Content reviewed by Khelsea Walker

Many people commonly believe that mental health or substance use treatment is for individuals who have hit rock bottom, particularly in terms of their emotions or well-being. However, it is essential to understand that treatment is not just for individuals who are at their lowest point. Just as mental health disorders and substance use disorder (SUD) do not discriminate, neither does treatment and recovery.

First responders are particularly vulnerable to experiencing an increased risk of mental health problems, including addiction. This may not be a shock when one considers first responders to be emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics. People in these professions are the first to arrive and provide medical care at scenes of trauma. However, first responders also include firefighters and police officers. These people are not often considered when thinking about first responders, but they are just as vulnerable to addiction and mental health conditions.

Mental Health Among Police

Police officers are responsible for enforcing laws and ensuring the safety of the public. They are also responsible for providing emergency services, such as responding to urgent calls or investigating crime scenes. Additionally, when they are on patrol, they work to detect, prevent and control crime.

Many people consider police officers and other first responders some of the strongest individuals in the workforce, both physically and mentally. While this is true in many respects, these individuals are still humans, vulnerable to experiencing mental health issues.

The Responsibilities of Police Officers

Job responsibilities alone daily subject police officers to intense incidents and stressors. They are among the first people to witness and respond to horrendous accidents and disasters. These people are not just police officers; they also willingly take on the roles of social worker, counselor and peacekeeper. Additionally, police brutality has been rising across the nation as a result of inadequate laws, discrimination and other conflicts.

Although the stigma surrounding the mental health of first responders — as well as police in general — is lessening, there is still a long way to go. Mental health treatment is for everyone. That goes double for first responders. This population is incredibly and uniquely vulnerable to the development of mental health disorders and SUD.

Substance Use Among Police Officers

Many people turn to alcohol and other drugs in an attempt to self-medicate their distress. This is no different for police officers. Unfortunately, substance abuse is a widespread issue among this population.

An article titled “Police Trauma and Addiction: Coping With the Dangers of the Job” in the journal FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin describes the very obvious link between police trauma, stress and substance abuse. It explains that police officers experience four occupational demands that are particular triggers of alcohol abuse. These include:

  • “Reacting unemotionally to the daily stresses of the job (depersonalization)
  • Authoritarian demands from police managers
  • Organizational protection of officers from criticism
  • Daily awareness of the dangers of the job.”

How Mental Health Stigma Affects First Responders

Stigma associated with first responders and mental health treatment is incredibly common. As a result, police officers are extremely likely to engage in substance use to cope with their occupational stressors. Substance use may seem like a quick and efficient way to relieve stress. In reality, though, it exacerbates already-present mental health issues. Substance use, even in moderation, can start a downward spiral for first responders.

To prevent problematic substance use among police officers and other first responders, law enforcement agencies and organizations must recognize the vulnerabilities to mental health disorders this population inherently takes on. Then, they must incorporate stress reduction interventions and stress-management techniques as a part of their training and job responsibilities. Further, these agencies must provide access to mental health treatment services. These include counseling and educational opportunities to inform police of the dangers that can result from substance use.

Treatment for First Responders at New Hope Ranch

Being a first responder in need of mental health or addiction treatment can seem daunting. However, the sooner one starts treatment, the better. Postponing treatment entry can lead to worsening health consequences, especially pertaining to substance use. Fortunately, treatment programs uniquely tailored to first responders are available.

New Hope Ranch offers a first responders program dedicated to helping heroes recover from chronic substance use and co-occurring mental health problems. This program specializes in trauma-informed care and personalized treatment. Often, the root cause of substance abuse is an inability to cope with trauma and distress experienced while on the job. We understand first responders need trauma-informed care to help them cope with the situations and experiences in the line of duty. As a part of our program, we combine one-on-one therapy, life skills training and small group sessions.

We want to emphasize how thankful we are for your commitment to serving on the first line. As such, we believe that you are deserving of peace in your life.

New Hope Ranch is a male-only addiction treatment facility that recognizes the unique occupational circumstances that first responders experience as a part of their service on the front lines. We offer a dedicated first responders program to help our heroes recover from problematic substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. To learn more, call us at (737) 600-8565.