The Importance of Addiction Recovery for First Aid Responders

First Responders are put in stressful positions every day. The nature of their work involves dealing with life and death situations and being responsible for people. This kind of responsibility brings its own risks. First Responders are very likely to experience trauma which can go unresolved over time. To deal with it they may seek medication or drugs, and many can end up getting addicted.

First Responders may suffer from the following conditions:

  • Post traumatic stress
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Anger management issues
  • Anxiety
  • Relationship problems
  • Chemical dependency

A lot of people don’t realize that the needs of a First Responder are unique because they are vulnerable and susceptible to their environment, and must be treated accordingly. For the purposes of definition, a First Responder is anyone working in law enforcement, fire fighters, EMTs, Doctors, Nurses, Military Personnel and Medical Staff treating others.

First Responders and Trauma

It is common among Responders to either suffer a single episode of trauma, where they are affected by one event, or suffer from cumulative trauma which is the culmination of seeing  multiple negative things throughout the course of their career.

Most Responders get into the profession due to a real desire to help others. Because they truly care, the down side is that they can end up with emotional scars.

First Responders and Addiction

It is important to understand that in the Responder occupation, alcohol is encouraged and accepted as a means of coping with the job and stress. In most Responder occupations it is a practice to go out for a drink after work to relax. Because of this acceptance and encouragement, the symptoms of dependency and addictive behavior gets overlooked, not only by the individual itself, but also their colleagues and peers.

Responders also have a pattern with the use of opiates and other addictive medications. They tend to believe it’s ok to take addictive medications because they suffered a legitimate injury or it was described by a doctor.

Customizing Treatment for Responders

Often treatment fails for First Responders because most programs focus on the addiction and not on the stressors of the job, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury or other job related behaviors which were learned to carry out job functions in the field. These behaviors can become ingrained in the Responders’ personal life and that’s how they try to solve their personal issues.

Another problem with traditional addiction recovery programs can be that the Responders are not comfortable around ‘civilians’, i.e. people outside of their professions. Outsiders don’t understand their work or what they go through. Responders may also not want to publicly talk about the aspects of their work, which could be quite ugly and painful for others to hear. It would be easier for Responders to open up in the company of other Responders, who have experience similar situations and stresses. It can also help form therapeutic bonds.

Because First Responders learn to process things in different ways, addiction recovery is different for them. It is crucial for counselors and therapists to understand the dynamics of their processes and conduct the therapy accordingly.


Recovery is hard work but you don’t have to do it alone. Call The Villa to find out how we can support your goals for sober living.