into existence. Ideally, the person you tell may be able to provide a means of transportation. After telling one person, communicate your plans with another if possible; this ensures safety by casting a wide enough net; you expand the likelihood of securing either a ride or a safe method of getting where you need to go.
Designate a driver
It never hurts to designate a driver when you know you’re about to enter an environment with alcohol. However, this can lead to potential justifications for indulging in alcohol or substances, making it less ideal.
Rather than flat-out asking someone to drive, you can always confide in someone you trust, like a sponsor or close friend who has graduated from a recovery program. This communication could help prevent the temptations of use from arising in the first place.
In 2022 it’s easier than ever to find a ride. Numerous apps allow users to schedule rides with minimal effort, and more traditional public transportation is available in many locations.
These are convenient and easy to access alternatives for anyone anxious about driving. Ensure that you have your phone charged and the rideshare app downloaded to schedule a ride before you leave home.
Remember, you’re capable of empowering yourself and sticking to your morals. If there’s even a remote intuition urging you to reconsider driving home, the least you can do is revisit your decision.
Choosing a life of recovery comes with personal growth, self-reflection, and reparation to relieve the weight of guilt and shame. Yes, the path forward can be painful yet fulfilling. Working towards a sober lifestyle requires sacrifice but can yield moments of clarity that reaffirm the decision to live free of all substances.
First responders who have stayed sober for extended periods are privy to the mental health benefits of experiencing peace of mind. However, any long-tenured recovery alumni can attest that these moments of clarity, feeling content in sobriety and life in general, often lack their portability.
Unfortunately, you can’t necessarily take them with you. Given the impermanence of contentment, many people will be chasing the feeling. It’s essential to remember that it’s not the pursuit of clarity that leads to clarity itself but rather a commitment to living harmoniously within ourselves.
Recognizing the validity of feelings, thoughts, and emotions allows a person in recovery to honor and empower themselves. In many ways, the journey back to this place of wholeness lies in one’s ability to listen inward.
A moment of clarity can be a double-edged sword
While the feeling of epiphany can provide a cathartic sense of healing, the experience of feeling contentment can lead to experiencing the pink cloud effect. Commonly experienced early on in one’s sobriety, the pink cloud effect describes a carefree euphoria associated with the joy of sobriety; however, this sensation can occur after years of leading a sober lifestyle.
Experiencing a sense of purpose and self-assurance is a great place to reach in recovery. But after this confidence fades, those in recovery can begin to wonder why they lost their sobriety mojo; this can result in the pursuit of feeling accomplished rather than recognizing the strategies which led to reaching that high point of validation in the first place.
Chasing an emotional state can be particularly risky for people in recovery, as alcohol or substance use is viewed as a shortcut to suppressing any doubt and uncertainty one is feeling.
First responders are particularly prone to extended bouts of anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, these episodes can go unnoticed as first response work often causes individuals coping with depression to suppress the symptoms to conduct themselves at work.
Manic-depressive tendencies entail feelings of intense, positive moods, followed by immersive pools of negativity. The extreme shifts from high to low can be destabilizing, making it challenging to overcome disbelief in oneself while also complicating the ability to trust self-assurance.
First responders and anyone in recovery should remember that depressive feelings will pass with time and treatment, just as happy moments are not guaranteed.
Staying level-headed during low points
A healthy mindset can recognize that reactions within one’s brain chemistry determine a recovering alcoholic or substance user’s perspective.
That is not to say that individuals are powerless to their feelings, but acknowledging that the scope of control is limited makes an effort necessary to manage mental health less overwhelming. First responders often experience elevated mood swings, particularly after extended on-call shifts.
The reliance on adrenaline jump-starts a series of emotional responses that can be manic in the heat of first response action but depressive once a shift has ended.
Lacking control over these fluctuations, first responders often look to alcohol and substances as a means to exercise control over their emotions for a brief period.
Some are using manifests in subdued, emotional expression, while others tap into emotions that may seem less accessible in sobriety. Still, relinquishing the desire to ascertain greater control will help those in recovery accept and focus on the little things within their agency.
Instead of trying to do too much and ultimately disappointing one’s lofty expectations, those who can realistically identify strategies for managing emotional highs and lows are likely to be more successful in recovery.
Managing mental clarity
When you manage expectations of mental health, observing your behavior without ascribing judgment is the first step toward making a significant change.
It’ll allow individuals in recovery to mark patterns in their behavior: how does work affect my mood, what events trigger a bout of depressive tendencies, do my thoughts of using follow a particular feeling? Taking the time to self-reflect sets up healthy realizations that will allow you clarity, growth, and sustained strength in recovery.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, one in five men will not reach the age of 50 in America due to issues relating to hypermasculinity, also known as toxic masculinity.
While masculinity itself is not negative, hypermasculinity is a cultural issue that harms men just as much as it does women.
Researchers continue to uncover the many connections between hypermasculinity and poor mental health in men. This is even more true for men raised or working in hypermasculine environments, like the field of first responders.
Understanding how hypermasculinity can affect you or your loved one is an important first step in creating better mental health and a happier environment.
It’s crucial to learn how behaviors can be altered, depression can be masked, and addictions created due to toxic masculinity.
Hypermasculinity is a learned behavior in many cultures, especially in America.
We’ve all been socialized to think of specific characteristics as masculine and others as feminine. Men are encouraged to display dominance, suppress their emotions, and take control of every situation.
While “feminine” traits, such as vulnerability, emotionality, and passivity, are often socially looked down upon when displayed in a man. Of course, the reality is that every person, man or woman, is a combination of masculine and feminine traits.
Unfortunately, old-fashioned stereotypes persist in every aspect of our society. They can cause many men to internalize their emotions and cope in very unhealthy ways.
For some men, a lifetime of gendered socialization creates a barrier between themselves and others. They might feel as if sharing their feelings or expressing emotions is wrong.
This attitude can be further exacerbated by specific subgroups that encourage hypermasculinity. Such groups include gender-segregated sports teams and some male-dominated professions.
While these environments offer a connection with teammates and colleagues, they can also create a sense of pressure and shame. Whenever anyone behaves in a way that is not considered masculine enough, these groups may make fun of them or question their manhood.
Hypermasculinity and depression
While everyone is different, there are some common issues to look for in men with mental health issues who are struggling with hypermasculinity.
For example, these men may feel sad or unmotivated due to depression but express their feelings via anger or rage. They often feel that these emotions are more socially acceptable than sadness or vulnerability.
Some additional symptoms to look for include fatigue, irritability, sleep issues, a lack of concentration, and a disinterest in things they once enjoyed.
While hypermasculinity and gendered thinking harm women as well, women are given much more “wiggle room” when it comes to conforming to gender norms. Men, however, are often forced to fit into rigid definitions of masculinity.
When men are inevitably unable to live up to the social standard, they often face an identity crisis. This is especially true for men who’ve spent most of their lives conforming to hypermasculine behavior.
In circumstances where that is not possible, such as the development of a mental health disorder, they don’t know what to do. Depression is a common mental illness among men, claiming the lives of more men than women every year by suicide.
The only way to combat depression and other mental illnesses is through treatment that usually involves talk therapy. Letting go of a hypermasculine perception is often the first step to mental wellness for many men.
Hypermasculinity and addiction
The harm caused by hypermasculinity is often severe. Many men feel that they’ll never be good enough or struggle to recognize themselves as they go through an emotional hurdle.
Many men who struggle with these common issues turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Substance abuse is used to numb and mask the pain but may also allow men to express themselves in a way that is considered unacceptable while sober.
Additionally, hypermasculine subcultures, such as those of first responders, encourage alcohol use. Inevitably, using drugs or alcohol in this way leads to addiction in many men.
Unfortunately, talking about addiction can be tricky in the presence of hypermasculinity. It’s crucial for men and those who care about them to deal with these damaging cultural norms.
Men suffering from mental health and addiction must be allowed to open up and talk about their trauma, emotional pain, and struggles to move forward and step into a life of wellness.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 30 percent of first responders suffer from a mental health condition, including post-traumatic stress (PTS).
With the rise in critical incidents against civilians and towards our men and women in uniform, first responders must be able to identify PTS.
PTS is a response to experiencing a shocking tragedy or a terrifying event accompanied by a physical or emotional reaction.
There is no absolute time duration for the condition, it could last weeks or years, or it could last forever if it goes untreated. The onset of symptoms could be immediate, but in some people, symptoms don’t develop until weeks or months after the trauma.
Many people suffering from PTS don’t even know they’re experiencing it, as it can come in intense nightmares, depression, insomnia, and everything in between.
“Many people, especially first responders, tend to push down their feelings and carry on as usual, even though they may be struggling to process high levels of stress, fear, guilt, and grief. The brain sends out distress signals that create emotional, physical and psychological symptoms that can negatively impact overall health, concentration, and emotional regulation.”
Founder & Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Stephen Odom, First Responder Wellness
When someone is diagnosed with PTS, they typically display symptoms from each category, with many combinations and patterns depending on each individual’s experience.
While the following symptoms may indicate PTS, remember, only a clinical therapist can properly diagnose a patient with PTS.
Involuntary, recurrent thoughts regarding the traumatic event you have experienced and a resurgence of related feelings or memories are responsibilities shared by a person suffering from PTS. These intrusive thoughts can lead to vivid dreams or nightmares and even flashbacks.
Hyperarousal and reactivity
Emotions often experienced due to PTS include feeling on edge, irritable, angry or jumpy. Intense emotions, exaggerated startle reactions and physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and increased heart rate can also develop after the traumatic event.
Avoiding places, people, activities, and other stimuli that might trigger or act as a reminder of the trauma indicates PTS. Isolation from friends and family, detachment or disassociation, and resistance to seeking help are also common symptoms of the disorder.
Feeling overwhelmed by continuous negative thoughts and distorted feelings related to the traumatic event, which often includes guilt, shame, and self-blame, are also symptoms of PTS.
Also, it’s imperative to note that almost half of those suffering from PTS are battling substance abuse. As the substance abuse heightens, the PTS symptoms will continue to intensify in many cases.
If you or a first responder you know may be suffering from PTS, click here to learn more.
Assisting a loved one, who also happens to be a first responder, to recover from substance abuse can result in many unexpected responses.
While we genuinely want what is best for family, friends, and our closest colleagues, the strain of addiction impacts more people than the individual experiencing it. The repercussions of addictive behavior usually extend to the person’s family, immediate social circle, colleagues at work, and beyond.
The role that friends and family take on when a loved one struggles with addiction almost resembles the job responsibility of a first responder.
The feeling of being “on-call” for a person who has the potential to go into crisis at any moment and constantly remaining open to the prospect of intervening for your loved one requires both empathy and vigilance, the same characteristics that first responders use to do their jobs.
Helping a first responder through substance abuse leaves both parties with many questions and without a clear-cut path forward, especially when that person is used to being the one helping others.
Growth and healing will require understanding and openness for both parties, as everyone learns how to approach recovery together.
Here are four effective methods that you can utilize to assist a first responder in recovery.
Admitting the person has an addiction
Just as a person dealing with addiction is prone to denying an unhealthy relationship with substances, admitting that your loved one is dealing with addiction is difficult too.
The stigma surrounding addiction causes many addicts to harbor extreme guilt or denial, often encouraging them to hide the signs of their addiction.
Codependency within family and personal relationships can make it difficult to understand whether a loved one is communicating openly and honestly. Even if a person is a hero at work, they can still be an addict; remember, advocating for truth within a relationship shows how much you care.
People struggling with substance abuse can be prone to unexpected mood swings, frequently lashing out at those closest to them.
First responders encounter events and situations that many of us couldn’t imagine. But, if you notice your loved one drinking or using alone in excess, talking about their desire to drink or use when unprompted, or being unable to enjoy themselves when sober, you may want to consider having a conversation with them about it.
Talking to them about addiction
Speaking with your loved one when you suspect they may have a problem with substances can be met with resistance, especially if they’re still performing heroic acts at work. Still, this first step is crucial. And much like a first responder who arrives to assist, this intervention can be life-saving.
The most productive conversations come from a place of truth, allowing friends and family to share how their loved one’s addiction affects them. There are many different strategies for having healthy conversations about addiction, but the truth, vulnerability, and simplicity are common themes for all of them.
By expressing compassion and love for the person struggling with addiction, you can appeal to their empathy and hopefully lead them to understand the need for help.
Encourage progress and show you care
Although addiction is a self-consuming condition in many ways, the key to changing the perspective of an addicted person lies in revealing to them how it feels on the other side of their behavior. Sharing your perspective can encourage the struggling person to choose a path of recovery by reinforcing the need for change.
Researching the effects of addiction goes a long way in understanding how to offer the best possible assistance. Taking action to encourage recovery can strengthen the relationship between you and your loved one.
In many cases, a first responder battling addiction will try their best to hide it from their partners at work. They may not want anyone else to know, making your support even more valuable. Embarking on a commitment to sober living with someone in your corner almost always leads to growth in understanding and comradery.
Stay emotionally available
When a person finally understands the need for change in their relationship with substances, they travel through a risky path, but they don’t have to travel alone.
If you know someone making this type of change in their life, help them conduct research to locate an appropriate treatment facility, like First Responder Wellness. Let them know that you’re there to help in any way that you can.
The responsibility for overcoming addiction ultimately falls on the person in recovery, and while it’s natural to want to help our loved ones, it’s also important to set independent boundaries.
You need to understand that one person can only do so much. Our loved ones deserve the best care and assistance out there; it just so happens that the best way to provide it is usually by encouraging them to seek help from professional clinical therapists.
It’s time for your first responder to stop focusing on helping others and do the work to help themselves.