Alcohol Abuse Among Firefighters: Causes & Treatment Programs

Firefighters are known to be one of the bravest people in the world, risking their lives daily to save others. However, this high-stress job also comes with a high risk of developing addiction, specifically alcohol use disorder (AUD).1

AUD is a chronic disease characterized by excessive alcohol consumption despite the negative consequences it may cause to the struggling individual’s life. It can cause a variety of physical, psychological, and social problems for the individual who is suffering from it.2

The consequences of AUD can be severe and can affect many aspects of a struggling individual’s life, including their physical health, mental health, and relationships. Some physical consequences of AUD include liver damage, heart disease, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of certain cancers. It can also lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety in firefighters who struggle with alcohol abuse for some time.2

AUD can have a significant impact on personal relationships as well. It can cause family conflict, marital problems, and difficulties with friends and colleagues. It can also lead to financial problems, job loss, and legal issues.2

What’s more, AUD can also have significant social consequences. It can contribute to domestic violence, motor vehicle accidents, and other types of violent behavior. Therefore, it can also easily lead to social isolation and a loss of social support.2

AUD is a serious health concern that can have severe consequences for individuals and the society as a whole. It’s essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of AUD and seek professional help as soon as possible to try and prevent further harm. It’s a treatable condition, and with proper treatment and support, individuals may recover and lead healthy, fulfilling lives. In this article, we will explore the causes and treatment programs available for alcohol abuse among firefighters.2

Why Do Firefighters Have a Higher Risk of Developing Addiction

Firefighters have a higher risk of developing a problem with alcohol abuse due to various reasons. It’s essential to recognize and address these risk factors to properly prevent and treat AUD in the firefighter population.3,4


One of the main reasons is the trauma they experience while on the job. Witnessing traumatic events like severe accidents, natural disasters, and human tragedies can be overwhelming, often leading to depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Trauma can also trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which can cause changes in the brain, increasing the risk of addiction.3,4

On-the-Job Injuries

Another reason firefighters are at higher risk of alcohol abuse is on-the-job injuries. Firefighting is a highly physically demanding job that can result in injuries, especially musculoskeletal injuries. These injuries can lead to chronic pain, making them more susceptible to developing an addiction to painkillers. Painkillers, if not used properly, can lead to addiction and overdose, especially in combination with alcohol.3,4

Fire Station Culture

Fire station culture can also play a role in the development of addiction. Firefighters often have a brotherhood culture that includes drinking that often borders on alcohol abuse as a way to bond and relieves stress after a tough shift. The constant exposure to alcohol, especially in a high-stress environment, can lead to the normalization of drinking behavior, making it difficult for them to recognize when their alcohol use has become problematic.3,4

Irregular Work Schedule

Irregular work schedules are also a contributing factor. They work in shifts, which can be irregular and unpredictable, making it difficult to establish a consistent daily routine. This can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, stress, and anxiety, which can increase the risk of developing an addiction. It can also make it challenging to maintain healthy lifestyle habits like exercise and healthy eating.3,4


Lastly, the high-stress nature of firefighting can also contribute to addiction. The constant pressure to perform at a high level, coupled with the emotional toll of the job, can lead to stress and anxiety, which can be difficult to cope with. Alcohol and drugs may become a coping mechanism for firefighters, leading to alcohol abuse and a cycle of dependence.3,4

What are the Signs & Symptoms of an Alcohol Addicted Firefighter?

It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse among firefighters on time to help them seek professional help. Some common signs and symptoms include:5

  • Increased absenteeism or lateness: Individuals struggling with addiction may show up late for work, miss shifts, or call in sick more often.
  • Changes in behavior or personality: Addiction can cause noticeable changes in the struggling individual’s behavior and personality, such as becoming more irritable or defensive, withdrawing from social situations, or displaying increased secrecy.
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships: Individuals struggling with AUD may have trouble maintaining healthy relationships with loved ones, colleagues, or superiors due to their unpredictable behavior, mood swings, or lack of trustworthiness.
  • Financial troubles: Alcohol abuse can lead to financial difficulties for firefighters, including increased debt, overdue bills, or even bankruptcy, as the suffering individual may prioritize their substance use over their financial responsibilities.
  • Legal problems: Addiction can lead to legal issues, such as DUIs, drug possession charges, or other criminal charges, which can negatively impact their job and personal life.
  • Mood swings: Addiction can cause extreme mood swings, from euphoria and happiness to depression and anxiety, which can interfere with their ability to function at work and at home.
  • Memory loss or blackouts: Blackouts or memory loss can be a sign of addiction, as excessive alcohol abuse or drug use can impair the struggling firefighter‘s ability to remember events or conversations.
  • Increased isolation: They may begin to isolate themselves from friends, family, and colleagues as they become more focused on their substance use and less interested in their usual social activities.

Why do Many Firefighters Refuse Help?  

Despite the availability of professional help, many firefighters refuse to seek treatment for their alcohol abuse. There are several reasons for this, including:3,5

  • Fear of losing their job: Many firefighters may worry that seeking treatment could lead to disciplinary action or termination, especially if their addiction is discovered by their colleagues and superiors at their department.
  • Stigma around addiction and mental health: There is often a stigma attached to addiction and mental health issues, which can prevent struggling individuals from seeking the help they need. The fear of being seen as weak or unable to handle their job can be a significant barrier to seeking treatment.
  • The belief that they can handle their addiction on their own: Firefighters are known for their strength and resilience, and many may feel that they can overcome their alcohol abuse without professional help. However, addiction is a complex and challenging disease that often requires specialized treatment and support.
  • Lack of awareness of available resources: Lack of awareness of available resources is another common barrier to seeking treatment. Some struggling individuals may not know about the resources available to them or how to access them. Without proper knowledge of the available resources, it can be challenging to take the necessary steps to seek treatment.
  • Feeling ashamed or embarrassed about their addiction: Many may feel that their addiction is a personal failing or a sign of weakness, which can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment. This can be a significant barrier to seeking treatment and getting the help they need to recover.

Resources and Treatment Programs for Firefighters Struggling With Alcohol Abuse

Fortunately, there are resources and treatment programs available to help firefighters overcome addiction. Some of these resources include:2,8,9

  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance (FBHA)

Treatment programs for addiction among firefighters may include counseling, therapy, and inpatient or outpatient treatment programs. It’s important to find a program that meets the specific needs of the struggling firefighter, including any co-occurring mental health disorders.2,8,9

How to Help an Alcoholic Firefighter?

If you know a firefighter who is struggling with alcohol abuse, there are several ways to help them. Firstly, it is essential to approach them with compassion and empathy and avoid judgment. It’s also important to educate yourself about addiction and available resources.2,8,9

Encouraging them to seek professional help and offering to support them through the process can also be helpful. It may also be helpful to reach out to resources like EAPs for guidance.2,8,9

Where to Find Reliable Treatment for AUD?

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible. At our network of reputable addiction treatment centers, American Addiction Centers (AAC), we offer evidence-based treatment programs designed to address the unique needs of each struggling individual, which includes firefighters who struggle with alcohol abuse. Our team of experienced medical professionals and addiction specialists is dedicated to providing compassionate, confidential care in a safe and supportive environment.

Our treatment programs include a range of therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, individual and group therapy, family therapy, and medication-assisted treatment. We also offer comprehensive aftercare and support to help struggling individuals maintain their sobriety and successfully transition back to their daily lives.

If you’re unsure if you or a loved one has an addiction, our team can provide a thorough assessment and diagnosis.  Medical professionals at AAC can help the treatment-seeking individual determine what stage of the condition they may be in, find their triggers, overcome their difficult symptoms and find the underlying causes of their condition.

If the medical staff at AAC determines that the treatment-seeking individual needs detoxification, the struggling individual will likely go through this process. It’s important to note that medically supervised detox means that any difficult withdrawal symptoms may be eased with appropriate medication and care.

Treatment-seeking individuals can make use of AAC’s hotline, where trained rehab navigators can inform them on anything they need to know. This includes the potential cost of treatment, insurance options, information on different facilities and programs and more. Regardless of whether the struggling individual has an issue with constant binge drinking or is still functional, treatment is available and necessary for all types of individuals affected by AUD.

Frequently Asked Questions