firefighters addiction

Firefighters and addiction; is this brave profession more vulnerable?


Firefighters are at higher risk of developing an addiction. Their job often means they are exposed to high stress situations. Though we associate people who fight fires and save lives as heroes; they can be more vulnerable to substance abuse. The nature of their work can take a toll on both their physical and mental health.

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Firefighters and addiction

In a similar way to how these intensely stressful situations impact veterans, the stressful nature of the work firefighters do can result in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). A new study published in December 2019, in the journal Psychiatry Research, points to alcoholism as being problematic for firefighters. The reports associate professor and director of the UH Trauma and Stress Studies Center Anka Vujanovic, states that –

“Firefighters who struggle with PTSD symptoms and who think they cannot handle negative emotions are more likely to use alcohol, and are more likely to use it to cope with negative emotions.”

That same study goes on to state that ‘trauma exposure among firefighters has been estimated to be 91.5%.’

Why would firefighters go overseas for rehab?

The benefits of going to rehab in Thailand can include the fact it’s significantly more affordable than rehabs around the world. It means people can have space away from their triggers. It also gives our clients more privacy.

In Robert’s case he considered going to rehab in the United States, but he wanted to maintain a level of anonymity. He found that only a portion of his treatment would be covered by insurance and considering the high cost local treatment centers; and his desire for privacy he decided to look abroad.

“If I went locally it would be on my insurance and then I’d have to disclose that for the rest of my life. I just didn’t want to do that,” says Robert.

For many people dealing with addiction, the prospect of making it public – particularly while they are in early stages of recovery – can feel overwhelming. In many cases this can deter people reaching out for help, and have much more dire consequences.

“The other reason I chose DARA Rehab, was because it looks so tropical. I could easy take photos and share them and it looked like I was on holiday.”

koh chang island dara
DARA Rehab is on the picturesque island of Koh Chang, Thailand. It is a popular holiday island.


Recovery for firefighters

The nature of the work firefighters do is always going to be highly stressful. Their work culture can often involve drinking; “even if we finish at 8am, we’ll go to have a drink, says Robert. At DARA Rehab we give people a way to take the initial steps in their recovery while they are away from their triggers. While in treatment, a therapist works one-on-one with you as well as in group therapy, to help you form strategies for aftercare.

This kind of planning, gave Robert the support he needed to find – and maintain – his sobriety.

Refresher week: Recover and return

Robert gave the audio testimonial 16 months after he attended DARA Rehab, when he returned for a free one week refresher. We provide an annual refresher week to our clients so they have the option to return to either DARA Rehab or Lanna Rehab, our second location in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Maintaining sobriety can be a challenge and it can be reassuring to know you can return to rehab 12 months down the track. As well as it benefiting the individual, it’s also extremely beneficial to the clients who are currently in recovery and who get to see a walking example of someone who has achieved what they are striving for.

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Firefighting and climate change

In the past 12 months fires have made headlines across the world, including California, across Australia and in the Amazon. This extreme weather is increasing with climate change; and with it the extreme situations our firefighters face. This means this high-risk group of individuals are now facing more trauma than they are likely to have ever faced before.

This photo taken December, 2019, shows Australian bush fires that are still raging. They have burned 7.4 million acres to date.

Both full-time firefighters and volunteers are being called to fight fires internationally. These are individuals who are frequently being exposed to extremely traumatic situations, and then studies indicate they are more likely to attempt to self medicate with alcohol.

If you – or a loved one – needs support, please reach out.


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