While there are many factors that can contribute to the risk for an addiction or substance use disorder, one risk factor that is deserving of attention is the link between specific professions and substance use disorders. While a job alone cannot cause addiction, there are some professions in which the rates of substance abuse are particularly high. One profession that may bring an increased risk of addiction is firefighting.

Risk Factors for Addiction in Firefighters

Firefighting can be physically and emotionally taxing. Between long hours and potentially life-threatening situations, firefighters may become rather depleted. In some cases, being exposed to dangerous incidents can be traumatizing, especially if firefighters witness tragedies, such as deaths and serious injuries while on the job.

One recent study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress included a sample of 740 firefighters and found that nearly one-third of them had symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Additionally, those who experienced traumatic stress were more likely to engage in problem drinking and substance abuse. For firefighters dealing with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, drinking and substance abuse may be ways of coping.

A second study with nearly 2,000 female firefighters arrived at similar findings. Almost 40 percent of women in the study admitted to binge drinking within the month prior to the study, and of those who reported consuming alcohol, 16.5 percent met the criteria for problem drinking. Furthermore, women who were problem drinkers were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and much less likely to recommend firefighting as a career to other women.

Given the aforementioned findings, it is reasonable to conclude that the stress associated with firefighting can lead to symptoms of PTSD, as well as depression, which may increase a firefighter’s risk of coping through drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, for women in firefighting, workplace harassment may be a contributing factor to substance abuse. A 2019 study in BioMed Research International found that 37.5 percent of female firefighters have experienced verbal harassment in the workplace, and 37.4 percent had been victims of sexual advances at work. Women who had experienced harassment or discrimination at work were more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress symptoms, as well as more likely to have problems with alcohol consumption.

Help-Seeking Among Firefighters

Given the risk for trauma and substance abuse among firefighters, those in this line of work may be in need of addiction treatment. Unfortunately, stigma may deter them from reaching out for treatment. In fact, a 2021 report in the journal Psychology found that firefighters have a negative view of seeking treatment, as they are fearful of how others might perceive them. Some firefighters in this study indicated that they did not want to be seen as weak.

Firefighters who struggle with addiction need quality treatment that is sensitive to their needs. At iRecoveryUSA, we offer addiction treatment entirely online through our telehealth portal, so firefighters can receive treatment from the comfort of home at times that meet their schedule. If you or a firefighter in your life is struggling with substance abuse as a result of job-related trauma, visit our website to learn how we can help.