Legal Addictions: Are First Responders at Risk?

When people hear the term addiction, they might be inclined to think of alcohol or drugs. Yet substance addiction isn't the whole story when it comes to this disease. The disease of addiction also relates to gambling addictions, sex addiction, and even shopping addiction. What's more, people who have high stress jobs like first responders may be at risk. Like addictions involving substances like illicit drugs, the so-called legal addictions can also wreak havoc in the lives of individuals suffering from this problem, a serious problem that typically requires professional help.

What Is Addiction?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (1) defines addiction as a "chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry." While substance addiction involves a physical dependency on a substance (or withdrawal symptoms will ensue), it also involves psychological and behavioral dependencies. Someone suffering from an addiction to gambling or sex will also suffer with psychological and behavioral dependencies. Through treatment, sufferers can learn ways to manage their condition and ultimately prevent relapse.

First Responders and Addiction

First responders face an extraordinary level of stress on a routine basis. So it could be said that chronic stress is a factor of the job. Chronic stress is a well known trigger for many people who suffer from an addiction. Some people turn to alcohol or drugs to alleviate their stress. Others turn to shopping or gambling to ward away stressful feelings. In turn, these people may find pleasure in one of these behavioral acts. The act becomes problematic, however, when the person is unable to refrain from the action even when negative consequences will ensue.

Addiction is not uncommon among first responders. According to the Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine, as many as 25% of working police officers suffer from a chemical dependency (2). Because addiction comes in many forms, first responders like police or military personnel could be vulnerable to other types of addiction given their high-stress routines or experience with traumatic situations.

Treatment for Legal Addictions

Rehab is associated with chemical addictions, so people suffering with other types of addictions might not know where to turn for help. Addiction treatment centers can, however, help people who suffer from gambling or other types of addictions. There are also many addiction treatment programs designed specifically with first responders in mind. Because the disease of addiction is known to first responder communities, programs have been developed to help these people manage their addictions and thrive in their careers.

Are You Susceptible to Addiction?

Anyone can develop an addiction, but some people may be more vulnerable to its development than others. Family dysfunction, poverty, and mental illness are common triggers of the disease. Stress and trauma, factors that first responders live with continuously, are also significant triggers of addiction.

If you have recently suffered from a trauma, feel overwhelmed, or find it difficult to cope with stress in healthy ways (i.e. exercise or meditation), you could be at risk for addiction and may already be walking a path toward addiction. You can ward off this disease or learn to manage it effectively by seeking help now. Addiction treatment can safeguard your career and lead to improved ways to handle the stress and trauma associated with your line of work.


1. American Society of Addiction Medicine

2. Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine