Does Your Partner Need Help?
By Mark Lamplugh
Working on a fire department has its many rewards. The bond firefighters share is unlike any other profession. We work, eat, sleep and socialize during our downtime. We have each other’s back no matter the danger. We even help each other during our down time. I don’t think I ever paid for a mover during my time at the fire department. Ask a couple of fellow firefighters and they’re at your door with pickup trucks. I don’t know any other profession, whether paid or volunteer, where that happens. From plumbing to new roofs if the guys can do it they’re there to help.
It’s no surprise that firefighters like to have fun but what happens when that fun gets excessive? Are we willing to put our friendships on the line to help another firefighter who is taking the drinking or drugs to another level? The answer should be we are. The bond we share puts us in a position where we can help when no one else can. The fact is we listen to each other and it should be our duty to make sure we’re not struggling.
First step in helping is recognizing the signs. Occasionally having a few drinks is no big deal but when it starts to affect our health, career or family then there is a problem. For example drinking a few beers every night to help sleep is not healthy and is a sign of alcoholism. Here are a few signs from “Medical News Today” that you or your partner may be struggling with addiction.
- The person takes the substance and cannot stop: In many cases, such as nicotine, alcohol or drug dependence, at least one serious attempt was made to give up, but unsuccessfully.
- Withdrawal symptoms: When body levels of that substance go below a certain level the patient has physical and mood-related symptoms. There are cravings, bouts of moodiness, bad temper, poor focus, a feeling of being depressed and empty, frustration, anger, bitterness and resentment. There may suddenly be increased appetite. Insomnia is a common symptom of withdrawal. In some cases the individual may have constipation or diarrhea. With some substances, withdrawal can trigger violence, trembling, seizures, hallucinations and sweats.
- Addiction continues despite health problem awareness: The individual continues taking the substance regularly, even though they have developed illnesses linked to it. For example, a smoker may continue smoking even after a lung or heart condition develops.
- Social and/or recreational sacrifices: Some activities are given up because of an addiction to something. For example, an alcoholic may turn down an invitation to go camping or spend a day out on a boat if no alcohol is available. A smoker may decide not to meet up with friends in a smoke-free pub or restaurant.
- Maintaining a good supply: People who are addicted to a substance will always make sure they have a good supply of it, even if they do not have much money. Sacrifices may be made in the house budget to make sure the substance is as plentiful as possible.
- Taking risks (1): In some cases the addicted individual may take risks to make sure he/she can obtain his/her substance, such as stealing or trading sex for money/drugs.
- Taking risks (2): While under the influence of some substances the addict may engage in risky activities, such as driving fast.
- Dealing with problems: An addicted person commonly feels they need their drug to deal with their problems.
- Obsession: An addicted person may spend more and more time and energy focusing on ways of getting hold of their substance, and in some cases how to use it.
- Secrecy and solitude: In many cases the addict may take their substance alone, and even in secret.
- Denial: A significant number of people who are addicted to a substance are in denial. They are not aware — or refuse to acknowledge — that they have a problem.
- Excess consumption: In some addictions, such as alcohol, some drugs and even nicotine, the individual consumes it to excess. The consequence can be blackouts — cannot remember chunks of time — or physical symptoms, such as a sore throat and bad persistent cough —heavy smokers.
- Dropping hobbies and activities: As the addiction progresses the individual may stop doing things he/she used to enjoy a lot. This may even be the case with smokers who find they cannot physically cope with taking part in their favorite sport.
- Having stashes: The addicted individual may have small stocks of their substance hidden away in different parts of the house or car; often in unlikely places.
- Taking an initial large dose: This is common with alcoholism. The individual may gulp drinks down in order to get drunk and then feel good.
- Having problems with the law: This is more a characteristic of some drug and alcohol addictions — not nicotine, for example. This may be either because the substance impairs judgment and the individual takes risks they would not take if they were sober, or in order to get hold of the substance they break the law.
- Financial difficulties: If the substance is expensive the addicted individual may sacrifice a lot to make sure its supply is secured. Even cigarettes, which in some countries, such as the UK, parts of Europe and the USA cost over $11 dollars for a packet of 20, a two-pack-a-day smoker in such an area will need to put aside $660 per month, nearly $8,000 per year.
- Relationship problems: These are more common in drug/alcohol addiction.
If you’re noticing any of these signs then there is a problem. Now would be a good time to step in and offer help. Many say well “It’s not my problem.” That’s absolutely wrong. This should become everyone’s problem until it’s fixed. Having a little round table discussion and making the individual aware that this is unacceptable that you care and you want to help is a good first step. Allowing the behavior to continue or covering up is enabling and making the problem worse. If you don’t know what to do reach out to organizations that can guide you in the right direction. Contacting your local peer support group is also a good way to get the person help.
See box for resources that can get you started on the right track.
Mark Lamplugh is a fourth generation firefighter and former captain with the Lower Chichester (Pennsylvania) Fire Company. He is now the Senior Vice President of Business Development with Station House Retreat (www.stationhouseretreat.com
). He is nationally recognized in crisis stress intervention through the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. He can be reached for comment at: [email protected]stationhouseretreat.com
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