The term “problematic substance use” is meant to cover a wide range of substance/drug use and is not meant to just be designated for “addicts.”
Answering a few questions can be a great start to examining the impact of your substance use:
Read on to identify if you may have an issue that could be addressed with the help of other resources or a peer mentor.
Signs are what may be observed by others. Symptoms are the things reported by a first responder. Many of the following can be signs or symptoms:
Problematic substance use can be called many names, such as a drug addiction or a substance use disorder. These terms are used when there is dependence on a legal or illegal drug or medication. Keep in mind that alcohol and nicotine are legal substances, but they are also considered drugs and have addictive qualities.
Substances/drugs impact the brain’s reward center in ways that mimic the natural effects of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. The mind/body wants to feel the influence of these “happy” chemicals, and once a substitute form of these “feelings” is found through the use of substances/drugs, the natural chemicals become suppressed. Withdrawal occurs once the substance/drug use is stopped or reduced and these natural brain chemicals have not yet returned to normal levels. Typically, these effects can be reduced in 30 to 45 days, provided no permanent damage has been sustained from the recreational substance/drug of choice.
Drug use and addiction can cause long-term physical and mental changes in the person using. This can affect or destroy relationships, ruin careers, and even lead to legal problems. Ceasing drug use is sometimes difficult and may require help. Talk to your family or friends for support, contact 6th Alarm for a peer referral, or make an appointment with your doctor. An additional option would be to contact an addiction treatment center that has a program specifically for firefighters.
These goals are only examples. Use them as a guide, not an absolute. You know if there is a problem; let now be the time to fix it.
Reaching out for help is never a sign of weakness, but rather one of strength. It may be annoying or frustrating to think about what to do and how to approach it, but it can be done. There are other first responders who understand where you’ve been. If you cannot reach or maintain all of these goals on your own, get connected with a peer support mentor.