First Responders: Signs of Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse

First Responders: Signs of Substance Abuse 

As a first responder, have you encountered people intoxicated on drugs or alcohol in your line of work? If so, how could you tell that the person was under the influence?  It’s important to know the signs that can tell you someone is under the influence. Signal Connect reached out to our friends on emergency crews to discuss this.  What they provided was a list of traits that are typical among people who are under the influence. Keep in mind, this list is not a substitute for a screening or qualified clinical assessment. Still, it can help first responders when you’re in the field and seconds count.

Physical Indicators of Drug Abuse

The physical signs of drug and/or alcohol abuse are usually the first things first responders notice.  If the person has the odor of alcohol on their breath – or the smell of marijuana on their clothing – its easy to tell that they’re intoxicated.  Other drugs might not leave behind such telltale odors.  That’s why first responders have to rely on other methods to determine drug or alcohol use:

  • Has burns on fingers or lips, or needle tracks on arms
  • Slurred, stuttering, or incoherent speech
  • Has difficulty maintaining eye contact (Note: This is also a sign in people with Autism)
  • Enlarged or constricted pupils
  • Shaking or twitching hands and eyelids, tremors
  • Behaves in a hyperactive and energetic manner
  • Seems lethargic and/or sleepy
  • Poor coordination, staggering, or off balance
  • Speaks rapidly or slowly

Personal and Behavioral Indicators of Drug Use

When you encounter people on an emergency call, how closely do you pay attention to their behavior?  If you take the time to really listen and observe, you’ll probably notice signs that the person you’re treating is intoxicated.  You just have to know what to look for.  To help you do that, here is a list of behaviors that are typical among people who are under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs:

  • Acts impulsive or inappropriately
  • Exhibits mood swings; extreme highs and lows
  • Seems fearful or anxious
  • Experiences panic attacks
  • Seems impatient, agitated, or irritable
  • Becomes angry or defiant

If you see any of the above signs, immediately notify your partner.  While these are not absolute proof that the person you’re caring for is intoxicated, it could be a good reason to conduct a field screening. 

Signs of Drug Abuse in Other First Responders

As grim as this sounds, sometimes a drug user or heavy drinker will join the ranks of an emergency crew.  Other times, a normally sober first responder might turn to drinking or drugs to deal with the trauma they witness on the job.  Either way, these people are a danger to themselves, their teams, and the people they treat.  If you suspect a member of your team might have a problem, here are some cognitive and mental indicators to look for:

  • Openly talks about getting high
  • Uses vocabulary that’s typical among drug users
  • Denies, lies, or covers up
  • Breaks rules, cheats
  • Misses interviews, appointments, or meetings
  • Fails to comply with program requirements
  • Has difficulty concentrating/focusing
  • Seems distracted/disoriented
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Needs directions repeated
  • Has difficulty recalling details
  • Needs repeated assistance to complete paperwork

These signs might point to drug or alcohol use or something else.  If you suspect a member of your emergency crew of using drugs, don’t confront them.  It’s best to report what you’ve seen/experienced to a superior instead.  You’re much better to rely upon the systems your company or municipality has in place to handle these delicate and uncomfortable situations.

Signal Connect for First Responders

First responders risk it all to save lives and help people every day.  Everyone at Signal Connect appreciates everything you do.  That’s why we offer tips and information for emergency workers on this blog.  We also help first responders in other ways.  For example, the last thing you want is poor cellular coverage when it matters most!  To improve cell reception, we offer discounts on weBoost and Wilson Pro cell boosters for fleets.  Signal Connect also wants to help first responders save money at home.  We provide savings on AT&T wireless services, DIRECTV bills, and home internet services.  To learn more about everything we offer first responders, give us a call at 866-726-4182.