addiction after injury

Addiction After Injury

Published on March 3, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

People begin abusing substances for a wide variety of reasons, many involving trauma or unexpected stress.  Experiencing an injury can upset your life in several ways, leading to difficulties in your work and at home. 

Additionally, an injury adds the challenge of severe pain to your circumstances, while also providing you with access to extremely addictive drugs throughout treatment. This perfect storm of stress, pain, and medication can often lead to substance abuse.

Unfortunately, addiction only adds to existing problems, worsens mental and physical health, and inevitably fails to successfully manage pain. Being aware of the risks of addictive substances as well as the signs that you or a loved one may need professional help is the best way to prevent a life-long battle with addiction after injury.  

Mental Health After an Injury

Until you have experienced it, it is hard to imagine how much an injury can affect your mental health and overall wellbeing. Whether an injury happens on the job or during personal time, it can affect your ability to complete basic daily tasks, and seriously inhibit your ability to perform at work, especially if your job is physically demanding.

Being unable to work or do any of the usual activities you enjoy can leave you feeling as if you have lost your identity. Additionally, the memory of the actual incident that caused the injury may linger for long after the moment has passed, coming to you in flashbacks that trigger fear and other painful emotions.

Depending on the circumstances, some injuries occur during a traumatic event that can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD may include symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, vivid nightmares, irritability, lack of concentration, being easily startled, and detachment from family and friends. Experiencing trauma can also put you at a heightened risk of other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.  

Opioid Use After Injury

One of the most common ways that addiction develops as a result of bodily injury is through the use of opioid pain relievers. Opioids are highly addictive drugs in the same class as heroin, but they are commonly used to treat severe pain after injury or surgery.

These popular medications, such as Vicodin and Percocet, may relieve acute pain while also inducing a euphoric effect. Over time, using opioid pain relievers regularly, even while following your doctor’s orders, will likely result in a built-up tolerance.

Once this tolerance develops, some users will begin taking larger doses to achieve the same effect. This practice is what leads many opioid users to addiction. Research has proven that over-the-counter drugs, such as a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen, actually have more long-term success when it comes to pain management.

Unfortunately, the medical community continues to prescribe opioids fairly liberally, often without properly warning the patient against the risk of addiction. Additionally, for those who develop an addiction to opioids, the problem may escalate once they are no longer able to obtain a prescription. Many heroin addicts began their addiction to opioids by abusing prescription drugs.

Alcohol Use After Injury

Another common addiction that may develop after a serious injury is alcohol use disorder. Alcohol is often used as an outlet for those who are struggling with anxiety and depression, both of which may be triggered by the stress and pain of an injury.

Because alcohol is legal and socially acceptable in most settings, developing dependence is easy and insidious. For those who have experienced an injury that prohibits them from working for a significant amount of time, alcohol can seem like a source of comfort and a way to fill the time.

However, alcohol is not at all conducive to the healing process. Alcohol use damages the body in several ways, including damage to the circulatory system. Slowing down your circulation can deprive your body of a healthy flow of oxygen and nutrients, stalling the repair process after injury.

Studies show that heavy alcohol use contributes to overall decreased physical health and may lead to increased pain. Mentally, alcohol use has been shown to increase symptoms of anxiety and depression by throwing off the natural balance of mood-regulating chemicals in the brain.  

Dealing with Injury and Addiction

People struggling with recovering from a serious injury while also dealing with substance abuse may begin to feel helpless and overwhelmed by their circumstances. The good news is that there are better options to manage pain and mental health issues, and seeking professional help for addiction is the best way to eliminate the many problems that substance abuse adds to your life.

A holistic treatment program can help you to address the underlying cause of your addiction, while also helping you to explore other methods of pain management and physical recovery from injury.


The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigma may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult.

Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career or a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships. By taking a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, Simple Recovery makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. 

First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community, and at Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we believe in dedicating our time and expertise to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490.