Study Sheds Light on Substance Use in First Responders During COVID-19 Pandemic

January 19, 2024

First responders such as law enforcement personnel, firefighters and emergency medical service providers experienced increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression due to job-related pressures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study shows.

Additionally, their exposure to work-related stress during this time, first responders may have been at considerable risk of developing problematic substance use, according to a study by Florida Atlantic University.

University researchers and collaborators used a nationwide online survey to assess the experiences of 2,801 first responders serving in police departments, fire stations and EMS agencies during the early stages of COVID-19 from late 2020 to early 2021.

Researchers examined the mediating impact of burnout on the associations between work pressure, workplace support strategies, COVID-related support strategies and problematic substance use.

Findings of the study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, was summarized by Newswise:

  • Nearly 61% of respondents reported no concerns with substance use.
  • Nearly 40% of respondents reported using substances to relieve emotional discomfort.
  • Roughly 22% of respondents reported using more substances than they meant to use.
  • One-in-five respondents reported that they could not cut down on substance use.
  • Only 7.2% of respondents reported neglecting responsibilities because of substance use.
  • For problematic substance use, firefighters (12.7%) had a slightly higher score than EMTs (11.4%) and police officers (8.1%).

While researchers found that general workplace support strategies such as decompression spaces reduced problematic substance use, some COVID-related strategies such as compensation during quarantine increased problematic substance use.

This research was funded by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.