Here’s why first responders delay addressing substance abuse and mental health struggles

Here’s why first responders delay addressing substance abuse and mental health struggles

Ever heard of disassociation? Well, it’s one of the biggest reasons why first responders delay asking for help. 

The life of a first responder is go, go, go – constantly on the move, balancing families, 80 to 100 hour work weeks, errands, personal projects, and more. It’s rough.

But one thing that first responders are good at is filling up their schedules to avoid addressing their problems, whether it be substance abuse, mental health, or both. 

Have you ever had to fold a load of laundry but threw it on the couch in a giant ball and decided to take a nap instead? This is a simple analogy on how we often sidetrack ourselves from doing what we really should be doing. 

When it comes to our first responders, many will work upwards of 100 hours a week, tend to their families, then fill up all free time with other projects and tasks – like building a shed, modifying a car, painting, etc. You’ll notice that people in this situation are always unnecessarily busy, week after week, even when they don’t have to be. 

This is a tactic that we as people are not often aware of. It’s essentially using yourself to be busy and of service 24/7 just so that we don’t have to sit there, alone in our thoughts. 

“Disassociation is keeping the issues you don’t want to think about away from the mind by staying busy; because if the mind gets quiet, things start to surface. Staying busy rather than addressing the problem can lead to unhealthy choices in the way we disassociate.”

First Responder Wellness Founder & Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Stephen Odom

In the short-term, disassociating ourselves from people and our problems can seem like the best option at hand – but in the long-term, we’re only harming ourselves by masking our struggles for years on end. 

Remember, we’re only people. You’re human. And just because you’re a first responder doesn’t mean you have to be of service to the world 24/7.

If you made it to the end of this blog, ask yourself, “Am I dissociating? If so, what issue is it that I’m trying to avoid?”

What are the differences between binge drinking and alcoholism?

What are the differences between binge drinking and alcoholism?

Many times people confuse binge drinking and alcoholism, but they are not the same. 

What is the same is that first responders tend to suffer from both due to being exposed to stressful and disturbing critical situations regularly.

As you may have experienced, alcohol is almost a part of the first responder culture, which is why many of our public safety professionals suffer from alcohol abuse. 

Whether you may be suffering from binge drinking or alcoholism, it’s imperative to note that just because you may be an alcoholic does not mean you are a binge drinker; and if you are a binge drinker, it does not mean you are an alcoholic. 

“One of the key differences between binge drinking and alcoholism is that typically binge drinkers can get through the week without consuming alcohol, whereas alcoholics need it just to get by. It’s imperative to catch both of these conditions in their early stages as the probability for success will be much higher.” 

First Responder Wellness’ Founder Dr. Stephen Odom

While both of these conditions are considered alcohol abuse disorders and many of their signs are the same, the danger lies in the potential for a crossover; it’s a slippery slope.

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is defined as men drinking five or more alcoholic beverages and women drinking four or more alcoholic drinks in two hours or less, with a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration, more than four times per month.

Signs of binge drinking:

  • Continuously drinking more than planned
  • Consuming alcohol early in the day
  • Difficulty slowing down or stoping after you begin
  • Experiencing blackouts, memory loss
  • Showcasing risky behavior
  • Sacrificing responsibilities to drink alcohol
  • Family and friends expressing concern

When a person begins to take notice of trends where their binge drinking begins to affect their home, work, or school life, even if they are a functioning binge drinker, it’s recommended to seek help.

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is the most severe type of alcohol abuse and begins when a person cannot control their consumption habits. The biggest sign of alcoholism is that people feel as if they cannot function without it. 

Signs of alcoholism include: 

  • Inability to control consumption 
  • Craving alcohol 
  • Unusual behavior after drinking
  • Sacrificing responsibilities to drink alcohol
  • Spending lots of money on alcohol per month
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down
  • Developing a high tolerance to alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Senselessly consuming alcohol before and during activities

With alcoholism, the combination of short and long-term effects will negatively impact a person’s perception, cognition, and judgment. For first responders, this can be detrimental to their ability to perform their job well, putting themselves and others at risk. 

If you experience these and other problems due to your drinking and cannot quit, you will need professional help to avoid a dangerous situation and prevent further harm from occurring.

Click here to learn more about our programming and alcohol abuse.

About First Responder Wellness

At First Responder Wellness, we guide those ready to take the path to recovery and wellbeing. We offer various programs within a community of others who know what it is like to be in the front lines. For more information on how we can assist you, call 888-443-4898.