Distress tolerance is one’s real or perceived ability to withstand emotional distress or negative emotional states. Having low distress tolerance, or an inability to deal with negative emotional states is a risk factor associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Certain professions that deal with traumatic events daily require the development of distress tolerance. For example, firefighters are exposed to traumatic events regularly due to their occupation. Studies estimate that exposure to trauma-related events for firefighters is over 90%. Therefore, they are one of the most vulnerable populations at risk for psychological issues like PTSD, often resulting in the eventual development of alcohol use disorder (AUD).
An NCBI study recorded data from a sample of 652 firefighters exposed to traumatic events, most of them male with an average age of 38 years old. All of the participants reported at least some alcohol use. The study found that the sample population experienced higher rates of alcohol use and related psychological disorders than the general population. Their struggle with PTSD symptoms led the sampled firefighters to think they could not handle negative emotions. As a result, they were more likely to use alcohol to cope. The study found that using alcohol to cope is associated with higher rates of alcohol use and, subsequently, higher levels of work-related stress.
Those employed in trauma-related professions are more at risk than the general population for developing negative coping mechanisms like substance abuse to deal with work-related stressors. Distress tolerance, or being able to deal with negative emotional states, is imperative for individuals in these professions to cultivate. Acting as a sort of shield, these skills allow them to continue working in their respective fields while decreasing the use of alcohol to cope. It is essential to understand that these professions are psychologically stressful. Those employed in these jobs need support to deal with the accompanying emotions and to establish positive coping skills.
Need Help Coping?
In the United States during the year 2017, over 100 firefighters committed suicide, while 93 firefighters died in the line of duty. Self-medicating with alcohol to cope with work stress is significantly more common within this profession than the general population. Therefore, alcohol use disorder is a real risk among this population, and other trauma-related occupations. At Fort Behavioral Health, we recognize the need for support and healthy coping habits among those working in trauma-related occupations. We offer a safe and nurturing space to explore new ways to manage mental health and increase distress tolerance, as a means of supporting long term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. If you or someone you know is looking for help, call us today at 844.332.1807.