First Responders Addiction Treatment


Stress, discontent, and trauma can all contribute to a person’s need to cope. Drugs can become a coping mechanism when the stress of life becomes too much for a person. For some individuals, their careers are the source of negative emotions in their lives. Among first responders, high rates of addiction, due to the stress associated with their work, create the need for first responders addiction treatment programs.

Who are First Responders?

First responders are individuals whose jobs involve being one of the first to help people in times of emergency. Firefighters, law enforcement officers, and paramedics are all examples of first responders. The help first responders provide is often the difference between life and death. 

The title of “first responder,” comes from the fact that these professionals are usually the first to respond to an emergency scene. These emergency scenes can be crime scenes, car accidents, fires, or any number of similar emergencies. The daily exposure to different emergency situations can cause first responders to develop not only substance use issues, but mental health problems as well.

Types of First Responders


There are several different types of first responders, each with their own set of qualifications for being in the profession. The various types of first responders also have their own terms that they use to describe themselves. 

The most common types of first responders include: 

  • Law enforcement officers – These men are described as police officers, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, uniformed officers, detectives, state police and highway patrol officers, fish and game wardens, transit and railroad officers, sheriffs, special jurisdiction police, air marshals, and border patrol agents.
  • Medical Emergency responders – These professionals include paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and fire rescue personnel.
  • Firefighters and prevention workers – These men and women are often employed in the public sector by local governments but can also work for private companies, such as industrial fire brigades.
  • Correctional officers – These first responders work in jails, prisons, and other correctional facilities.

These professions come with many stressors, such as erratic hours and exposure to extreme situations. Subsequently, people in these professions are also at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which can lead to drug abuse. In fact, many first responders turn to drugs in order to self-medicate the symptoms of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and high stress. Thus, first responders addiction treatment is necessary. 

Up to 30% of first responders are estimated to have behavioral issues that stem from the stress they experience at work. One of the most common behavioral issues that emerge among this population is substance abuse.

First Responder Addiction Risk Factors


First responders are often at risk of developing substance addictions due to job-related stressors and exposure to the following:

  • The development of PTSD
  • Extreme pace of work such as long working hours or overnight hours
  • Physically demanding situations or sustaining physical injuries
  • Overdoses and drug-related deaths
  • Domestic violence, child abuse, murder, and suicide
  • Dangerous situations such as fires, shootings, or disaster-affected areas
  • Accident scenes that have resulted in deaths, including house or business fires, car accidents, train derailments, among others

These factors combine in different ways for different first responders, but all result in an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder. This is why first responders addiction treatment is necessary. Through first responders addiction treatment, individuals can receive help that is designed around their specific needs.

The most prevalent illness affecting first responders is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can lead to depression, anxiety, and self-medication through drugs or alcohol. Here at Harmony Ridge, our first responders addiction treatment programs are designed with the knowledge that the experiences of first responders are different from the general public. With this in mind, we work to help you on the journey to sobriety, balance, and recovery.

Rates of Substance Abuse Among First Responders

  • In 2018, depression was reported in 6.8% of EMS professionals
  • 69% of EMS professionals report not having enough time between traumatic events to recover fully
  • Counties in West Virginia make up 14% of the top 220 counties in the country whose populations are “at risk” for contracting diseases through substance abuse
  • Between 2014 and 2017, the drug overdose death rate increased from 35.5 per 100,000 residents to 57.8 per 100,000, more than any other state in the United States
  • In 2018, 702 people died from opioid overdose alone, in the state of West Virginia
  • 47.7% of police officers report feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation among police officers is 25% for female officers and 23.1% for males

First Responders Addiction Treatment Programs


Treatment for first responders requires specific language and techniques. In some cases, the kind of addiction treatment that works for a non-first responder may not work for a first responder. This is because many first responders have gone through traumatic experiences. Therefore, addiction treatment professionals must work with first responders while having their unique experiences in mind.

Here at Harmony Ridge, we approach first responders addiction treatment with the care and understanding it requires. We acknowledge the complexity of trauma and the profound impact it has on those who live with it. Our addiction specialists work with the patience and compassion required to treat first responder mental health. With the right treatment, patience, and time, we can help you through every stage of the healing process.

First Responders addiction treatment, here at Harmony Ridge, includes the following programs:


Detoxification refers to the process of eliminating drugs from the human body. Before a first responder can attend a treatment program, he or she must go through detox.

During detox, first responders are monitored by medical professionals and treatment specialists as they detox from drugs and/or alcohol. This provides a safe place for them to go through withdrawal, which can be dangerous or potentially life-threatening if done without medical supervision.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment, also referred to as inpatient treatment, typically involves living at the facility that provides treatment for the duration of one’s rehab program. This form of treatment can be the first level of care you attend or the only level of care you attend, depending on your needs and how you respond to treatment. After residential treatment, many people choose to continue the healing process through one of our several types of outpatient care.

While attending our inpatient treatment programs, first responders attend group therapy sessions and individual counseling sessions with their counselors. During these sessions, our mental health professionals work with first responders to identify their feelings and emotions that are pushing them to turn to drug or alcohol abuse. In addition to individual and group therapy, we here at Harmony Ridge also offer a variety of therapeutic interventions.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment typically involves attending treatment during the day and returning home at night. The amount of time spent in the rehab facility, during the day, will depend on the severity of your addiction and/or a co-occurring mental health disorder.

After detoxing, first responders in our outpatient programs usually attend group therapy sessions in the morning before work. Our outpatient rehab patients are required to spend a minimum of 9 hours a week in treatment. However, you may require more time attending different types of therapy sessions.

There are different levels of care within the category of outpatient treatment here at Harmony Ridge.  These include the following:

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

Intensive outpatient programs are often very similar to traditional outpatient programs (OPs). The only difference is the amount of time required for attendance. An IOP often requires more time spent attending therapy sessions compared to traditional outpatient program treatment. 

Instead of living at a rehab facility during the period of time that one is receiving treatment, IOP rehab patients are required to attend addiction and possibly mental therapy sessions during the day. You are also still able to work your usual schedule while attending IOPs.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)

PHPs are a level of care up from IOPs. PHPs require at least around 5 hours spent attending therapy sessions each day one comes into the rehab facility. Most PHP patients are required to travel to the rehab facility 5 to 7 days a week, depending on their needs. After receiving treatment under the supervision of addiction professionals, you are able to return home after your designated treatment sessions for the day.

First Responders Addiction Treatment Therapies


Therapy is the cornerstone of addiction treatment. A good number of first responders are the victims of trauma, which triggers their addiction. This is usually due to feelings such as guilt, rage, or inadequacy, which makes them feel like they need to escape from themselves and their emotions. This is why we here at Harmony Ridge offer a variety of therapeutic interventions.

Individualized addiction therapy is necessary to address the underlying causes of an addiction. It is also needed to help someone with a substance use disorder understand how addiction affects his or her overall wellbeing and the wellbeing of other people around him or her. 

Here at Harmony Ridge, we offer the following types of therapy:

Individual Therapy

In individual therapy, first responders are able to talk about their addictions one-on-one with a therapist. These private therapy sessions allow the therapist to know what triggers the first responder into wanting to use substances. Individual therapy also helps individuals understand how substance use affects all of their relationships.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of first responders addiction therapy in which a therapist helps a first responder identify the thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs that contribute to him or her developing an addiction. By recognizing the thoughts that lead them to use substances, first responders can learn how to modify those thought patterns.

Family Therapy

In family therapy, first responders learn how their addictions affect the people around them, in particular, their family members. First responders in family therapy for addiction also learn about healthy ways to treat stress. This is helpful for first responders who grew up in homes where substance abuse was common. This is also helpful for first responders who have partners who are affected by the patient’s substance abuse.

Group Therapy

During group therapy, one or more consumers work with a group of first responders who are attending addiction treatment. During sessions,  first responders are able to connect with other first responders who have experienced similar traumas. This type of peer support is shown to help first responders understand that they are not alone in their struggles.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) helps first responders to build coping skills and confidence. During rehab sessions, first responders discuss how they responded to negative stimuli. Therapists are then able to discuss how the first responders can better handle romantic situations. Using the following behavior skill modules, first responders are taught how to cope with their emotions and negative stimuli:

  • Emotional regulation
  • Distress tolerance
  • Interpersonal effectiveness
  • Mindfulness

Holistic Therapy

Holistic therapy is an ideal treatment option for first responders to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Overall, holistic therapies encourage well-being. Additionally, holistic healing practices help promote overall wellness and prevent relapse. Holistic therapies also provide a multi-dimensional approach to treating the mind, body, and spirit. The following holistic therapy methods are offered, here at Harmony Ridge:

  • Art therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Counseling
  • Herbal medicine
  • Guided meditation
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Proper nutrition
  • Reiki
  • Routine exercise
  • Spiritual therapy
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga

After First Responders Addiction Treatment


Addiction recovery is a journey, not a destination. Once a person completes an addiction treatment program, it is essential to have aftercare support. By attending 12-step group meetings, another treatment program such as outpatient care, or a sober living house, first responders can ease back into their daily routine while preventing relapse.

Aftercare programs include activities, therapy, and support to help maintain the sobriety gained in first responders addiction treatment. Aftercare plans vary and will be recommended based on the needs of the patient. The following plans and strategies can help you stay on the path to recovery:

  • Relapse prevention tool training
  • Attending 12-step meetings
  • Obtaining a sponsor
  • Attending individual therapy/group therapy
  • Staying in a sober living facility
  • Participation in alumni programs

First Responders Addiction Treatment at Harmony Ridge


Here at Harmony Ridge, we understand the many factors involved in first responder addiction. Addiction can have a dangerous effect on a person’s life, harming one’s career and relationships with family and friends. When first responders overcome their addictions, they positively impact the communities to which they belong.

Start your journey to recovery today. If you are a first responder and cannot stop abusing drugs or alcohol, contact us. Help is only a call away.



Jump To Section