Few fields are as stressful as the first responder field, and even more so when in the seat of an ambulance. Naturally, humans in every facet of life will try to find ways to alleviate the stress of everyday life, no matter the career or source of the stress. In fact, it is important to find ways to get away from the stressful events and allow the mind time to heal no matter how insignificant it may seem.

In the medical field, however, and especially EMS, the stresses of everyday life are much higher than in normal careers, and the ways the first responders find to lower stress levels tend to be more extreme. The chasing of this relief can drive many to longer and longer lengths, and eventually to addiction. This long road of despair claims many, and even though the statistics do not look promising, it is possible to avoid, or even recover, from this quick path from a pillar of the community to a criminal.


Signs and Symptoms of Addiction


 The ease of access to addictive painkillers and medicines allows for EMT’s to have a higher addiction rate, but this does not mean that the signs of addiction are easy to identify and to make matters even worse, the pills are not the only substance that intense stress can drive a paramedic to abuse. Many symptoms are hardly noticeable, and some people are better at hiding the signs of addiction behind the guise of a normal life. Many EMT’s will even be able to separate their addiction from the job completely and live a double life, allowing for the demons to take over only after the work hours are over. Since many people can effectively hide their problems with substance abuse, it is very important to look for signs so that addiction can be identified and treated.

Some common symptoms of substance abuse may be:

  • Sidelining priorities- If your first responder was dedicated to the job, his family, and his hobbies, and all the motivation to these facets of life disappear, it could be a sign of substance abuse. The pushing of priorities to the side can potentially be caused by the need of the substance. The addicted person could either voluntarily do this or feel trapped into not putting effort into priorities as the need of the substance and the addiction increases.
  • Major Physical Changes- The physical changes that stem from addiction vary widely, but generally, the changes are radical and quick. Weight loss in a quick period or lack of hygiene or an unusually unkempt appearance are tell-tale signs of addiction, especially if the person usually keeps a professional appearance and a healthy weight.
  • Unusual Moods and Mood Swings- Unusual moods and mood swings can also be indicators of addiction. Unexplained paranoia, angry outburst, unwarranted irritability, anxiety, or major changes in personality and character can all be symptoms of addiction. Mood swings in a quick period or being on edge for extended amounts of time can also be a sign of substance abuse.

Above are just a few of the symptoms but noticing the signs of addiction can allow for treatment, and can allow for prevention, as addiction can derail every part of a paramedic’s life. The destruction that comes from substance abuse is substantial and detection can allow for first responders to continue to help others.


Getting Help


If you believe you may be addicted, the first step to receiving help is to admit and accept. These two crucial steps allow for you to admit that you are in a dire situation and to leave the denial that many addicted people suffer. Accepting your substance abuse means realizing that addiction is not the life you want to live and taking steps to seek out professional help. Getting the help you need to curve the demons in your life can mean the difference between a successful career and losing it all.

After realizing that professional help is needed, it is important to seek out the programs that you believe will benefit you best. These programs can come in many forms, with some being rehab programs that last many weeks at a facility, or some being online therapy sessions that can be completed at home. The medium of the professional help you seek can vary widely, but it is important to know what will work best in your individual circumstance. A multi-week program is ideal for many that are deep into addiction but will require time from work and home; however, online counseling in a program such as the one offered from The Deer Hollow Recovery and Wellness Centers are also very effective in recovering from the perils of addiction.

Addiction can be very challenging to combat alone, so it is very important to seek help. Substance abuse may seem easy to control initially, however, the urges will begin to affect more parts of life until it begins to take over. Seeking treatment as early as possible can possibly prevent permanent damage to life and career.


Addiction Can be Beaten


It may seem impossible to trump, but with perseverance and motivation, addiction is a demon that can be defeated. In the end, beating addiction will be worth every ounce of pain and suffering that occurred during the recovery process.

Don’t lose everything over substance abuse. If you believe you, or another first responder, has an addiction problem, seek help. Indulging in a substance abuse problem can result in losing your career, family, and lifestyle in general. Paramedics are pillars of the community and many see the emergency medical responders as heroes; however, even heroes need help sometimes.






https://www.advancedrecoverysystems.com/process-addiction/signs-of-addiction/ – For symptoms of addiction

https://deerhollowtraumarecovery.com/ – Your website, used for referencing online counseling



Mark Lamplugh is a fourth-generation firefighter and former captain with the Lower Chichester (PA) Fire Company. He was the Chief Marketing Officer of 360 Wellness Inc and currently managing business development with Institute for Responder Wellness and Deer Hollow Recovery.. Lamplugh is also nationally recognized in Crisis Stress Intervention through the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Lamplugh hosts his own talk show called “Firefighter Wellness Radio” with Fire Engineering. Mark also published his first book “Marketing Playbook for Social Media” to basically help companies and non profits learn how to spread their message on social media.  He has helped thousands of firefighters, police officers, veterans, EMS personnel, and civilians nationwide find help for addiction, alcoholism, PTSD, and mental health support. Mark has been chosen as one of the Board of Directors at One World For Life (To head up Communication and the Health & Safety section). He can be reached for comment markl@deerhollowrecovery.com