The Ripple Effect: How Addiction Affects First Responder Families

January 6, 2016
Mike Blackburn, VP Sales

by Michael Blackburn, CEAP, LADC-1, SAP

Retired Providence Fire Dept. Battalion Chief, RI
Sr. Vice President, Business Development

Drug and alcohol abuse and dependence not only significantly impact the individual struggling with the problem but also everyone connected to that person, including coworkers, the people served in the community, and – most deeply – family members. Spouses, children, and extended family often try to look the other way when someone they love first develops a problem with drugs or alcohol. They assume that heavy drinking or occasional drug use may be an excusable part of the job or a signifier of a tough day and nothing more.

Unfortunately, when chronic alcohol abuse or drug use turns into addiction, it’s a problem that cannot be ignored. Medical and therapeutic intervention and treatment are needed – and often not just for the person struggling with addiction but for loved ones as well.

If you are living with addiction on the job, here’s what you can do for yourself and your family.

Get Right with Yourself

Before you can tend to the needs of your family, you must first take care of yourself. Taking a good hard look at how much you are drinking or using drugs, when you are using, and how it impacts your ability to function at work as well as at home with your family can help you to identify the areas that will need attention first. When you begin the process of getting treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, you can then be available to reconnect with your family.

Strengthen the Marriage

You and your spouse are the foundation of your family. In relationships where one party is struggling with addiction, the sober spouse is left to manage the house, the kids, and all the responsibilities. Often, the supporting spouse’s own mental and emotional wellbeing falls through the cracks. There may be untreated physical health issues, difficulties with depression and/or anxiety, financial difficulty, career roadblocks, and more – all of which the sober spouse is contending with alone. In addition to all this, spouses of first responders in this situation must also deal with concerns about addiction and the hardships their spouses face on the job every day.

There are various ways to begin to strengthen and rebuild a primary relationship after addiction. You can:

  • Attend couples therapy sessions
  • Encourage your spouse to attend 12-Step meetings for family members of people living with addiction
  • Encourage your spouse to get treatment for any personal addiction or substance abuse issues
  • Encourage your spouse to enroll in private therapy sessions
  • Invite your spouse to take part in other parts of addiction treatment to increase understanding of the addiction disorder and how treatment works

Connecting with the Kids

In some ways, reconnecting with your children after addiction is far more difficult than attempting to rebuild any other relationship after addiction – and in other ways, it is far easier. The guilt you feel over mistakes you made while under the influence or while prioritizing your addiction can be formidable when it comes to your kids. But remember, they are resilient and forgiving, and they love you unconditionally. Consistency in your effort to spend time with them, listen to them, and be there for them now won’t erase the past, but it will demonstrate how much you love them and the kind of adult they can grow up to be.

Making a Commitment to Recovery

The road to recovery is long, and it can take work to rebuild your relationships with your family members as you work on yourself. But it’s work that is worth it and that can pay off for a lifetime. Don’t wait to get started, and stick with it even when it gets hard.


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