Is Addiction a Problem among Senior and Retired Firefighters?

Across the country, there is a significant problem with senior adults and drug abuse and addiction, and veteran and retired firefighters are far from immune. In fact, due to the nature of the job and the increased likelihood of experiencing symptoms associated with trauma, they may have higher rates of substance use and abuse than the rest of the population, much like how younger firefighters deal with alcohol abuse in larger numbers than the same age group in the general public.

Is addiction a problem for a senior firefighter you care about?

Signs of a Problem

Addiction issues in seniors often get overlooked, especially by friends and old coworkers who may not be familiar with their everyday routine and progress. Too often, it is assumed that the signs of addiction that would be red flags at any other age are signs of normal aging. Factor in, too, that many firefighters have a built-in respect for those who have retired from the job, which means that even if problematic behaviors present themselves, no one wants to speak up and say anything.

Though some of the following issues can be connected to recent medication changes, in most cases, they are indications of a substance use and/or mental health disorder and require assistance:

· Frequent slips and falls or other accidents

· Slurring words

· Confused thinking or inability to follow a conversation

· Surly behavior or extreme mood swings

· Depression and/or isolation

· Extreme anxiety

Starting the Conversation

If you notice any of the signs above happening in an older firefighter, retired or not, it is important to take a closer look. Show up more often and see if the signs and symptoms continue, and if they do, delve a little deeper. Keep showing up and talking to them about what’s going on, make suggestions about potential changes, and pay attention to the details. If it becomes clear that a problem is present, it is time to discuss treatment.

This conversation can be easy, or it can be difficult. It all depends on the individual and the relationship between that person and the one trying to facilitate the connection with treatment. If you are about to have this conversation, here are a few points to keep in mind:

· Addiction is a medical disorder just like diabetes or cancer. If it hits you, you don’t waste time asking why — you get treatment.

· Addiction is not a sign of weakness or character deficiency. It is a medical disorder that is characterized by changes in the brain that trigger changes in behavior due to long-term drug or alcohol use.

· Treatment can mean a lot of different things. It does not necessarily mean 30–90 days in a residential treatment program. It can mean outpatient treatment services that range from low to high intensity in terms of depth and breadth of care.

· Treatment can be personalized to meet the individual’s needs, no matter what underlying or co-occurring disorders are present.

Grandparent’s Day is September 10th, and if an older firefighter you care about appears to be struggling, consider connecting them with a First Responder Lifeline Program at American Addiction Centers. Our highly rated programs provide directed, research-based treatments and therapies provided by therapists who are trained to work with first responders. We offer:

· PTSD assessment and care

· Interactive and motivational therapies

· Family support, awareness, and education sessions

· Long-term aftercare and support

Call (866) 53-SOBER now to find out more about how our AAC First Responder Lifeline Program can empower a senior in your life to reconnect with their purpose.