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Providing Resources Related to Substance Abuse and Addiction Within Your Agency

Date:Saturday December 9, 2023

Even highly effective employees in a first responder agency can fall victim to abusing substances or becoming addicted. These experiences may begin because of pain or stress, but addiction occurs when someone can no longer control their own intake of substances. First responders, who see more traumatic events than the average person, are susceptible to high levels of stress, and therefore should be alert to possible substance abuse issues in themselves and in their teams.

Here are some ways your agency can acknowledge and proactively fight for your employees in the face of substance abuse and addiction.


Foreground Mental Health

Much substance abuse and addiction begins in environments where trauma is common, and first responders do witness trauma on a daily basis in their work. Consider making trauma-informed therapy available and a common and expected element of your agency’s work. Discuss how to make sure that work-life balance time can give team members adequate time to recover without having to turn to substances as coping mechanisms. If employees are discussing unhealthy substance choices, work to discuss in a non-judgmental way whether there are any unaddressed needs for mental health services.


Get to Know Reputable Treatment and Healthcare in the Area

Unfortunately, not all rehabilitation and recovery services are created equal, so a practical way that first responder agencies can help their employees experiencing addiction is to familiarize themselves with local treatment facilities. The treatment options with many positive reviews and success stories should become go-to resources for employees, while very ineffective treatment centers should be identified as well to help your employees get help as effectively as possible. Make an effort to find resources that are culturally competent–meaning they understand first responder’s needs and have the experience to truly help. Lighthousehw.org is a great resource for this.


Support First Responders on the Road to Recovery

Realistically, you want your team members to have the space and time they need to recover from addiction or substance abuse disorder flare-ups. Create policies that acknowledge that recovery takes time and design leave that is long enough for team members to come back after they are ready. Just knowing that you and the rest of your leadership team support them can be a beneficial aid in the complicated and important work of rehabilitation.


Resources for Your Agency to Proactively Respond to Substance Abuse and Addiction:

  • The Virginia Department of Health has pulled together some extremely relevant and timely resources on mental health and resiliency, two of the main weapons we have in the battle against substance abuse and addiction.
  • While more technical, this valuable guide in from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides relevant, recent statistics on how behavioral health conditions crop up in first responder agencies. Knowledge is power in protecting your employees.
  • Nonprofit organizations like Resiliency 1st are working to create relevant trainings that help protect teams from the stresses that can lead to substance abuse and addiction.
  • Survive First provides resources for first responders and their families seeking information to help navigate mental health challenges.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)’s 12-Step approach follows a set of guidelines designed as “steps” toward recovery, and is widely accepted as an effective tool for maintaining sobriety. Their website offers resources and advice for those looking for tried-and-true help.
  • Al-Anon is a mutual support program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. By sharing common experiences and applying the Al-Anon principles, families and friends of alcoholics can bring positive changes to their individual situations, whether or not the alcoholic admits the existence of a drinking problem or seeks help.
  • Lighthouse Health & Wellness apps offer therapist referrals to experienced professionals who understand the unique needs of first responders.

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