COVID-19 pandemic increased substance use, burnout among first responders, study finds
The study investigated how burnout influenced the relationships between work stress, workplace support measures, COVID-specific assistance strategies and potentially harmful substance use
By Sarah Roebuck
BOCA RATON, Fla. — During the COVID-19 pandemic, while much attention was given to hospital healthcare workers’ mental health, first responders like police, firefighters and EMS providers also faced increased stress and anxiety. A new study analyzed the potential risk these first responders faced in developing substance use during this period.
A study conducted by Florida Atlantic University 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. The study investigated how burnout influenced the relationships between work stress, workplace support measures, COVID-specific assistance strategies and potentially harmful substance use.
According to a release from FAU, findings of the study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, showed:
- Almost 61% of respondents reported no concerns with substance use
- Nearly 40% of respondents reported using substances to relieve emotional discomfort
- About 22% of respondents reported using more substances than they meant to use
- Around 21% of respondents reported that they could not cut down on substance use
- Only 7.2% of respondents reported neglecting responsibilities because of substance use
The study found that while job stress heightened burnout and substance use among first responders, general workplace support like decompression spaces helped mitigate substance misuse. However, certain COVID-related strategies, such as quarantine compensation, were associated with increased substance use, suggesting a complex relationship between these strategies, quarantine-related stress, and substance availability during off-duty hours.
The study also indicated that implementing strategies to enhance personal resilience could help alleviate work-related burnout. The researchers underscored the effectiveness of a resilience training program provided to first responders involved in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, movie theater mass shooting. This program, which employed problem-solving learning methods to impart resilience skills, had a positive impact on stress management.