Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue
Health & Wellness

Pouring Over the Facts: A Conversation on Alcohol and Firefighter Health

Many firefighters consume alcohol, but it’s also a topic that can be controversial, complex, and often glossed over when it comes to health. But how much is too much, and what is the true meaning of moderation? Let’s talk about alcohol and its impact on the body, as well as tips for responsible drinking and making healthier choices when it comes to alcohol.

Moderation Defined

So what does “drinking in moderation” actually mean? NIH defines moderation as one drink per day for women and two for men. And, no, you can’t just double up the day after a 24-hour shift!

One drink is considered:

  • 12 oz beer
  • 5 oz wine
  • 1.5 oz 80-proof distilled spirits

The CDC defines heavy drinking as more than 8 drinks per week for women and 15 drinks per week for men. That may sound like a lot! But keep in mind the serving size of one drink. If you don’t measure, you can reach these numbers quickly when drinking off-shift or socially.

The Consequences of Heavy Drinking

Note that many people who drink heavily are not alcohol-dependent. However, just because you don’t “need” alcohol does not mean that heavy intake comes without consequence. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer, liver disease, and heart disease. 

The cancer bit is particularly concerning for firefighters. IARC (the International Agency for Research on Cancer) classifies both alcohol and firefighting as Type 1 carcinogens. This means that there is sufficient evidence that both alcohol intake and firefighting as an occupation cause cancer in humans. Of course, the quantity of alcohol matters. However, light to moderate consumption contributes to half of all alcohol-attributed cancers. From a cancer-risk perspective, research suggests you may be best off not drinking at all. If cancer is a significant concern, cutting back on alcohol may be a good first step

Heavy drinking can also lead to high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. In addition, it can impair cognitive function, coordination, and judgment, leading to accidents and injuries. Long-term heavy drinking can also lead to alcoholism and dependence, which can be challenging to overcome. It’s essential to understand the potential consequences of heavy drinking and make responsible choices when it comes to alcohol consumption.

Cutting Back

There are several health-related reasons to cut back on alcohol. From cancer risk to fat loss, drinking less can improve your health significantly.

  • Set goals: Decide how much you want to cut back and set realistic goals for yourself. You can start with small reductions and gradually reduce your intake over time. 
  • Keep track of your drinking: Use a journal or an app to track your drinking habits. This will help you identify patterns and triggers that lead to heavy drinking. 
  • Find alternatives: Look for non-alcoholic alternatives like mocktails or sparkling water to enjoy instead of alcohol. 
  • Avoid triggers: Identify triggers that lead to heavy drinking and avoid them as much as possible. This could be certain people, places, or events. 
  • Stay busy: Engage in activities that keep you busy and distracted from drinking. This could be exercise, hobbies, or spending time with friends and family. 
  • Seek support: Consider joining a support group or seeking professional help if you are struggling to cut back on your own.

Do I Have a Problem?

This article just scratched the surface when it comes to alcohol. If you or your loved ones are concerned with your alcohol intake, help is available. Consider your department’s EAP or other behavioral health resources. Many programs specialize in first responders that provide specific care based on the nature of the job.

SAMHSA’s National Help Line


IAFF Center of Excellence


Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F

Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long, healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.

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