At The Florida House experience, we know that first responders like police, firemen, and EMTs sometimes need the help of their own. We have created a special program for first responders called Shatterproof FHE. We are dedicated to serving this unique population in their time of need with our addiction treatment for first responders program. Unfortunately, culture plays a role in the world of first responders, who may struggle to reach out for help when they need it. They may even have a difficult time recognizing their symptoms as severe as well as understanding that help is necessary and available.
First Responders and PTSD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is incredibly common among first responders. PTSD is a mental health problem that occurs after some people experience traumatic situations. Traumatic situations may include:
- A Life-Threatening event
- A natural disaster
- An accident
- Sexual assault
PTSD may start off as negative emotions and mild anxiety about an event. A person may even have trouble sleeping and while at first, it may be hard to sink back into everyday activities, as time progresses, these symptoms should get better and eventually disappear. If more than a few months go by and symptoms remain the same or get worse, a person is most likely suffering from PTSD. Symptoms may gradually progress, come and go, or disappear and then come back after a period of time.
Symptoms of PTSD
If symptoms of PTSD interfere with your everyday life, or you begin to turn to substances to self-medicate, it is important to get help. Symptoms of PTSD usually start soon after a traumatic event, but they can happen anytime in life afterward. The four most common symptoms of PTSD are the following:
- Having flashbacks of the event that caused you great distress. You may even have visions, daydreams, or nightmares about it. These can be especially strong when something triggers a memory of the event.
- Avoiding people, places, or things that remind you of the event. This is a part of bottling it up inside which easily leads to addiction as a coping mechanism.
- Developing a secondary mood disorder such as anxiety or depression. You may start to feel overwhelming negative emotions and feel lethargic, unengaged, and uninterested in activities you once enjoyed. You may stay in bed longer, start staying home and using drugs or alcohol instead of engaging in activities and in spending time with friends and family.
- Manic episodes or jumpiness, hypersensitivity, and being jittery. This can cause a person to have insomnia, act out, have anger problems, and engage in high-risk behaviors like drug or alcohol use.
Addiction Treatment for First Responders Dealing with PTSD
First responders undoubtedly have stressful jobs. They are counted on to be the strong ones, and little thought is usually given to what kind of help they need themselves. It makes sense that they need help as well because few other professions deal with as much trauma, grief, and high-intensity work.
PTSD is very common among first responders. Often times, they turn to drugs and alcohol to cope instead of getting proper treatment. It is estimated that over 50% of people with PTSD meet criteria for alcohol abuse. 35% qualify as addicted to drugs. When stats like these are considered, it is no surprise that so many first responders struggle with addiction.
Our specialized drug and alcohol treatment program for first responders is available for all emergency personnel, regardless of active duty or status. In addition to treating drug and alcohol substance abuse, we work with first responders to address trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Because of the expectations that come with working as a first responder, these people often ignore their own pain and problems. All this does is cause addiction to become worse until a person’s life becomes completely unmanageable.
We help address other underlying issues that may co-exist like anger management and how to handle guilt. We also work with family members and loved ones of first responders to have the best, most well-rounded approach to achieving recovery. It has been recorded that over 40% of EMTs suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. The cycle can stop here. The more heroes that can get help, the more people will feel comfortable coming forward to address their issues and get on a better path.
About Shatterproof FHE
Shatterproof FHE is set up utilizing a peer-support group model, believing that by surrounding clients with patients and professional staff of similar backgrounds, the client will be more receptive to treatment, leading to better outcomes. Our program is based upon a task model, competency approach to treatment which is designed to assist the client with overcoming specific obstacles and increasing their ability to manage their emotions and situations without using chemicals to self-soothe and reduce anxiety, numb, avoid, and provide what often appears to be relief. The treatment approach utilizes evidence based practices to facilitate a holistic approach to healing including: physical, neurological, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual, that must be addressed and to some extent resolved. Our goal is to provide the highest level of quality services to assist with often co-occurring PTSD and other mental health issues that are frequently related to the professional experiences of public safety workers.
Before entering the program, clients undergo a pre-assessment to confirm that they are an appropriate clinical fit. Upon admission, they meet with the program manager who does a full assessment, assigns a primary therapist and creates a customized treatment plan. Clients are typically in the program for 30 to 60 days, as recommended by the clinical team. When the client approaches the end of the program, the clinical team creates an aftercare plan, including coordination with resources in the client’s home community to ensure that the progress made during the client’s treatment is continued.
Helping PTSD and Addiction in the Workplace
Like with any job, there are things that can help contribute to maintaining healthy, addiction-free employees. Having open communication is key. In an industry like one of the first responders, it is also important to have counseling available so that people have somewhere to turn in a crisis. Some ideas of things that can be done include:
- Foster positive inter-relations with coworkers
- Letting employees see their success and partake in meaningful work that gets rewarded
- Maintain a productive and positive environment
In the world of first responders, the positive needs to balance the negative, because the negative is a necessary part of their job. It is also incredibly important for this population to understand that help is available. Getting the right treatment can open the door to a bright future and will create even more strength and resilience in this already exceptional group of people.
For Families of First Responders Dealing with Addiction
When a loved one is dealing with addiction, it is essential to confront the situation in a loving and supportive way. It may be difficult to recognize signs of addiction in your loved one and to know the difference between coping in a healthy way or in a way that is detrimental to health. It is important to be aware of the signs of addiction you need to watch for.
Symptoms of addiction might include:
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Starting to abuse drugs or drink heavily
- A poor appearance
- Lack of care for their household
- Missing work
- Ignoring relationships and responsibilities
If your loved one is exhibiting these symptoms, speak up. Know how to recognize PTSD in your first responder as well so that you can interfere before addiction becomes their main coping mechanism. While it is ultimately up to them to get help, you can encourage them to do so. If necessary, you may want to consider an intervention, where people who genuinely care for and love the addict come together with them to express their concern.
If you are taking the route of intervention, make sure to plan it out ahead of time, and make sure only the people who have the addict’s best interest in mind are present. Do research on treatment centers so that you are prepared for them to have a place to go should they agree to treatment.
Addiction affects the whole family, and together with treatment everyone involved can come out better than ever before.