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The Most Common Substance Abuse in First Responders

The Most Common Substance Abuse in First Responders

Police officers, firefighters, and EMTs face serious and life-threatening situations on a regular basis.

They see traumatic events frequently and are put in high-stress situations often. Because of this, their mental health often suffers, and in order to cope with these issues, many will turn to drugs and alcohol. Instead of helping, these substances can often make problems worse overall. The result is addiction and poor mental health that often only dual diagnosis treatment can help with.

Common Substance Use Disorders in First Responders

The combination of all of these factors creates a large frequency of substance abuse in first responders.

While first responders may abuse a variety of different drugs and everybody is different, some substances tend to be more frequently misused than others.

Alcohol Abuse

Like other people who have experienced trauma, many first responders will turn to alcohol to cope with the memories of these difficult situations. Alcohol can temporarily help someone forget or numb the pain, but it is not a good long-term solution. Without an alcohol detox and treatment program, alcoholism may develop and more serious issues may ensue.

Because first responders work in emergency situations and tend to experience a lot more trauma than the average person, they also suffer from alcohol abuse at a higher rate than the general population. One study found that episodes of heavy drinking or binge drinking in the last month were reported by over half of male firefighters and 40% of female firefighters.1 Similar results were found among police officers. While the numbers vary depending on the source, one study estimates that 7.8% of urban police officers qualified for alcohol abuse or dependence, while only 5.8% of the general adult population in the United States qualified.2,3 With such high numbers of alcohol abuse in first responders, it is important that they and their loved ones are aware of these numbers as well as the signs of a drinking problem.

Tobacco Use

Along with using alcohol to cope, many people will turn to cigarettes or other tobacco products. Nicotine can initially decrease anger and stress, and many people will come to rely on them when they need to relax, but the dangerous health effects are not worth the temporary relief.

Besides heavy alcohol intake, many first responders have turned to tobacco products to provide some semblance of relief after a stressful event at work. While firefighters may use cigarettes at a rate that is similar to the general population, their use of smokeless tobacco was remarkedly high. One study found that 18.4% of firefighters used smokeless tobacco, a rate higher than any occupational group in the U.S. civilian workforce.4 Similarly, the police is purportedly one of the professions with the highest rates of smoking. Research suggests that 16.7% of police officers smoke compared to 13.5% of the general population.5 Both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco can be addictive and bad for your health.

Substance abuse in first responders is common, so it is important to ask for help if you or your loved one is struggling. At Banyan Detox Stuart, we offer a first responders treatment program designed to meet the specific needs of this population in order to promote long-term recovery.

If you or someone you love is unsuccessfully battling a substance abuse problem, there is no shame in getting help.

To get more information about our programs, or learn more about our facility, reach out to us immediately at 888-280-4763.


  1. Women’s Health Issues Journal - Alcohol Use and Problem Drinking among Women Firefighters
  2. NCBI - Patterns and Predictors of Alcohol Use in Male and Female Urban Police Officers
  3. NIH - Alcohol Facts and Statistics
  4. NCBI - Tobacco Use Pattern Among a National Firefighter Cohort
  5. NCBI - Health Disparities in Police Officers: Comparisons to the U.S. General Population
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.